Attempted murder

Criminal Attempts Act 1981, s.1(1)
Effective from: 27 July 2009

Triable on indictment
Maximum: Life imprisonment

This is a serious offence for the purposes of s.224 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003

User guide for this offence

Guideline users should be aware that the Equal Treatment Bench Book covers important aspects of fair treatment and disparity of outcomes for different groups in the criminal justice system. It provides guidance which sentencers are encouraged to take into account wherever applicable, to ensure that there is fairness for all involved in court proceedings.


In accordance with section 120 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, the Sentencing Council issues this definitive guideline. It applies to all offenders aged 18 and older, who are sentenced on or after the effective date of this guideline, regardless of the date of the offence.*

Section 125(1) of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 provides that when sentencing offences committed after 6 April 2010:

“Every court –

  1. must, in sentencing an offender, follow any sentencing guidelines which are relevant to the offender’s case, and
  2. must, in exercising any other function relating to the sentencing of offenders, follow any sentencing guidelines which are relevant to the exercise of the function,

unless the court is satisfied that it would be contrary to the interests of justice to do so.”

This guideline applies only to offenders aged 18 and older. General principles to be considered in the sentencing of children and young people are in the Sentencing Council definitive guideline, Overarching Principles – Sentencing Children and Young People.

*The maximum sentence that applies to an offence is the maximum that applied at the date of the offence.

Key factors

Attempted murder is a serious offence for the purposes of the provisions in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 for dealing with dangerous offenders. When sentencing an offender convicted of this offence, in many circumstances a court may need to consider imposing a discretionary life sentence or one of the sentences for public protection prescribed in the Act.

The starting points and ranges are based upon a first time adult offender convicted after a trial. They will be relevant when imposing a determinate sentence and when fixing any minimum term that may be necessary. When setting the minimum term to be served within an indeterminate sentence, in accordance with normal practice that term will usually be half the equivalent determinate sentence.

Attempted murder requires an intention to kill. Accordingly, an offender convicted of this offence will have demonstrated a high level of culpability. Even so, the precise level of culpability will vary in line with the circumstances of the offence and whether the offence was planned or spontaneous. The use of a weapon may influence this assessment.

The level of injury or harm sustained by the victim as well as any harm that the offence was intended to cause or might foreseeably have caused, must be taken into account and reflected in the sentence imposed.

The degree of harm will vary greatly. Where there is low harm and high culpability, culpability is more significant. Even in cases where a low level of injury (or no injury) has been caused, an offence of attempted murder will be extremely serious.

The most serious offences will include those which encompass the factors set out in schedule 21 to the Criminal Justice Act 2003, paragraphs 4 and 5 that, had the offence been murder, would make the seriousness of the offence “exceptionally high” or “particularly high”.

The particular facts of the offence will identify the appropriate level. In all cases, the aggravating and mitigating factors that will influence the identification of the provisional sentence within the range follow those set out in schedule 21 with suitable adjustments. This guideline is not intended to provide for an offence found to be based on a genuine belief that the murder would have been an act of mercy.

When assessing the seriousness of an offence, the court should also refer to the list of general aggravating and mitigating factors in the Council guideline on Seriousness. Care should be taken to ensure there is no double counting where an essential element of the offence charged might, in other circumstances, be an aggravating factor.

Offence seriousness (culpability and harm)

A. Identify the appropriate starting point

Starting points based on first time offender aged 18 or over pleading not guilty.

Nature of offence  Starting point Range
Level 1
The most serious offences including those which (if the charge had been murder) would come within para. 4 or para. 5 of schedule 21 to the Criminal Justice Act 2003

  • Serious and long term physical or psychological harm
  • Some physical or psychological harm
  • Little or no physical or psychological harm


  • 30 years’ custody
  • 20 years’ custody
  • 15 years’ custody
  • 27 – 35 years’ custody
  • 17 – 25 years’ custody
  • 12 – 20 years’ custody

Level 2
Other planned attempt to kill

  • Serious and long term physical or psychological harm
  • Some physical or psychological harm
  • Little or no physical or psychological harm
  • 20 years’ custody
  • 15 years’ custody
  • 10 years’ custody
  • 17 – 25 years’ custody
  • 12- 20 years’ custody
  • 7 – 15 years’ custody

Level 3
Other spontaneous attempt to kill

  • Serious and long term physical or psychological harm
  • Some physical or psychological harm
  • Little or no physical or psychological harm
  • 15 years’ custody
  • 12 years’ custody
  • 9 years’ custody
  • 12 – 20 years’ custody
  • 9 – 17 years’ custody
  • 6 – 14 years’ custody

The presence of one or more aggravating features will indicate a more severe sentence within the suggested range and, if the aggravating feature(s) are exceptionally serious, the case will move up to the next level.

Custodial sentences

Sentencing flowcharts are available at Imposition of Community and Custodial Sentences definitive guideline.

The approach to the imposition of a custodial sentence should be as follows:

1) Has the custody threshold been passed?

  • A custodial sentence must not be imposed unless the offence or the combination of the offence and one or more offences associated with it was so serious that neither a fine alone nor a community sentence can be justified for the offence.
  • There is no general definition of where the custody threshold lies. The circumstances of the individual offence and the factors assessed by offence-specific guidelines will determine whether an offence is so serious that neither a fine alone nor a community sentence can be justified. Where no offence specific guideline is available to determine seriousness, the harm caused by the offence, the culpability of the offender and any previous convictions will be relevant to the assessment.
  • The clear intention of the threshold test is to reserve prison as a punishment for the most serious offences.

2) Is it unavoidable that a sentence of imprisonment be imposed?

  • Passing the custody threshold does not mean that a custodial sentence should be deemed inevitable. Custody should not be imposed where a community order could provide sufficient restriction on an offender’s liberty (by way of punishment) while addressing the rehabilitation of the offender to prevent future crime.
  • For offenders on the cusp of custody, imprisonment should not be imposed where there would be an impact on dependants which would make a custodial sentence disproportionate to achieving the aims of sentencing.

3) What is the shortest term commensurate with the seriousness of the offence?

  • In considering this the court must NOT consider any licence or post sentence supervision requirements which may subsequently be imposed upon the offender’s release.

4) Can the sentence be suspended?

  • A suspended sentence MUST NOT be imposed as a more severe form of community order. A suspended sentence is a custodial sentence. Sentencers should be clear that they would impose an immediate custodial sentence if the power to suspend were not available. If not, a non-custodial sentence should be imposed.

The following factors should be weighed in considering whether it is possible to suspend the sentence:

Factors indicating that it would not be appropriate to suspend a custodial sentence

Factors indicating that it may be appropriate to suspend a custodial sentence

Offender presents a risk/danger to the public

Realistic prospect of rehabilitation

Appropriate punishment can only be achieved by immediate custody

Strong personal mitigation

History of poor compliance with court orders

Immediate custody will result in significant harmful impact upon others

The imposition of a custodial sentence is both punishment and a deterrent. To ensure that the overall terms of the suspended sentence are commensurate with offence seriousness, care must be taken to ensure requirements imposed are not excessive. A court wishing to impose onerous or intensive requirements should reconsider whether a community sentence might be more appropriate.

Pre-sentence report

Whenever the court reaches the provisional view that:

  • the custody threshold has been passed; and, if so
  • the length of imprisonment which represents the shortest term commensurate with the seriousness of the offence;

the court should obtain a pre-sentence report, whether verbal or written, unless the court considers a report to be unnecessary. Ideally a pre-sentence report should be completed on the same day to avoid adjourning the case.

Magistrates: Consult your legal adviser before deciding to sentence to custody without a pre-sentence report.

Suspended Sentences: General Guidance

i) The guidance regarding pre-sentence reports applies if suspending custody.

ii) If the court imposes a term of imprisonment of between 14 days and 2 years (subject to magistrates’ courts sentencing powers), it may suspend the sentence for between 6 months and 2 years (the ‘operational period’). The time for which a sentence is suspended should reflect the length of the sentence; up to 12 months might normally be appropriate for a suspended sentence of up to 6 months.

iii) Where the court imposes two or more sentences to be served consecutively, the court may suspend the sentence where the aggregate of the terms is between 14 days and 2 years (subject to magistrates’ courts sentencing powers).

iv) When the court suspends a sentence, it may impose one or more requirements for the offender to undertake in the community. The requirements are identical to those available for community orders, see the guideline on Imposition of Community and Custodial Sentences.

v) A custodial sentence that is suspended should be for the same term that would have applied if the sentence was to be served immediately.

B. Consider the effect of aggravating and mitigating factors (other than those within examples above)

The following may be particularly relevant but these lists are not exhaustive

Specific aggravating factors

Factors indicating higher culpability

  1. the fact that the victim was particularly vulnerable, for example, because of age or disability
  2. mental or physical suffering inflicted on the victim
  3. the abuse of a position of trust
  4. the use of duress or threats against another person to facilitate the commission of the offence
  5. the fact that the victim was providing a public service or performing a public duty

Specific mitigating factors

Factors indicating lesser culpability

  1. the fact that the offender suffered from any mental disorder or mental disability which lowered his degree of culpability
  2. the fact that the offender was provoked (for example, by prolonged stress)
  3. the fact that the offender acted to any extent in self-defence
  4. the age of the offender
Common aggravating and mitigating factors
 Taken from Sentencing Guidelines Council Guideline Overarching Principles: Seriousness

Aggravating factors

Factors indicating higher culpability:

  • Offence committed whilst on bail for other offences
  • Failure to respond to previous sentences
  • Offence was racially or religiously aggravated
  • Offence motivated by, or demonstrating, hostility to the victim based on his or her sexual orientation (or presumed sexual orientation)
  • Offence motivated by, or demonstrating, hostility based on the victim’s disability (or presumed disability)
  • Previous conviction(s), particularly where a pattern of repeat offending is disclosed

    Effective from: 01 October 2019

    Care should be taken to avoid double counting factors including those already taken into account in assessing culpability or harm or those inherent in the offence

    Guidance on the use of previous convictions

    The following guidance should be considered when seeking to determine the degree to which previous convictions should aggravate sentence:

    Section 143 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 states that:

    In considering the seriousness of an offence (“the current offence”) committed by an offender who has one or more previous convictions, the court must treat each previous conviction as an aggravating factor if (in the case of that conviction) the court considers that it can reasonably be so treated having regard, in particular, to—

    (a) the nature of the offence to which the conviction relates and its relevance to the current offence, and

    (b) the time that has elapsed since the conviction.

    1. Previous convictions are considered at step two in the Council’s offence-specific guidelines.
    2. The primary significance of previous convictions (including convictions in other jurisdictions) is the extent to which they indicate trends in offending behaviour and possibly the offender’s response to earlier sentences.
    3. Previous convictions are normally relevant to the current offence when they are of a similar type.
    4. Previous convictions of a type different from the current offence may be relevant where they are an indication of persistent offending or escalation and/or a failure to comply with previous court orders.
    5. Numerous and frequent previous convictions might indicate an underlying problem (for example, an addiction) that could be addressed more effectively in the community and will not necessarily indicate that a custodial sentence is necessary.
    6. If the offender received a non-custodial disposal for the previous offence, a court should not necessarily move to a custodial sentence for the fresh offence.
    7. In cases involving significant persistent offending, the community and custody thresholds may be crossed even though the current offence normally warrants a lesser sentence. If a custodial sentence is imposed it should be proportionate and kept to the necessary minimum.
    8. The aggravating effect of relevant previous convictions reduces with the passage of time; older convictions are less relevant to the offender’s culpability for the current offence and less likely to be predictive of future offending.
    9. Where the previous offence is particularly old it will normally have little relevance for the current sentencing exercise.
    10. The court should consider the time gap since the previous conviction and the reason for it. Where there has been a significant gap between previous and current convictions or a reduction in the frequency of offending this may indicate that the offender has made attempts to desist from offending in which case the aggravating effect of the previous offending will diminish.
    11. Where the current offence is significantly less serious than the previous conviction (suggesting a decline in the gravity of offending), the previous conviction may carry less weight.
    12. When considering the totality of previous offending a court should take a rounded view of the previous crimes and not simply aggregate the individual offences.
    13. Where information is available on the context of previous offending this may assist the court in assessing the relevance of that prior offending to the current offence
  • Planning of an offence
  • An intention to commit more serious harm than actually resulted from the offence
  • Offenders operating in groups or gangs
  • ‘Professional’ offending
  • Commission of the offence for financial gain (where this is not inherent in the offence itself)
  • High level of profit from the offence
  • An attempt to conceal or dispose of evidence
  • Failure to respond to warnings or concerns expressed by others about the offender’s behaviour
  • Offence committed whilst on licence
  • Offence motivated by hostility towards a minority group, or a member or members of it
  • Deliberate targeting of vulnerable victim(s)
  • Commission of an offence while under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Use of a weapon to frighten or injure victim
  • Deliberate and gratuitous violence or damage to property, over and above what is needed to carry out the offence
  • Abuse of power
  • Abuse of a position of trust

Factors indicating a more than usually serious degree of harm:

  • Multiple victims
  • An especially serious physical or psychological effect on the victim, even if unintended
  • A sustained assault or repeated assaults on the same victim
  • Victim is particularly vulnerable
  • Location of the offence (for example, in an isolated place)
  • Offence is committed against those working in the public sector or providing a service to the public
  • Presence of others e.g. relatives, especially children or partner of the victim
  • Additional degradation of the victim (e.g. taking photographs of a victim as part of a sexual offence)
  • In property offences, high value (including sentimental value) of property to the victim, or substantial consequential loss (e.g. where the theft of equipment causes serious disruption to a victim’s life or business)

Mitigating factors

Factors indicating lower culpability:

  • A greater degree of provocation than normally expected
  • Mental illness or disability
  • Youth or age, where it affects the responsibility of the individual defendant
  • The fact that the offender played only a minor role in the offence

Form a preliminary view of the appropriate sentence, then consider offender mitigation

Offender mitigation

  • Genuine remorse
  • Admissions to police in interview
  • Ready co-operation with authorities

Consider a reduction for a guilty plea

Decide sentence

Give reasons