Who does what in sentencing?
As well as the Sentencing Council, there are a number of different organisations who have a role to play in sentencing.
- Parole Board
- Probation Service
- Youth Offending Teams
- Crown Prosecution Service
- HM Courts and Tribunals Service
- Ministry of Justice
Judges and magistrates have a vital role in sentencing. They are the people who actually pass sentences, deciding on the appropriate types of sentence and how long they should be. They must work within the laws set by Parliament and follow sentencing guidelines. Judges and magistrates are independent of both Parliament and the government so that they can make decisions freely and fairly. There is more information about judges, magistrates and the criminal courts on the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary website.
Parliament is responsible for bringing in laws by producing legislation. Parliament has introduced maximum and minimum sentences for criminal offences. For example, it set down in law that a person can get the maximum of seven years for theft or a life sentence for rape. Minimum sentences have also been introduced by legislation, such as a minimum of five years in prison for certain types of gun crime, and a minimum of three years when someone is convicted of a third domestic burglary. Parliament has created and set rules about different types of sentences and when and who they can be given to. For example, there are differences in the kinds of sentence that can be given to adults and under 18s. It has also introduced principles such as offenders being released on licence half way through a prison sentence and that there should be a reduction in sentence for a guilty plea. Parliament also has a body called the Justice Committee that looks at the policies of the Ministry of Justice, the money it spends and how it is run.
The Parole Board is an independent body that assesses the risks of releasing prisoners and helps decide whether they can be safely released from prison. Although the Board has no part to play in sentencing itself, it does have responsibility for protecting the public and managing:
- the early release of prisoners serving fixed-length sentences of four years or more
- the release of prisoners who are serving life sentences or indeterminate sentences for public protection, and
- the re-release of prisoners who had been given life or indeterminate sentences and were then re-imprisoned.
The National Probation Service (NPS) was set up on 1 June 2014 to manage high-risk offenders released into the community. Low- and medium-risk offenders are currently managed by community rehabilitation companies (CRCs). The NPS will take responsibility for this work from June 2021. The NPS is responsible for:
- preparing pre-sentence reports for courts, to help them select the most appropriate sentence
- managing approved premises for offenders with a residence requirement on their sentence
- assessing offenders in prison to prepare them for release on licence to the community, when they will come under their supervision
- helping all offenders serving sentences in the community to meet the requirements ordered by the courts, and
- communicating with and prioritising the wellbeing of victims of serious sexual and violent offences, when the offender has received a prison sentence of 12 months or more or is detained as a mental health patient.
Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) supervise young offenders under 18. The teams include representatives from the police, probation services, social services, health, education, drugs and alcohol misuse and housing officers. The team works together to identify the needs of each young offender and any specific problems that might make them offend, as well as measuring the risk they pose to other people. This enables the team to consider what action would be suitable to stop the young person from offending again.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is responsible for prosecuting criminal cases investigated by the police in England and Wales. Its functions are to:
- advise the police on cases for possible prosecution
- review cases submitted by the police
- determine any charges in more serious or complex cases
- prepare cases for court, and
- present cases at court.
The Director of Public Prosecutions, who is the head of the CPS, is a member of the Sentencing Council.
HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) is responsible for the administration of all criminal courts in England and Wales. HMCTS provides the supporting administration for the courts system, supports the independent judiciary in the administration of justice and works with other justice organisations and agencies, including the legal professions, to improve access to justice.
The Ministry of Justice is the government department responsible for criminal, civil and family justice, democracy and rights. It has responsibility for the different parts of the justice system: the courts, prisons, probation services and attendance centres. It is also responsible for making new laws, strengthening democracy and safeguarding human rights. The Sentencing Council is an independent arm’s-length body of the Ministry of Justice.