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Chapter

Cover The Oxford Handbook of Criminology

37. Sentencing  

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?

Chapter

Cover Sentencing and Punishment

2. Structuring sentencing  

A sentencing system in which there were no controls on how the judge or magistrate came to a decision on sentence would not be a principled system. It could also lead to injustice in individual cases. This chapter examines the ways in which sentencing discretion is constrained, not only through law and guidance but also through the use of a justificatory principle as a constraint. In particular it reviews the way that more recent forms of sentencing guidance have developed, notably the definitive guidelines produced by the Sentencing Council. It also discusses in detail the importance of a retributivist rationale with reference to classical and modern retributivism.

Chapter

Cover Sentencing and Punishment

2. Structuring sentencing  

This chapter examines the ways in which sentencing discretion is limited: a sentencing system in which there were no controls on how the judge or magistrate came to a decision on sentence would not be a principled system and could lead to injustice in individual cases. This chapter, therefore, examines the ways in which sentencing discretion is constrained, not only through law and guidance but also through the use of a justificatory principle as a constraint. In particular, it reviews the development of new forms of sentencing guidance, notably the definitive guidelines produced by the Sentencing Council, and discusses in detail the importance of a retributivist rationale. It explains classical retributivism, with a focus on Kant and Hegel, as well as modern retributivism.

Chapter

Cover Sentencing and Punishment

3. Determining ‘just deserts’  

Seriousness and proportionality are key concepts in the ‘just deserts’ approach to sentencing which was endorsed by the Criminal Justice Act 1991. This chapter analyses the extent to which this sentencing framework with retributivist principles has been undermined by subsequent changes in legislation, notably the Criminal Justice Act 2003, and by amendments to that Act. It examines law and guidance on constructing seriousness, particularly in relation to harm and culpability, and on determining a commensurate sentence. It illustrates issues by using examples from recent guidelines and focuses discussion on examples from custodial sentencing. Finally, the chapter discusses criticisms of modern retributivism.

Chapter

Cover Sentencing and Punishment

3. Determining ‘just deserts’  

Seriousness and proportionality are key concepts in the ‘just deserts’ approach to sentencing which was endorsed by the Criminal Justice Act 1991. This chapter analyses the extent to which this framework based on retributivist principles has been undermined by subsequent changes in legislation. It examines law and guidance on constructing seriousness, particularly in relation to harm and culpability, and on determining a commensurate sentence. Throughout it refers to the Sentencing Code (referring to the Sentencing Act 2020 when we are explaining how changes occurred) and illustrates issues by using examples from recent guidelines, focusing discussion on custodial sentencing. Finally, it discusses criticisms of modern retributivism from a range of standpoints, including Marxian perspectives.

Book

Cover Sentencing and Punishment
Sentencing and Punishment provides an accessible account of recent developments in sentencing and punishment from the standpoint of penal theories, policy aims, punishment practice, and human rights. It reviews changing ideas on what counts as ‘just’ punishment, and covers the key themes and topics studied on sentencing and punishment courses, New features of this, its fourth edition, include a focus on changes and continuities in penal and sentencing policy since 2010 as well as greater attention to sentencing guidelines and to the impact of the relevant sentencing provisions in force since the last edition, notably the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 and the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015. Material on dangerous offenders is also updated. In two new chapters—‘Instead of punishment?’ and ‘Impact on victims and offenders’—this edition brings together different, yet linked, areas of sentencing law and practice to provide new perspectives, and in restructured chapters on community punishment and young offenders, it focuses on such recent developments as the privatisation of the delivery of community penalties, the ‘rehabilitation revolution’, and the decreased use of custody for young offenders. This edition also gives more attention to the continuing influence of human rights law and jurisprudence and incorporates more material on the impact of the Equality Act 2010 on the treatment of different groups within the prison population. It also now includes case studies and discussion questions at the end of each chapter.