When a defendant is convicted, there may be an adjournment before sentencing takes place, but there must be good reason for such an adjournment. Typically, an adjournment is required because the court requires a pre-sentence report before passing an appropriate sentence.
In the Magistrates’ Court, adjournments following a conviction must not exceed four weeks where the offender is granted bail, or three weeks if remanded in custody. The Crown Court normally adopts the same periods.
The principles set out below apply to offenders aged 18 or over.
The Criminal Justice Act 2003 sets out the objectives of sentencing. When passing sentence, the court must have regard to these objectives:
Sentencing is a two-stage process requiring consideration of both aggravating and mitigating factors. The court must consider what sentence does the seriousness of the offence itself merit; and whether that sentence can be reduced in light of mitigating factors.
The seriousness of an offence is a significant concept because it helps determine which of the sentencing thresholds has been crossed, and indicates whether a custodial,
or other sentence is the most appropriate. The seriousness of the offence is, of course, the key factor in deciding the length of a custodial sentence, the conditions of a community sentence, and the amount of any fine imposed.‘Culpability’ is the initial factor in determining the seriousness of an offence. Sentencing Guidelines Council’s (SGC) Guidance on Seriousness identifies four levels of culpability:
The SGC identifies various factors that indicate significantly lower culpability, including:
The presence or existence of various factors amount to an aggravating factor which indicates a higher than usual level of culpability and, therefore, a higher sentence. These factors include:
Similarly, the SGC sets out various factors indicating a more than usually serious degree of harm including, for instance, multiple victims or a vulnerable victim.
Pleading guilty normally reduces the sentence. When sentencing, the court should take into account at what stage of the proceedings the defendant indicated an intention to plead guilty; and the circumstances in which that indication was given.
The discount for a guilty plea should be based on a sliding scale, so that the offender gets more credit for pleading guilty at the earliest opportunity, as follows:
The SGC guidance sets out the recommended approach to giving the defendant credit for pleading guilty by setting out four steps:
Under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (section 143(2)), “…the court must treat each previous conviction as an aggravating factor if (in the case of that conviction) the court considers that it can reasonably be so treated having regard, in particular to…the nature of the offence to which the conviction relates and its relevance to the current offence; and the time that has elapsed since the conviction”.
In other words, an offence is to be regarded as more serious if committed by someone with relevant previous convictions (relevance depending on how old the previous convictions are and how similar in type they are to the present offence).
Nicola is a dual qualified journalist and non-practising solicitor. She is a legal journalist, editor and author with more than 20 years' experience writing about the law.
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