Strict Sentencing Guidelines of the UK

There are very strict guidelines for sentencing in the UK. The rules set out for this are done so in the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. These laws are also overseen by the Sentencing Council. The sentencing council is an independent public body that is a part of the Ministry of Justice.

In England and Wales, the main aim of the Sentencing Council is to:

  • promote a clear, fair and consistent approach to sentencing
  • analyse and research sentencing
  • improve public confidence around the sentencing laws.

The council will follow the sentencing guidelines as laid out by the Coroners and Justice Act, which involves:

  • preparing sentencing guidelines
  • monitoring the operation of the sentences given
  • promoting awareness of sentencing and sentencing practices
  • assessing the effect of the sentencing and seeing that it is suitable
  • producing and publishing an annual report on sentencing practices.

The sentencing guidelines are designed to help judges and magistrates administer the most suitable form of sentence. Of course, each crime is different as is the criminal that commits it, so each case will need to be given some kind of leeway as to make sure the sentence is correct and justified. The sentencing guidelines for each offence have a set range, with one end being a more severe and lengthy sentence than the other. With each crime come different levels of gravity, so each crime needs to be treated separately to the other. The sentencing guidelines also have information as to what situations should be taken into account in regard to leniency. The guidelines are available for most cases within the magistrates’ court and a wide range of cases in the Crown Court.

Within the sentencing guidelines, there is guidance on general sentencing principles. This guidance is not used for application to individual offences but is more of a basic set of standards. This includes information on discounts for guilty plea, youth sentencing and domestic violence.

The sentencing guidelines are used to provide a structured approach to deciphering an appropriate sentence for a criminal, whilst still allowing for discretion of the individual case. This allows magistrates and judges in various courts to be able to apply specific alterations to some sentences (with due cause) as well as maintaining a level of consistency.


There is a large amount of research undertaken on the sentencing guidelines by the Sentencing Council. As the world changes around us, the rules and regulations that we live by need to adapt with us.

One of the most recent research studies undertaken on the sentencing guidelines was on the attitudes to drug offences. The main aims of the study were to examine:

  • related attitudes to the gravity of drug offences, particularly in regard to the sentences given on different types of drug offences, including possession, possession with intent to supply, and importation
  • attitudes in relation to the various roles of drug offenders, the culpability of the criminal and the harm caused by the crime
  • various attitudes in relation to sentences given determined by the class of the drug
  • attitudes towards sanctions given.

The sentencing guidelines can be found in full in an online archive. If you are someone that is facing a sentence, and you are unclear on some of the guidelines, feel free to fill in the form to the right of this page, tell us a little about your problem and a member of our team will get back to you as soon as possible.