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29 November 2023

Proposals to revise the Imposition of community and custodial sentences guideline in England and Wales were published for consultation today by the independent Sentencing Council.

The proposed revisions reflect changes in legislation, developments in case law, recent sentencing research, and feedback from criminal justice practitioners.

The existing guideline, which applies to adult offenders only, came into effect in 2017. It sets out general principles for imposing community orders and custodial sentences and deals with other sentencing considerations, such as the requesting of pre-sentence reports.

The Council’s proposed revisions are designed to encourage courts to consider the widest range of circumstances when considering the full range of sentencing options available to them, in order to ensure that the most appropriate sentence, tailored to the individual offender and offence, can be imposed.

Revisions are being proposed for all the existing sections of the current guideline and include reordering and restructuring the different sections to align better with the steps the courts follow when sentencing.

The proposals include providing the courts with:

  • more guidance on the circumstances in which it may be necessary to request a pre-sentence report,
  • new sections on sentencing young adult offenders and female offenders, and
  • new information on evidence regarding the effectiveness of rehabilitation when compared with short custodial sentences, based on external research reviewed for the Council.

The Council is seeking views on the draft guideline from judges, magistrates and organisations or members of the public with an interest in this area. The consultation runs from 29 November 2023 to 21 February 2024.

Sentencing Council chairman, Lord Justice Davis, said:

“The Imposition guideline in its current form is one of the most important of all the guidelines the Council has produced. 

“It gives judges and magistrates guidance on when a community order may be appropriate, whether a custodial sentence should be imposed and, where a custodial sentence is appropriate, when it should be suspended.  The purpose of the guidance is to ensure a consistency of approach across all courts.

“The revised guideline updates and extends the current guidance.  It reflects new information and research in relation to young adult and female offenders and findings from research on the effectiveness of sentencing.   We hope that judges and magistrates will find the guideline clearer and easier to use than its predecessor.”

Notes to editors

  1. The existing Imposition of community and custodial sentences overarching guideline was issued on 1 February 2017 to replace the Sentencing Guidelines Council guideline New Sentences: Criminal Justice Act 2003.
  2. The guideline is the overarching guideline for general principles around imposing community orders and custodial sentences, and in what circumstances a custodial sentence can be suspended.
  3. It is also the main guideline for guidance on requesting pre-sentence reports and community requirements and includes a sentencing decision flow chart.
  4. Sentencing guidelines must be followed, unless the court is satisfied that it would be contrary to the interests of justice to do so in all the circumstances of a particular case.
  5. The Sentencing Council was established by Parliament to be an independent body, but accountable to Parliament for its work which is scrutinised by the Justice Select Committee.
  6. Justice Ministers are accountable to Parliament for the Sentencing Council’s effectiveness and efficiency, for its use of public funds and for protecting its independence.
  7. Judicial Council members are appointed by the Lady Chief Justice with the agreement of the Lord Chancellor. Non-judicial council members are appointed by the Lord Chancellor with the agreement of the Lady Chief Justice.