Sentences and Sentencing Procedure

Sentences and Sentencing Procedure

This article provides explanations of the different sentencing options that a court can impose and what they mean in practice.

ABSOLUTE DISCHARGE
This means that the court is not going to punish the offender at all.  Unsurprisingly, this sentence is very rare.  It is only used if there is something about the case which means that the court does not think that the offence committed deserved a punishment.  Where an Absolute Discharge is made, the offender does not have to refer to what has happened as a “conviction” at all.

CONDITIONAL DISCHARGE
This means that the court is not going to impose a punishment immediately but if any further offence was to be committed during a period of time stated by the court, then the court could sentence the offender again for the original offence as well as the new offence.  If no further offence is committed within the relevant period then there is no punishment.  Where a Conditional Discharge is made, the offender does not have to refer to what has happened as a “conviction” unless they come back before the court for breach.

FINE
The level of a fine has to be related to the offender’s ability to pay.  Guidelines say that any fine should be capable of being paid off within about a year.  If the fine is not paid, the court can take out enforcement proceedings and the offender could ultimately be sent to prison.  The Court will usually impose a Collection Order which gives the offender 14 days to pay the fine in full.  However, provided the offender makes contact with the Court Fines Enforcement Officer within the 14 days then he or she may be able to negotiate payment by instalments over a longer period.

COMMUNITY ORDERS
A court has to be satisfied that the offence is “serious enough” for a community penalty but not “so serious” that a custodial sentence must be imposed.  There are a number of requirements that can be attached to a Community Order.  These will usually be recommended in a report prepared by a Probation Officer.  The main types of “requirement” are as follows:

1.    Supervision Activity Requirement (This used to be called a Probation Order) 
This sentence would mean that the offender would have to report to the Probation service for a period of time, up to a maximum of 3 years, to try to address their offending behaviour.  The Probation Service might offer help with finding employment or try to tackle specific problems, such as anger management.  The court may impose additional requirements in relation to specific programmes or courses.  If this kind of order is breached, the offender can be brought back to court and re-sentenced for the original offences.  This could mean being sent to prison.

2. Unpaid Work Requirement or Community Payback (This used to be called Community Service) 
This sentence would mean that the offender would have to carry out unpaid work in the community for a specified number of hours, from 40 up to a maximum of 300 hours.  If this kind of order is breached, the offender can be brought back to court and re-sentenced for the original offences.  This can mean additional hours being imposed or it could mean being sent to prison.  An offender may have to work 3 or 4 days each week if they are unemployed.  The Community Payback work will be arranged outside of working hours if the offender has a job, e.g. evenings or weekends.

2.    Drug Rehabilitation Requirement (DRR) (This used to be called DTTO) 
This sentence is designed for offenders who have a drug problem.  It is very demanding, involving regular attendance at counselling sessions and compulsory urine testing.  It is designed for offenders with a serious problem, usually involving class A drugs, like heroin.  Breaching a DRR would almost certainly mean being re-sentenced to a term of imprisonment.  The progress of the order will be monitored regularly by the court.  A DRR will often be imposed alongside a Supervision Order.

3.    Curfew Requirement 
A curfew order is similar to house arrest. People must stay indoors, usually at their home, for the curfew period. A tag, worn on the ankle or wrist, notifies monitoring services if the offender is absent during the curfew hours.  Orders last for a maximum of six months, with a minimum of 2 and up to 12 hours per day.

4.    Sex Offender’s Treatment Programme (SOTP) 
Offenders convicted of certain sexual offences may be required to attend this programme.  The court will specify how many sessions needs to be attended.  Sessions usually involve group work activity.  Often, the Probation Service will request a three year Order from the court to ensure that the programme can be started and concluded in time.  This does not mean that the SOTP will actually take three years to undertake.

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