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What sentences are for

When determining the appropriate sentence, the judge or magistrate must have regard to the five purposes of sentencing.

When determining the appropriate sentence, the judge or magistrate must have regard to the five purposes of sentencing set out in section 142(1) of the
Criminal Justice Act 2003.

These purposes apply, except in certain specified circumstance, when sentencing an adult offender aged 18 or over.  The five purposes of sentencing are: 

  • the punishment of offenders
    This shows society’s unhappiness with the offence committed. Punishment can include loss of, or restrictions to, a person’s liberty or the payment of a fine.
  • the reduction of crime (including its reduction by deterrence)
    This includes individual deterrence (aimed at preventing the individual offender from committing another crime) and general deterrence (using the sentence imposed on an offender as an example to deter others from committing a similar offence). 
  • the reform and rehabilitation of offenders
    This is aimed at reforming the offender and changing their behaviour. It also links to the purpose of reducing crime. An example of reform and rehabilitation includes a drug and/or alcohol treatment requirement. 
  •  the protection of the public
    This can include protecting the public from the offender and from the risk of further crimes being committed. This may be achieved, for example, by removing an offender from society (putting them in prison), restrictions on their activities or supervision by probation. 
  • the making of reparation by offenders to persons affected by their offences
    This requires the offender to make amends to those who have been affected by their criminal behaviour. This may be achieved, for example, by the payment of compensation or through restorative justice.  

The Criminal Justice Act 2003 does not indicate that any one purpose should be treated as more or less important than another. In an individual case, any or all of the purposes may be relevant to a certain degree and it will be for the judge or magistrate to decide how they apply.

You can also find information about sentencing on Directgov.