Between Court Disparities

Re-Assessing the Consistency of Sentencing Decisions in Cases of Assault: Allowing for Within-Court Inconsistencies

Article (British Journal of Criminology)

Presentation (University of Helsinki)

Objectives: To extend the focus of existing empirical assessment of judicial sentencing consistency by emphasising the importance of within court disparities. Mehods: We use location-scale models to consider differences in within court disparities simultaneously with between-court disparities. Models are applied to a total of 4,835 offences of Actual Bodily Harm from the 2011 Crown Courts Sentencing Survey of England and Wales, considering both final disposal and sentence length. Results: We show that courts differ, not just in the average sentence awarded, but also in the degree of within-court sentencing variability. Controlling for legitimate sources of variability, the average custodial sentence length varied from 319 to 494 days, and the within-court standard deviation ranged from 240 to 469 days. Within-court disparities were also evident when considering final disposal type, with some courts considerably less likely to use the full range of sentence outcomes. Conclusions: Fully understanding sentencing consistency requires the examination of differences in the extent of within-court disparities, in addition to differences in the typical sentence awarded.

Location and Sentencing: To What Extent Do Contextual Factors Explain Between Court Disparities?

Article (British Journal of Criminology)                  

Presentation (Society of Legal Scholars Conference)

This article investigates the presence of unwarranted between court disparities in England and Wales, examining whether they can be explained by non-legal contextual factors such as the organisation of the court and socio-economic composition of the area. In contrast with previous literature, we emphasise the importance of controlling for a wide range of legally relevant case characteristics. The findings reveal that some preliminary startling trends, such as more severe sentencing in courts located in neighbourhoods with high proportions of Muslim residents, are in fact accounted for by differences in the cases reviewed across courts. These findings call into question the validity of previous studies exploring the influence of the context on sentencing that did not adequately control for legal factors.

Sentence Consistency in England and Wales: Evidence from the Crown Court Sentencing Survey

Article (British Journal of Criminology)

Presentation (British Society of Criminology Conference)

We assess the use of sentencing guidelines for assault issued in England and Wales, and the consistency with which they are applied by judges in the Crown Court. We use data from the Crown Court Sentencing Survey (CCSS), which records data on legal factors considered in the sentencing guidelines. This gives us access to a wide range of explanatory variables, allowing us to produce more robust findings about consistency in sentencing. We first employ a standard regression model to determine how guideline factors affect sentence outcomes empirically. Second, a random slopes multilevel model is used to analyse whether these factors have been consistently applied across different Crown Court centres. Our results point to a substantial degree of consistency in sentencing.