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Frequently asked questions

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Sentencing guidelines

Why do judges need guidelines?

Legislation is broadly set out which gives judges and magistrates considerable discretion in sentencing matters. Sentencing guidelines help sentencers to decide the type and length of the sentence and set out the factors they should consider.

It is important that there is consistency in sentencing and sentencing guidelines play a key role in this by setting out a standard approach for all judges and magistrates to follow.

For more information, go to How guidelines are used.

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What sentencing guidelines are available?

Sentencing guidelines for the magistrates’ courts cover most of the significant offences sentenced. They are contained in the Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Guidelines [link?].

Sentencing guidelines for the Crown Court cover some of the most serious and most frequently dealt with offences including attempted murder, assault, robbery and sexual offences. The sentencing guidelines for the Crown Court can be found in the Guidelines section.

Guidelines from the Court of Appeal are also available in the form of guideline judgments. These cover issues including drugs, manslaughter and general sentencing principles. These can be found in Other Guidelines.

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Do courts have to follow the guidelines?

The duties of the courts in relation to sentencing guidelines are set out in legislation.

When sentencing an offender for an offence committed on or after 6 April 2010, the court ‘must follow’ any relevant sentencing guidelines unless it would be contrary to the interests of justice to do so.

When sentencing an offender for an offence committed before 6 April 2010, the courts must ‘have regard’ to any relevant sentencing guidelines.

For more information go to Sentencing guidelines.

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How are guidelines developed?

The Sentencing Council follows a step by step process to develop sentencing guidelines. After the topic for the guideline has been decided, the Council undertakes research. Following this a consultation paper and draft guideline are issued. After consideration of the responses, the Council may issue a definitive guideline which it will monitor and keep under review.

For more information go to How guidelines are developed.

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