Providing judges and magistrates with sentencing guidelines is the primary duty of the Council. We take a number of steps in the process of developing our guidelines from first draft, through the consultation stages and on to developing the definitive version that will be used by the judiciary.

Step 1 – Priorities

The Council identifies priorities for the development of guidelines. This decision could be made on the basis of concerns about an existing guideline, identifying offence types that lack a guideline or because we have been required by statute to look at a particular area.

Step 2 – Research

We undertake research and carry out policy and legal investigations. The Council meets to talk about the guideline and agree the approach that should be taken, and an initial draft guideline is created.

Step 3 – Approach

Council members discuss the draft guideline, refine the approach and agree on the broad structure and detail that will form the basis for consultation.

Step 4 – Consultation

We consult our statutory consultees, criminal justice professionals and the wider public, usually over a 12-week period. We also produce a draft resource assessment and an equality impact assessment to support the consultation.

Step 5 – Responses

The Council carefully considers the responses to the consultation and develops a definitive version of the guideline. We also produce a consultation response paper, resource assessment and equality impact assessment.

Step 6 – Publication

We publish the definitive guideline, which will come into force at a later date. Where necessary, we also support training for sentencers in using the new guideline.

Step 7 – Monitoring

Once a guideline is in force, the Council monitors its use and effect, using data collection and other research.

How the Council decides to produce a guideline

The overarching aim of the Council in publishing guidelines is to promote a clear, fair and consistent approach to sentencing. In agreeing our three-year, rolling work plan, the Council prioritises the publication of guidelines that will fulfil that aim, and schedules guideline production on the basis of one or more of the following factors:

  • The Lord Chancellor or the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) formally requests the review of sentencing for a particular offence, particular category of offence or particular category of offender and the production of a guideline.
  • New legislation requires supporting sentencing guidelines.
  • Guidelines issued by our predecessor body the Sentencing Guidelines Council require conversion into the Council’s step by step approach to sentencing, or current guidelines are out of date or incomplete.
  • A substantial body of interested parties request a guideline to be issued for a particular area of sentencing.
  • Sentencing data suggests that there may be inconsistency in sentencing for a particular offence, particular category of offence or particular category of offender.
  • Evidence suggests that the guideline would have a significant effect on sentencing practice, for example the potential range of available sentences is wide and/or the number of offences sentenced is significant.
  • Consideration of the resources required to produce a guideline and other work pressures.

Our approach

The Council is outward-facing, responsive and consultative and draws on expertise from relevant fields wherever necessary to inform our work. We aim to foster close working relationships with judicial, government and non-government bodies while retaining the Council’s independence. We engage with the public on sentencing, provide information and encourage debate. We focus on three areas of work; sentencing guidelines, research and analysis and improving public confidence.

Public consultation

The Council routinely consults members of the public about our work. We publish drafts of each of our guidelines for consultation, and almost always amend draft guidelines in the light of consultation responses, sometimes quite fundamentally. We also seek responses from criminal justice professionals, subject experts and others with an interest in criminal justice or the topic of the guideline. The Government will also normally respond to our consultations. We promote all our consultations and publish them on the website.

As well as consultations, the Council conducts research with the public and victims to ensure that the guidelines fully reflect the harm caused to victims by offending.

Public confidence

The Council works to improve public confidence in sentencing. We do this by increasing the quantity and quality of information and engagement available to the public on sentencing. In all of our work on confidence we look to understand and respond to the needs of members of the public who are directly affected by sentencing, particularly as victims and witnesses.

Research and analysis

The Act places a number of obligations on the Council with regard to monitoring and data analysis. To fulfill these statutory obligations the Council is responsible for its own independent statistical analysis, impact assessments and research to support its functions. To find out more about this subject, see the research and resources pages.