Sentencing Council proposes General guideline for offences not covered by specific guidance

The Sentencing Council has published a consultation on a proposed new General sentencing guideline for use when sentencing offences for which there is no existing guideline.

It is designed to provide guidance for sentencing a very wide range of offences with very different characteristics and very different maximum sentences and could include blackmail, wildlife offences or offences relating to planning.

While the Council has produced offence specific guidelines for most of the high-volume criminal offences sentenced by courts, many offences do not yet have a guideline. This general guideline will ensure such offences are covered until a specific guideline is produced.

The guideline, which applies to adult offenders and organisations, will provide sentencers and those prosecuting and defending with a clear structure to follow when sentencing offences that do not have a guideline.

The guideline inevitably leaves very wide discretion to courts but aims to ensure that all relevant factors are considered and given appropriate weight in arriving at a final sentence.

It will assist courts when sentencing offenders for offences that are only rarely seen. The guideline may be of particular value for offences sentenced in magistrates’ courts which often will not have relevant judgments of the Court of Appeal to help them.

The Council is often approached by organisations suggesting offences which may benefit from having a guideline due to a variety of reasons, such as fines being set at too low a level to act as an effective deterrent where monetary gain is a prime motive in the offending.  For example, some wildlife crime offences can bring substantial financial rewards but the fines imposed may be relatively low. The draft guideline seeks to address this issue at a broader level and emphasises the need to ensure that any financial benefit an offender may make from a crime is removed.

The proposed guideline will also replace existing guidance produced by the Sentencing Council’s predecessor body, the Sentencing Guidelines Council (SGC), which published its Overarching Principles: Seriousness guideline in 2004. Parts of this guideline have already been superseded.  For example, the SGC guideline gives guidance on reductions for a guilty plea and the custody and community sentence thresholds, both of which have been replaced by Sentencing Council guidelines.

The guideline is now subject to a consultation which will be open until 11 September. During the consultation period the Council will carry out research with sentencers to test how the guideline would work in practice.