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Sentencing and appeals in England and Wales

An accused person is presumed innocent until proved guilty beyond reasonable doubt by the prosecution. If the defendant pleads guilty, the judge will simply decide upon the appropriate sentence.

A fine is the most common punishment, especially for summary offences

A court will sentence the offender after considering all the relevant information, which may include specialist reports and a mitigating plea by the defence. A fine is the most common punishment, especially for summary offences.

A court may also:

  • make compensation orders, which require the offender to pay compensation for personal injury, loss or damage resulting from an offence
  • impose a conditional discharge, where the offender, if he or she offends again, may be sentenced for both the original offence and for the new one
  • impose a community sentence, e.g. a community rehabilitation order, which requires offenders to maintain regular contact with their probation officer

Magistrates can impose a fine of up to £5,000 and/or a maximum sentence of six months' imprisonment, but can also send the offender to the Crown Court if they feel their sentencing powers are not sufficient.

One in four people convicted of an indictable offence in 2001 in England and Wales received a custodial sentence. Life imprisonment is the mandatory sentence for murder, and is also available for certain other serious offences. The death penalty is no longer available for any offence: it has not been used anywhere in the United Kingdom since 1965.

Prison accommodation ranges from open prisons to high-security establishments. Sentenced male prisoners are classified into different risk-level groups for security purposes. Women prisoners are held in separate prisons or in separate accommodation in mixed prisons.

A person convicted by a magistrates' court may appeal to the High Court, on points of law, and to the Crown Court, for his or her trial to be re-heard. Appeals from the Crown Court go to the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division). A further appeal can be made to the House of Lords on points of law of public importance, if permission is given.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission, which is independent of both government and the courts, reviews alleged miscarriages of justice in the event that some new argument or evidence not previously raised at the trial or on appeal appears.

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