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Who does what?

A number of different organisations have a role to play in sentencing.

There are a number of different bodies who have a role to play in sentencing. These include:

Parliament

Parliament is responsible for bringing in laws by producing legislation.

The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 established the sentencing framework in England and Wales. It has also introduced maximum and minimum sentences for criminal offences. For example, it set down in law that a person can get the maximum of seven years for theft or a life sentence for rape. Minimum sentences have also been introduced by legislation, such as a minimum of five years in prison for certain types of gun crime, and a minimum of three years in jail when someone is convicted of a third burglary.

It has also created and set rules about different types of sentences and when and who they can be given to. For example, there are differences in the kinds of sentence that can be given to adults and under 18s. Parliament has also introduced principles such as offenders being released on licence half way through a prison sentence and that there should be a reduction in sentence for a guilty plea.

Parliament also has a body called the Justice Select Committee which looks at the policies of the Ministry of Justice, the money it spends and how it is run.

For more general information on the role of parliament please see the parliament website. You can also look up legislation here.

Judiciary

Judges and magistrates have a key role in sentencing, being the ones who actually pass sentences. They must work within the laws and follow sentencing guidelines where they exist.  

They are independent of both parliament and the government so that they can make decisions freely and fairly. Judges and magistrates:
  • apply the law within the framework set by parliament; and 
  • determine the appropriate type and length of sentence.

As well as imposing sentences on offenders, the judiciary have also created many sentencing principles through case law. This means that certain cases act as examples for other judges, helping them decide an appropriate sentence for a case they dealing with for the same offence.

For more information please see the Judiciary of England and Wales website.

Sentencing Council

The Sentencing Council is the organisation responsible for producing sentencing guidelines in England and Wales. The guidelines assist judges and magistrates in determining the appropriate sentence for an offence.

The duties of the courts in relation to sentencing guidelines are set out in legislation.

When sentencing an offender for an offence committed on or after 6 April 2010, the court ‘must follow’ any relevant sentencing guidelines unless it would be contrary to the interests of justice to do so. This means that they must sentence the vast majority of cases within the minimum and maximum sentences set out in the guideline. However, if they are faced with an exceptionally serious case where following the guideline could lead to a too lenient sentence being given, they can ignore the guideline and sentence up to the maximum allowed by law.

When sentencing an offender for an offence committed before 6 April 2010, the courts must ‘have regard’ to any relevant sentencing guidelines.

For more information, go to Sentencing Guidelines page.

As well as producing guidelines, the Council also has other functions such as promoting public confidence in the criminal justice system and carrying out research and monitoring of how sentencing is working.

For more information please see the ‘About us’ section.

Parole Board

The Parole Board is an independent body that assesses the risks of releasing prisoners and helps decide whether they can be safely released from prison. Although they have no part to play in sentencing itself, the Parole Board has responsibility for assessing offenders sentenced to indeterminate sentences; and certain determinate sentences.

For more information please see the Parole Board website.

Probation Service

Local Probation Trusts supervise offenders aged 18 and over:
  • who have been sentenced to a community sentence or suspended sentence; or
  • who have been released from prison on licence.

For more information please see the Probation Service website.

Youth Offending Teams

Youth Offending Teams (YOT) supervise young people and are made up of representatives from the police, Probation Service, social services, health, education, drugs and alcohol misuse and housing officers. The YOT identifies the needs of each young offender by and the specific problems that make the young person offend as well as measuring the risk they pose to others. This enables the YOT to identify suitable action to prevent further offending.

Crown Prosecution Service

The Crown Prosecution Service is responsible for prosecuting criminal cases investigated by the police in England and Wales. Its functions are to:
  • advise the police on cases for possible prosecution;
  • review cases submitted by the police;
  • determine any charges in more serious or complex cases;
  • prepare cases for court;
  • present cases at court.

For more information please see the CPS website.

Ministry of Justice

The Ministry of Justice is the government department responsible for criminal, civil and family justice, democracy and rights.

It aims to protect the public and reduce reoffending, and to provide a more effective, transparent and responsive criminal justice system for victims and the public. It has responsibility for the different parts of the justice system: the courts, prisons, probation services and attendance centres. It works with the other government departments and agencies to reform the criminal justice system, to serve the public and support the victims of crime.

It is also responsible for making new laws, strengthening democracy, and safeguarding human rights.

For more information please see the Ministry of Justice website.