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Sentencing guidelines

Sentencing guidelines help judges and magistrates decide the appropriate sentence for a criminal offence.

Criminal offences in England and Wales are very broadly defined and can have different levels of seriousness. For example, theft could be anything from stealing a chocolate bar from a shop to stealing the Crown Jewels.

It is important to ensure that courts across England and Wales are consistent in their approach to sentencing. Sentencing guidelines, which set out a decision-making process for all judges and magistrates to follow, play an essential role in this.

The Sentencing Council is responsible for preparing and monitoring sentencing guidelines with the aim of ensuring greater consistency in sentencing. Each new guideline is consulted on as part of its development and you can Get Involved by responding to consultations.

According to the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, when sentencing an offender for an offence committed on or after 6 April 2010, a court must follow any relevant sentencing guidelines, unless it is 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.

Where no guideline exists, judges refer to important court of appeal judgments to examine how sentences have been reached for similar cases in the past.

The Sentencing Council has published five new guidelines since it came into existence in March 2010. These are: assault, drugs, burglary, overarching principles of allocation, totality and TICs and dangerous dogs.

Our predecessor body, The Sentencing Guidelines Council, prepared the remaining guidelines which you will see on the Guidelines to download page.

What guidelines do

Sentencing guidelines help judges and magistrates decide the appropriate sentence for a criminal offence.

The sentence imposed on an offender should reflect the crime they have committed and be proportionate to the seriousness of the offence.

The guidelines provide guidance on factors the court should take into account that may affect the sentence given.

Sentencing guidelines are available for most of the significant offences sentenced in the magistrates’ court and for a wide range of offences in the Crown Court.

There is also  guidance on general sentencing issues and principles. These guidelines are not specific to individual offences