Magistrates and judges are responsible for deciding what sentence to impose on people found guilty of a crime. They have to take into account the following factors:
- The facts of the case
- Reducing crime
- Protecting the public
- Rehabilitating the offender
- Restorative justice – trying to repair the damage the crime has done to the victim and community
- Sentencing guidelines - these are guidelines set down by the Sentencing Council
- Circumstances of the offender - the Probation Service may need to produce a report about the offender.
The Sentencing Council has produced a short film explaining how sentences are worked out, which can be viewed here (if you cannot view the video you can read the transcript here):
There are four types of sentence available to the courts, depending upon the seriousness of the crime. They are:
- Discharge – this is when the court decides that given the character of the offender and the nature of the crime, punishment would not be appropriate. There are two types of discharge:
- Absolute discharge - no further action is taken, since either the offence was very minor, or the court considers that the experience has been enough of a deterrent. The offender will receive a criminal record.
- Conditional discharge - the offender is released and the offence registered on their criminal record. No further action is taken unless they commit a further offence within a time decided by the court (no more than three years).
- Fines – the court can order that the offender pays a fine. The maximum fine allowed in a magistrates' court is £5000. Fines are unlimited in the Crown Court.
- Community sentences – these combine punishment with activities designed to change offenders' behaviour and to make amends - sometimes directly to the victim of the crime. These can include:
- Compulsory (unpaid) work
- Participation in specified activities
- Programmes aimed at changing offending behaviour
- Prohibition from certain activities
- Curfew (may involve electronic tagging)
- Exclusion from certain areas
- Residence at a particular place
- Mental health treatment
- Drug treatment and testing
- Alcohol treatment
- Attendance at a particular place
- Imprisonment - for the most serious offences the court may impose a prison sentence. The length of sentence is limited by the maximum penalty for that crime. The sentence imposed by the court represents the maximum amount of time that the offender will remain in custody.