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 1 October 2018 regardless of the date of the breach.
Section 59(1) of the Sentencing Code provides that:
“Every court – (a) must, in sentencing an offender, follow any sentencing guidelines which are relevant to the offender’s case, and (b) 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, Sentencing children and young people - overarching principles.
Breach of community order by failing to comply with requirements
The court must take into account the extent to which the offender has complied with the requirements of the community order when imposing a penalty.
In assessing the level of compliance with the order the court should consider:
- the overall attitude and engagement with the order as well as the proportion of elements completed;
- the impact of any completed or partially completed requirements on the offender’s behaviour;
- the proximity of breach to imposition of order; and
- evidence of circumstances or offender characteristics, such as disability, mental health issues or learning difficulties which have impeded offender’s compliance with the order.
|Overall compliance with order||Penalty|
|Wilful and persistent non-compliance||Revoke the order and re-sentence imposing custodial sentence (even where the offence seriousness did not originally merit custody)|
|Low level of compliance||Revoke the order and re-sentence original offence OR Add curfew requirement 20 – 30 days* OR 30 – 50 hours additional unpaid work/add additional requirement(s) OR Band C fine|
|Medium level of compliance||Revoke the order and resentence original offence OR Add curfew requirement 10 – 20 days* OR 20 – 30 hours additional unpaid work/add additional requirement(s) OR Band B fine|
|High level of compliance||Add curfew requirement 6 – 10 days* OR 10 – 20 hours additional unpaid work/add additional requirement(s) OR Band A fine|
* curfew days do not have to be consecutive and may be distributed over particular periods, for example at weekends, as the court deems appropriate. The period of the curfew should not exceed the duration of the community order and cannot be for longer than 12 months.
The court may extend the length of requirement(s) or the length of the order to allow time for the completion of requirement(s): simply extending the length of the order is not a standalone option for dealing with a breach, see also Technical guidance below.
|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 125 of the Sentencing Code, 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 35 of the Sentencing Code. 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 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 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
**Note: Changes to the curfew requirements brought in by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 are set out in the Requirements section in the Overarching Guideline: Imposition of community and custodial sentences, but are not reflected in the ranges above.
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.
- If imposing more onerous requirements the length of the order may be extended by up to 6 months – even if that has the effect of extending the order beyond 3 years. The power to extend can be exercised only once.
- If imposing unpaid work as a more onerous requirement and an unpaid work requirement was not previously included, the minimum number of hours that can be imposed is 20.
- The maximum fine that can be imposed is £2,500.
- If re-sentencing, a suspended sentence MUST NOT be imposed as a more severe alternative to a community order. A suspended sentence may only be imposed if it is fully intended that the offender serve a custodial sentence in accordance with the Imposition of Community and Custodial Sentences guideline.
- Where a magistrates’ court is dealing with a breach of a community order imposed by the Crown Court, the magistrates’ court may impose a fine or more onerous requirements; otherwise it may commit the offender to custody, or release the offender on bail, until the offender can be brought or appear before the Crown Court.
Powers of the court following a subsequent conviction
A conviction for a further offence does not constitute a breach of a community order. However, in such a situation, the court should consider the following guidance from the Totality guideline:
Offender convicted of an offence while serving a community order
The power to deal with the offender depends on the offender being convicted while the order is still in force; it does not arise where the order has expired, even if the additional offence was committed while it was still current.
Community order imposed by magistrates’ court
If an offender, in respect of whom a community order made by a magistrates’ court is in force, is convicted by a magistrates’ court of an additional offence, the magistrates’ court should ordinarily revoke the previous community order and sentence afresh for both the original and the additional offence.
Community order imposed by the Crown Court
Where an offender, in respect of whom a community order made by the Crown Court is in force, is convicted by a magistrates’ court, the magistrates’ court may, and ordinarily should, commit the offender to the Crown Court, in order to allow the Crown Court to re-sentence for the original offence. The magistrates’ court may also commit the new offence to the Crown Court for sentence where there is a power to do so.
Where the magistrates’ court has no power to commit the new offence it should sentence the new offence and commit the offender to the Crown Court to be re-sentenced for the original offence.
When sentencing both the original offence and the new offence the sentencing court should consider the overall seriousness of the offending behaviour taking into account the additional offence and the original offence. The court should consider whether the combination of associated offences is sufficiently serious to justify a custodial sentence. If the court does not consider that custody is necessary, it should impose a single community order that reflects the overall totality of criminality. The court must take into account the extent to which the offender complied with the requirements of the previous order.