Publication types:
Research report

Publication topics:
Analysis & research

Published on:

12 December 2022

The Sentencing Council has a statutory duty to have regard to the need to promote public confidence in the criminal justice system (CJS) when developing sentencing guidelines and monitoring their impact, and we have set ourselves a strategic objective to:

Strengthen confidence in sentencing by improving public knowledge and understanding of sentencing, including among victims, witnesses and offenders, as well as the general public.

To achieve this, the Council must develop an understanding of the public’s attitude to, and knowledge of, sentencing and the CJS.

Public knowledge of and confidence in the criminal justice system and sentencing: 2022 reports on research carried out by Savanta to help the Council meet our public confidence obligations. The research, which was conducted via an online survey of over 2,000 adults representative of the population of England and Wales, follows-up on a similar study undertaken in 2018. It provides insight into what drives the public’s attitudes to and understanding of the system and suggests how the Council might reinforce and improve public confidence.

The following are among the key findings:

  • Providing people with information about sentencing guidelines improves confidence in the fairness of sentencing. In both 2018 and 2022, 67 per cent of respondents claimed that awareness of the existence of guidelines had a positive impact on their confidence in the fairness of sentencing
  • Confidence in the effectiveness and fairness of the CJS continues to be mixed and varies according to demographic factors and individuals’ involvement in the system. Overall, 52 per cent of respondents said they were confident that the CJS is effective and 53 per cent said they were confident that it is fair. Adults aged 54 and under and Asian adults were more likely than other groups to have confidence that the system is effective; men and White and Asian adults were more likely than women and Black adults to have confidence that it is fair
  • As in 2018, the 2022 study found that respondents who have had contact with the CJS were far more likely to say their experience was positive rather than negative
  • 64 per cent of respondents in 2022 thought sentencing in general was too lenient, compared with 70 per cent in 2018. However, the 2018 research showed that this perception tends to change when the public are presented with scenarios and sentences based on real cases
  • When asked about their understanding of key sentencing terminology, the majority of those surveyed in both 2018 and 2022 reported that they were confident they understood terms such as ‘life sentence’ or ’on licence’. However, the 2018 research revealed that participants were less certain about the meaning of such terminology in group discussions.

The research was conducted for the Council by Savanta.