Impact of the Guidelines

The Impact of Three Guidelines on Consistency in Sentencing

Report (Sentencing Council for England and Wales)

A methodology to measure consistency of approach to sentencing was developed and applied to data covering three Sentencing Council guidelines, to understand whether these guidelines have achieved the Council’s aim of promoting greater consistency in sentencing. The analysis found that for domestic burglary and supply/ possession with intent to supply a controlled drug, there is some evidence of an increase in consistency following the introduction of these guidelines. However, for theft from a shop or stall, no increase in consistency was observed. When looking at specific guideline factors, it was found that the majority of the factors tested were associated with consistent sentencing. A small number were found to have been associated with inconsistent sentencing, including several factors related to the use of or addiction to alcohol/ drugs, and whether the offender had any previous convictions. A number of possible reasons were given for these inconsistencies; however, more research would be needed to understand this further. The Council will consider how this research can assist when developing and evaluating future sentencing guidelines.

Sentence Reductions for a Guilty Plea: The Impact of the Revised Guideline on Rates of Pleas and ‘Cracked Trials’

Article (Journal of Criminal Law)

In 2017, the Sentencing Council introduced a revised guideline for plea-based sentence reductions. The revisions were designed to provide greater certainty and to accelerate the timing of guilty pleas. Late pleas resulting in ‘cracked trials’ have long been a problem in the court system. The guideline was not intended to change the rate of defendants who plead guilty, but rather to increase the percentage of pleas entered early in the criminal process. This brief article reports findings from an analysis of data from the Crown Court before and after the introduction of the revised sentencing guideline. Findings reveal that the overall guilty plea remained stable over the period 2014–2019. The guideline appears to have had no effect on the timing of guilty pleas entered, and in fact the percentage of ‘cracked’ trials rose in the post-guideline period.

Enhancing Consistency in Sentencing: Exploring the Effects of Guidelines in England and Wales

Article (Journal of Quantitative Criminology)

Presentation (Ministry of Justice)

Objectives: The development and application of methods to assess consistency in sentencing before and after the 2011 England and Wales assault guideline came into force. Methods: We use the Crown Court Sentencing Survey to compare the goodness of fit of two regression analyses of sentence length on a set of legal factors before and after the assault guideline came into force. We then monitor the dispersion of residuals from these regressions models across time. Finally, we compare the variance in sentence length of equivalent types of offences using exact matching. Results: We find that legal factors can explain a greater portion of variability in sentencing after the guideline was implemented. Furthermore, we detect that the unexplained variability in sentencing decreases steadily during 2011, while results from exact matching point to a statistically significant average reduction in the variance of sentence length amongst same types of offences. Conclusions: We demonstrate the relevance of two new methods that can be used to produce more robust assessments regarding the evolution of consistency in sentencing, even in situations when only observational non-hierarchical data is available. The application of these methods showed an improvement in consistency during 2011 in England and Wales, although this positive effect cannot be conclusively ascribed to the implementation of the new assault guideline.

Defining and Measuring Consistency in Sentencing

Book Chapter (Exploring Sentencing Practice in England and Wales)