Strict Sentencing Guidelines of the UK

There are very strict guidelines for sentencing in the UK. The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 says that when sentencing an offender for an offence committed on or after 6 April 2010, a court must follow any relevant sentencing guidelines, unless it is contrary to the interests of justice to do so. Sentencing guidelines are managed by the Sentencing Council, 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
  • to produce sentencing guidelines for the courts to follow
  • analyse the impact of these guidelines on sentencing
  • improve public confidence around the sentencing laws

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 and the other a more lenient punishment. With each crime come different levels of seriousness, so each crime needs to be treated differently. The sentencing guidelines include 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 pleas, youth sentencing and domestic violence.

The sentencing guidelines are used to provide a structured approach to arriving at 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 seriousness 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.