Publication types:
Research report

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Published on:

28 September 2021

Report: Exploring sentencers’ views of the Sentencing Council’s Totality guideline

The Totality guideline is applied by the courts when sentencing an offender either for multiple offences or when they are already serving a sentence. To find out how the guideline is working in practice, the Council carried out a survey and series of interviews with sentencers.

The aims of our research were to:

  • understand how sentencers use the guideline;
  • explore sentencers’ attitudes towards the guideline; and
  • identify any potential problems or issues.

Key findings

  • Most survey respondents thought that the guideline provides practical help in sentencing. Several made positive comments regarding the guideline’s examples, clarity and usefulness.
  • Survey respondents and interviewees both said that they do not always refer to the guideline. The most common way that survey respondents use the guideline is to apply its principles, based on their knowledge of its contents, and consult it only for difficult or unusual cases.
  • Nearly half the survey respondents said that they can find it difficult to apply the guideline in some circumstances, for example when sentencing offences that are dissimilar or have multiple victims, and some specific offences.
  • Sentencers also told us that, in cases with multiple victims and a range of offending, it can be difficult to reflect the seriousness of the offending against each individual victim in the final sentence.
  • To counter a perception among the public and victims that the totality principle is lenient, some interviewees thought it could be helpful to include in the guideline a reminder to the court to explain how a sentence has been constructed.
  • Most survey respondents commented on the length of the guideline, and some requested improvements to its format. We showed interviewees ideas for improving the format of the guideline (bullet points, drop-down menus and tables) and most were positive about the proposals.

What are the next steps?

Having considered the findings of the research, the Council has decided to review the Totality guideline, and we will consult on proposed changes in 2022.