Triable either way
Maximum when tried summarily: Level 5 fine and/or 6 months
Maximum when tried on indictment: 3 Years
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.
Offence seriousness (culpability and harm)
A. Identify the appropriate starting point
Starting points based on first time offender pleading not guilty.
|Examples of nature of activity||Starting point||Range|
|Brief offence involving low-level violence, no substantial fear created||Low level community order||Band C fine to medium level community order|
|Degree of fighting or violence that causes substantial fear||High level community order||Medium level community order to 12 weeks’ custody|
|Fight involving a weapon/throwing objects, or conduct causing risk of serious injury||18 weeks’ custody||12 weeks’ custody to Crown Court|
|Fine Band A||50% of relevant weekly income||25 – 75% of relevant weekly income|
|Fine Band B||100% of relevant weekly income||75 – 125% of relevant weekly income|
|Fine Band C||150% of relevant weekly income||125 – 175% of relevant weekly income|
|Fine Band D||250% of relevant weekly income||200 – 300% of relevant weekly income|
|Fine Band E||400% of relevant weekly income||300 – 500% of relevant weekly income|
|Fine Band F||600% of relevant weekly income||500 – 700% of relevant weekly income|
- The court should determine the appropriate level of fine in accordance with this guideline and section 164 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which requires that the fine must reflect the seriousness of the offence and that the court must take into account the financial circumstances of the offender.
- Where possible, if a financial penalty is imposed, it should remove any economic benefit the offender has derived through the commission of the offence including:
- avoided costs;
- operating savings;
- any gain made as a direct result of the offence.
- The fine should meet, in a fair and proportionate way, the objectives of punishment, deterrence and the removal of gain derived through the commission of the offence; it should not be cheaper to offend than to comply with the law.
- In considering economic benefit, the court should avoid double recovery.
- Where the means of the offender are limited, priority should be given to compensation (where applicable) over payment of any other financial penalty.
- Where it is not possible to calculate or estimate the economic benefit, the court may wish to draw on information from the enforcing authorities about the general costs of operating within the law.
- When sentencing organisations the fine must be sufficiently substantial to have a real economic impact which will bring home to both management and shareholders the need to comply with the law. The court should ensure that the effect of the fine (particularly if it will result in closure of the business) is proportionate to the gravity of the offence.
- Obtaining financial information: It is for the offender to disclose to the court such data relevant to their financial position as will enable it to assess what they can reasonably afford to pay. If necessary, the court may compel the disclosure of an individual offender’s financial circumstances pursuant to section 162 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. In the absence of such disclosure, or where the court is not satisfied that it has been given sufficient reliable information, the court will be entitled to draw reasonable inferences as to the offender’s means from evidence it has heard and from all the circumstances of the case. In setting a fine, the court may conclude that the offender is able to pay any fine imposed unless the offender has supplied financial information to the contrary.
For further information see Imposition of community and custodial sentences.
- The seriousness of the offence should be the initial factor in determining which requirements to include in a community order. Offence specific guidelines refer to three sentencing levels within the community order band based on offence seriousness (low, medium and high). The culpability and harm present in the offence(s) should be considered to identify which of the three sentencing levels within the community order band is appropriate. See below for non-exhaustive examples of requirements that might be appropriate in each.
- At least one requirement MUST be imposed for the purpose of punishment and/or a fine imposed in addition to the community order unless there are exceptional circumstances which relate to the offence or the offender that would make it unjust in all the circumstances to do so.
- A suspended sentence MUST NOT be imposed as a more severe form of community order. A suspended sentence is a custodial sentence.
- Community orders can fulfil all of the purposes of sentencing. In particular, they can have the effect of restricting the offender’s liberty while providing punishment in the community, rehabilitation for the offender, and/or ensuring that the offender engages in reparative activities.
- A community order must not be imposed unless the offence is ‘serious enough to warrant such a sentence’. Where an offender is being sentenced for a non-imprisonable offence, there is no power to make a community order.
- Sentencers must consider all available disposals at the time of sentence; even where the threshold for a community sentence has been passed, a fine or discharge may be an appropriate penalty. In particular, a Band D fine may be an appropriate alternative to a community order.
- The court must ensure that the restriction on the offender’s liberty is commensurate with the seriousness of the offence and that the requirements imposed are the most suitable for the offender.
- Sentences should not necessarily escalate from one community order range to the next on each sentencing occasion. The decision as to the appropriate range of community order should be based upon the seriousness of the new offence(s) (which will take into account any previous convictions).
- In many cases, a pre-sentence report will be pivotal in helping the court decide whether to impose a community order and, if so, whether particular requirements or combinations of requirements are suitable for an individual offender. Whenever the court reaches the provisional view that a community order may be appropriate, it should request a pre-sentence report (whether written or verbal) unless the court is of the opinion that a report is unnecessary in all the circumstances of the case.
- It may be helpful to indicate to the National Probation Service the court’s preliminary opinion as to which of the three sentencing ranges is relevant and the purpose(s) of sentencing that the package of requirements is expected to fulfil. Ideally a pre-sentence report should be completed on the same day to avoid adjourning the case. If an adjournment cannot be avoided, the information should be provided to the National Probation Service in written form and a copy retained on the court file for the benefit of the sentencing court. However, the court must make clear to the offender that all sentencing options remain open including, in appropriate cases, committal for sentence to the Crown Court.
|Offences only just cross community order threshold, where the seriousness of the offence or the nature of the offender’s record means that a discharge or fine is inappropriate
In general, only one requirement will be appropriate and the length may be curtailed if additional requirements are necessary
|Offences that obviously fall within the community order band||Offences only just fall below the custody threshold or the custody threshold is crossed but a community order is more appropriate in the circumstances
More intensive sentences which combine two or more requirements may be appropriate
|Suitable requirements might include:
||Suitable requirements might include:
||Suitable requirements might include:
* If order does not contain a punitive requirement, suggested fine levels are indicated below:
BAND A FINE
BAND B FINE
BAND C FINE
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.
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)
Factors indicating higher culpability
- Group action
- Lengthy incident
Factors indicating greater degree of harm
- Vulnerable person(s) present
- Injuries caused
- Damage to property
Factors indicating lower culpability
- Did not start the trouble
- Stopped as soon as police arrived
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.
- Previous convictions are considered at step two in the Council’s offence-specific guidelines.
- 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.
- Previous convictions are normally relevant to the current offence when they are of a similar type.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Where the previous offence is particularly old it will normally have little relevance for the current sentencing exercise.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
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
- Genuine remorse
- Admissions to police in interview
- Ready co-operation with authorities
Consider a reduction for a guilty plea
- Reduction in Sentence for a Guilty Plea (where first hearing is on or after 1 June 2017, or first hearing before 1 June 2017).