The Sentencing Council sits at the centre of the criminal justice system. The Council develops guidelines that reflect the laws that are decided by Parliament and help the courts sentence offenders according to the maximum, and sometimes minimum sentences set by Parliament.

A flowchart simplifying the criminal justice system  Parliament lays down legislation governing every stage of the criminal justice process.  If an incident constitutes a crime and is reported, the police will investigate. If a suspect is identified, they will be arrested and interviewed. They may not be charged or may be given an out of court disposal.  If the decision is made to charge them, the Crown Prosecution Service will advise on the charge and decide whether or not to prosecute the suspect. If the decision is made to prosecute, the case will go to court.   In court, the defendant can plead either guilty or not guilty. If they plead guilty, the court will proceed straight to sentencing. If they plead not guilty, there will be a trial, and the defendant will either be acquitted or found guilty and sentenced. The courts will follow sentencing guidelines produced by the Sentencing Council to make sure a consistent approach is taken to sentencing.  Depending on the crime and the circumstances of the case, the offender will serve a custodial sentence through HM Prison and Probation Service, serve a suspended sentence or community order supervised by the Probation Service, or pay a fine through HM Courts and Tribunals Service.   The offender may decide to appeal against their sentence. If they do, an appeal hearing will decide whether to quash the conviction, whether to uphold the conviction but change the sentence, or whether to uphold both the conviction and the sentence. In this latter case, the offender will serve the original sentence given by the court.   After serving the custodial part of their sentence, the offender will be released on licence for the remainder of their sentence, supervised by the Probation Service. They may be resentenced if they reoffend, or recalled to prison if they breach any terms of their licence.