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The Oxford Handbook of Criminology

The Oxford Handbook of Criminology (6th edn)

Alison Liebling, Shadd Maruna, and Lesley McAra
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date: 26 September 2023

p. 84637. Sentencinglocked

p. 84637. Sentencinglocked

  • Andrew Ashworth
  •  and Julian V. Roberts


Sentencing represents the apex of the criminal process and is the most public stage of the criminal justice system. Controversial sentences attract widespread media coverage, intense public interest, and much public and political criticism. This chapter explores sentencing in the United Kingdom, and draws some conclusions with relevance to other common law jurisdictions. Sentencing has changed greatly in recent years, notably through the introduction of sentencing guidelines in England and Wales, and more recently, Scotland. However, there are still doubts about the fairness and consistency of sentencing practice, not least in the use of imprisonment. Among the key issues to be examined in this chapter are the tendency towards net-widening, the effects of race and gender, the impact of pleading guilty, the use of indeterminate sentences, the rise of mandatory sentences, and the role of the victim in the sentencing process. The chapter begins by outlining the methods by which cases come before the courts for sentencing. It then summarizes the specific sentences available to courts and examines current sentencing patterns, before turning to a more detailed exploration of sentencing guidelines, and of the key issues identified above. The chapter addresses two critical questions: What is sentencing (namely who exerts the power to punish)? Does sentencing in the UK measure up to appropriate standards of fairness and consistency?

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