The Justice Committee publishes its Fifth Report of Session 2015–16, Draft sentencing guideline on community and custodial sentences.
Scope of the report
The Sentencing Council has proposed a new guideline for magistrates and judges on the imposition of community and custodial sentences. The new draft guideline is based largely on the Magistrates Court Sentencing Guidelines which are continually updated by the Council. However, there is currently no Council-issued guidance on community and custodial sentences in the Crown Court.
The Sentencing Council’s decision to produce a guideline has also been prompted by the substantial decline in Community Orders (COs) alongside the increasing volume of Suspended Sentence Orders (SSOs) over the past decade: COs have decreased from almost 203,000 to less than 108,000 and SSOs have increased from under 4,000 to over 52,000. It therefore seeks to clarify the questions that the court must ask when considering whether to suspend a custodial sentence.
Committee Chair Bob Neill MP said:
"We are reassured about the Sentencing Council’s intentions to monitor the impact of the new guideline using a range of methodologies as part of offence-specific evaluation exercises in the both the Crown Court and magistrates' courts. We welcome this and would like to be kept informed of the results."
The Committee considers that as part of this monitoring, it might be useful for the Council to consider the potential impact of section 68 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 on the numbers of SSOs and their length. This enables the court to impose an SSO for sentences of up to two years, rather than 12 months. It also makes it discretionary rather than mandatory as to whether a community requirement should be imposed with the SSO, which could potentially make it easier for sentencers to consider the option of an SSO.
The Sentencing Council for England and Wales is an independent non-departmental body of the Ministry of Justice. Its primary role is to issue guidelines on sentencing, which the courts must follow unless it is in the interests of justice not to do so. The Council also assesses the impact of guidelines on sentencing practice and promotes public awareness of sentencing practice in the magistrates’ courts and the Crown Court.
The Council is required to publish guidelines in draft before they are finalised. The Justice Committee is a statutory consultee. Given the limited scope and relative technicality of this draft guideline, the Committee decided not to take formal or informal evidence from stakeholders before responding to the consultation. Instead it sought clarification of some points in correspondence with Lord Justice Treacy, which is appended to this report.