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Annual 2011 results

This results bulletin is released by the Sentencing Council for England and Wales and produced in accordance with arrangements approved by the UK Statistics Authority.

• There are also a number of additional tables available.

For those readers who are less familiar with the sentencing process, a supplementary document, A Guide to CCSS Statistics, is provided alongside the full report.

The Crown Court Sentencing Survey anonymised record level dataset is provided with a guide containing important information on its use and interpretation. Users should familiarise themselves with this document before using the dataset. The metadata for the dataset is also available to download here.

Acknowledgements

This survey would not be possible if it were not for the time spent by judges and court staff in ensuring the completion and administration of the survey. The Council would like to express their gratitude to all those involved for their continued participation which has allowed this new and useful information to be made available.

Introduction

This results bulletin presents the findings of the Crown Court Sentencing Survey for sentences passed by the Crown Court in 2011. The presentation of the results focuses on exploring the relationship between the factors taken into account in sentencing and the final sentence imposed, to help improve understanding of the sentencing process. The findings shown are across all offences, except where otherwise specified.

Offence category

The first factor that a judge will determine when sentencing an offender is the offence category, which is a measure of the harm caused and the culpability of the offender. The results for 2011 show that an offender being sentenced for a category 1 offence – an offence involving a high level of harm and a high level of culpability - is more likely to be sentenced to immediate custody and for a longer period than an offender who committed a similar offence but caused less harm and is shown to be less culpable.

  • In 2011, 78 per cent of category 1 offenders were sentenced to immediate custody. This compares to 64 per cent being sentenced to immediate custody for category 2 offenders, 43 per cent for category 3 offenders and 26 per cent for category 4 or lower offenders.
  • Of those receiving immediate custody, after applying any reductions for a guilty plea, the average custodial sentence length was three years and nine months for a category 1 offender, and one year six months for a category 4 or lower offender.

Previous convictions taken into account

Where the offender has previous convictions that are either recent, or considered relevant, to the offence being sentenced, the judge may decide to take these into account. The results for 2011 show that the likelihood of an offender having previous convictions that are considered recent and relevant enough to influence the sentence they receive will generally depend on the type of offence being sentenced. Where an offender does have recent and relevant previous convictions, that offender is more likely to be sentenced to immediate custody, with this likelihood increasing as the number of previous convictions increases.

  • Half of offenders had no previous convictions taken into account at sentencing. Where the offender did have previous convictions taken into account at sentencing, most frequently, between one and three were taken into account.
  • Where no previous convictions were taken into account, 46 per cent of offenders were sentenced to immediate custody. This increased to 64 per cent for offenders with between one and three previous convictions taken into account and over 77 per cent for offenders with four or more previous convictions taken into account.

Aggravating and mitigating factors

Aggravating and mitigating factors are other factors relating to the case or the offender that provide the context to how and why the offence was committed. In each case, these factors will have differing levels of importance in determining the sentence, depending on the specific circumstances of that case. The survey only captures the number of aggravating and mitigating factors and what they were, not their relative importance. The results for 2011 show that a case with a number of aggravating factors is more likely to be sentenced to immediate custody and for a longer period of time. The opposite is true of mitigating factors, where the likelihood of immediate custody, and the sentence length imposed, both decrease with the number of mitigating factors present.

  • Of those offenders with four or more aggravating factors present but no mitigating factors, 99 per cent were sent to immediate custody, whilst for offenders with four or more mitigating factors present but no aggravating factors, 13 per cent were sentenced to immediate custody. 
  • Of those offenders sentenced to immediate custody, after applying any reductions for a guilty plea, the average custodial sentence length received by offenders with four or more aggravating factors present but no mitigating factors, was four years 11 months. This compares to an average custodial sentence length of one year six months for offenders with no aggravating factors present and four or more mitigating factors present.

Guilty pleas

Offenders can enter a guilty plea at various stages in the court process. The court must take account of this and will usually apply a reduction to the sentence length. The reduction applied will depend on the stage of the process at which the plea was made and the circumstances in which the plea was made, as guided by the Sentencing Guidelines Council guideline, Reductions for a Guilty Plea. The results for 2011 show that the majority of offenders who plead guilty do so early on in the court process and for those who plead at one of these early stages, a higher reduction is usually granted. For the smaller volume entering a plea later in the process, the level of reduction granted is less.

  • In 2011, 86 per cent of offenders sentenced at the Crown Court pleaded guilty to the offence.
  • Most frequently, where a guilty plea was made, the plea was entered at an early stage of the proceedings, with 74 per cent of offenders pleading guilty either before or at the Plea and Case Management Hearing (PCMH). 
  • In 64 per cent of cases, the plea was entered at the first reasonable opportunity.

Departures from the Sentencing Council’s assault guideline

Courts are not required to stay within the relevant category range defined by sentencing guidelines; however they are under a legislative duty to impose a sentence which is within the offence range specified by the guideline, unless it is in interests of justice to depart from the range. The offence range is the full spectrum of sentences over all offence categories. The first Sentencing Council guideline came into force in June 2011, covering offences of assault. The results for 2011 show that:

  • from the introduction of the new Sentencing Council assault guideline on 13 June 2011 until the end of 2011, 96 per cent of sentences for offences covered by the guideline fell within the relevant offence range. One per cent fell below the offence range and three per cent were above.