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Wednesday, 22 September 2010

How sentencing is worked out

If someone you know has been convicted following a trial, the court has a range of sentencing options to choose from. These depend on the type, seriousness and the circumstances of the crime, and the criminal history of the person. Find out more about how sentencing works.

Considering a suitable punishment

Judges and magistrates giving out sentences must consider many things when making their decisions.

They are required to consider all of the following:

  • punishing offenders
  • reducing crime
  • rehabilitating criminals
  • protecting the public
  • making offenders pay back the community for their crimes

All sentences will combine all of those factors in some way.

Magistrates' and Crown Courts have different sentencing powers. Generally speaking, more serious cases are sentenced in the Crown Court and less serious offences are sentenced in the Magistrates' Court.

When deciding upon the right sentence, courts use guidelines issued by the Court of Appeal as well as guidelines from the Sentencing Council. This is a group independent of government, chaired by a senior judge.

Courts do not have to follow the council's guidelines, but they do have to consider them when deciding on the sentence.

You can find more information about the Sentencing Council using the link below.

Maximum and minimum sentences

For every offence there is a maximum penalty set out in law. This is the most punishment a judge can give.

Some crimes also have a minimum sentence that is the least amount of punishment a judge can issue.

Crimes such as murder, as well as other serious violent or sexual offences, will result in a life sentence.

Community sentencing

Most people convicted of crimes are not sent to prison. In most cases, they are given fines or community sentences, also called 'community orders'.

These can be punishment, such as Community Payback, which requires the offender to complete a set number of hours of unpaid work. They can also be used to control a person's behaviour through things like a curfew enforced by an electronic tag.

The sentences can also require an offender to get help for drug or alcohol addiction, or to get treatment for mental problems. If they break the rules of their sentence, they can be given additional punishment.

Find out more about community sentencing at the link below.

See how sentencing is worked out

The ‘You be the Judge’ online tool lets you hear the facts of a real court case and decide what sentence you would give. You’ll be told what sentence was passed - and why.

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