Following these guidelines

Following these guidelines When sentencing an offender, every court is under a statutory obligation to follow any relevant sentencing guideline unless it would be contrary to the interests of justice to do so (Sentencing Code, s.59(1)). If a court imposes a sentence outside the range indicated in an offence specific guideline, it is obliged to state its reasons for doing so (Sentencing Code, s.52(6)).

When to use these guidelines

  • These guidelines apply to sentencing in a magistrates’ court whatever the composition of the court. They cover offences for which sentences are frequently imposed in a magistrates’ court when dealing with adult offenders.
  • They also apply to allocation (mode of trial) decisions. When dealing with an either way offence for which there is no plea or an indication of a not guilty plea, these guidelines will be relevant to the allocation decision and should be consulted at this stage to assess the likely sentence. Reference should be made to the Allocation guideline.
  • These guidelines apply also to the Crown Court when dealing with appeals against sentences imposed in a magistrates’ court and when sentencing for summary only offences.


Using Sentencing Council guidelines

The offence guidelines include two structures: pre-Sentencing Council guidelines (used by the Sentencing Guidelines Council) and Sentencing Council guidelines.

Using Sentencing Council guidelines

This section of the user guide explains the key decisions involved in the sentencing process for Sentencing Council guidelines.

STEP ONE: Determining the offence category The decision making process includes a two-step approach to assessing seriousness. The first step is to determine the offence category by means of an assessment of the offender’s culpability and the harm caused, or intended, by reference only to the factors set out at step one in each guideline. The contents are tailored for each offence and comprise the principal factual elements of the offence.

STEP TWO: Starting point and category range The guidelines provide a starting point which applies to all offenders irrespective of plea or previous convictions. The guidelines also specify a category range for each offence category. The guidelines provide non-exhaustive lists of aggravating and mitigating factors relating to the context of the offence and to the offender. Sentencers should identify whether any combination of these, or other relevant factors, should result in an upward or downward adjustment from the starting point. In some cases, it may be appropriate to move outside the identified category range when reaching a provisional sentence.

This short video shows you how to use the expanded explanations in Step Two (start at 01:40).

FURTHER STEPS Having reached a provisional sentence, there are a number of further steps within the guidelines. These steps are clearly set out within each guideline and are tailored specifically for each offence in order to ensure that only the most appropriate guidance is included within each offence specific guideline. The further steps include:

Where there is no guideline for an offence, refer to the General guideline.