The Sentencing Council has launched a consultation on plans to provide expanded explanations in offence specific guidelines in England and Wales. The expanded explanations will embed additional information in digital guidelines and are designed to reflect and encourage current best practice rather than to alter sentencing practice.
The consultation runs from 28 February to 23 May 2019.
Why is the Sentencing Council proposing to add expanded explanations to existing offence specific guidelines?
- There are three main purposes for developing the Expanded Explanations:
- To provide useful information in an easily accessible way to ensure the consistent and transparent application of factors in sentencing guidelines.
- To supplement the proposed General guideline and replace the out of date Seriousness guideline produced in 2004 by our predecessor body - Sentencing Guidelines Council (SGC).
- To take the opportunity to make changes to the wording in some guidelines to improve consistency.
What difference will the extra information make?
- The expanded explanations are designed to reflect and encourage current best practice rather than to alter sentencing practice.
- The proposals do not change any existing factors (although we are consulting on rewording some content).
- In some cases, the explanations provide links to or extracts from existing overarching guidelines. In other cases, the explanations reflect case law which courts should already be following.
- If, following consultation, the proposals are adopted the explanations will be an integral part of sentencing guidelines.
When will it be published?
- Following consideration of the consultation responses the additional information will be published later this year alongside a new General guideline which will be used where there is no offence specific guideline. The explanations and the General guideline will replace the Overarching Principles: Seriousness guideline produced in 2004 by the SGC.
Why is the Council doing this now?
- The additional information will provide sentencers and other court users with useful information relating to commonly used factors in guidelines and improve transparency for victims, defendants and the wider public.
- The introduction of digital guidelines makes it possible to provide links to information from within guidelines.
Who will these explanations help and how?
- Judges and magistrates will find it easier to access relevant information on factors in guidelines.
- Defence and prosecution lawyers will be able to refer to the information in submissions to the court.
- Defence representatives will be able to use the information to explain to defendants how the sentencing process works.
- Victims and other interested parties will be able to see how different factors are applied by courts.
- Overall, the explanations will help to ensure that relevant considerations are taken into account in sentencing and that the process is transparent.
What impact will the expanded explanations have on sentence outcomes?
- The expanded explanations will apply at least in part to all offence specific Sentencing Council guidelines for sentencing adults and organisations. As such they have the potential to affect a large proportion of sentences, but as most of the proposals relate to providing expanded explanations of factors at step two of guidelines – after the starting point has been determined – the potential impact is limited.
- The aim is to improve consistency and transparency in sentencing, but if judges and magistrates are not currently following best practice then it is possible that the expanded explanations could lead to an increase or decrease in individual sentences.
- A resource assessment will be published alongside the consultation.
What are some of the key features?
The proposals include expanded explanations for:
- Commission of offence while under the influence of alcohol
- Vulnerability of victims
- Age and/or lack of maturity
- Sole or primary carer for dependent relatives
Which guidelines is the Council consulting on?
- This consultation is particularly extensive in that it applies to 132 guidelines, and to explanations for 44 factors.
- The Council has created a test version of its website so that users can see how the proposals will work in practice.
- Respondents to the consultation may be interested in particular offences and/or particular factors across multiple guidelines
- The Council welcomes responses to all or part of the consultation.
How can people find out more and respond?
For more details and to respond to the consultation, visit: https://www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk/consultations/