What Sentence Will I Get?


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Created on April 17, 2020

If you are convicted of a criminal offence, the court will consider the most appropriate sentence to impose.  What is appropriate will depend on a number of factors, including the seriousness of the offence, what plea you entered, your personal circumstances and whether the case calls for punishment, deterrent or rehabilitation or a combination of all three. 

In most cases, the options for the court, in ascending order of seriousness, are as follows:

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 deserves 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. 

Financial Penalty

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 a period of time (say, 14 days) to pay the fine in full.  However, provided the offender makes contact with the Court Fines Enforcement Officer within 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. Rehabilitation Activity Requirement Days

 This requirement means that the offender has to report to the Probation Service for a specified number of days 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.  In certain circumstances, this could mean being sent to prison.

2. Unpaid Work Requirement

This requirement involves the offender carrying 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, being fined 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 Unpaid Work Hours will be arranged outside of working hours if the offender has a job, e.g. at evenings or weekends.

3. Drug Rehabilitation Requirement (DRR)

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 number of Rehabilitation Activity Requirement (RAR) Days. 

4. 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.  A commonly imposed curfew might be from 8pm to 7am daily for 3 months. 

5. 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 need to be attended.  Sessions usually involve groupwork 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.

There are various other programmes that can be imposed as a requirement attached to a Community Order.  These include anger management programmes, alcohol treatment requirements, mental health treatment requirements and programmes designed to tackle domestic violence (for example, the Building Better Relationships programme).    


A sentence of imprisonment can be immediate or suspended. 

Release on Licence or HDC

It is unlikely that an offender would have to serve the whole term of any sentence in prison.  It is usually the case that the offender serves half the sentence in custody before being released on licence. For offenders up to 4 years in length, the offender may be released before the half way point on Home Detention Curfew (‘HDC’ or ‘tagging’).  HDC means that the offender is released earlier than if they were simply released on licence but the offender has to abide by a curfew at a fixed address.  To ensure that the curfew is kept, the offender is given an electronic monitoring device (a ‘tag’) so that the authorities can check that the offender is at the correct address when they are supposed to be.  This is done through the telephone system.  Release on HDC is at the discretion of the Prison Governor. 

If you were to be sent to prison, we would tell you how long you would be likely to spend in prison before being released. 

If an offence is committed by an offender whilst on licence, if the terms of any such licence are breached or if an offender breaks the rules of the tagging scheme, then the offender could, and probably would, be recalled back to prison. Some minor breaches may be dealt with by way of a 28 day recall.  However, more serious or persistent breaches will result in a full recall.  The decision to recall can be challenged and the position will be reviewed by the Parole Board.  In those circumstances, we would suggest that the offender seeks legal advice from a prison law specialist. 

Offenders sentenced to a custodial sentence of twelve months or less will serve half the custodial term but will then remain on post sentence supervision for a minimum of twelve months.  In other words, even a prison sentence of two weeks will result in a twelve month licence period in the community. 

Suspended Sentence Orders

If the court decides to suspend the prison sentence then it imposes a Suspended Sentence Order.  As well as setting out the length of time that would have to be served and the length of time that the sentence is suspended for, the court may also impose one or more community based requirements (see above).  This means that failure to comply with the requirement(s) may result in the offender having to serve all or part of the prison term.  Equally, the commission of a further offence during the suspended period will usually result in the activation of the suspended term of imprisonment (in full or in part). 

A suspended sentence order can only be made in respect of prison sentences up to and including two years in length.  Also, the sentence can only be suspended for a period of up to two years. 

Life Sentences, Indeterminate imprisonment and Extended Sentences

In certain circumstances, the Crown Court may consider imposing a life sentence or an extended sentence.  These sentences are reserved for the most serious offences and for offenders that are considered to pose “a significant risk of serious harm to members of the public occasioned by the commission of further specified offences by the offender”.  A life sentence or an indeterminate sentence of imprisonment for public protection will involve the court setting out the tariff or minimum term of imprisonment that must be served before release can be considered by the Parole Board.  In theory, an offender could remain in prison for the rest of their lives.  In practice, that is incredibly rare and unlikely. 

More commonly, a judge may impose an Extended Determinate Sentence.  In these circumstances, the judge will impose the appropriate custodial term for the offence and then extend the licence period that must be served in the community.  In these cases, the offender is not released at the half way mark of the custodial term.  Instead they are released at the two thirds point or, in certain circumstances, the case will be referred to the Parole Board at the two thirds point for release to be considered. 

Costs, Victim Surcharge and Compensation

In almost all cases, the prosecution will apply for a contribution towards the costs of the case upon conviction.  The standard sum imposed after a guilty plea in the Magistrates’ Court is £85.  However, if the offender is convicted after trial or if they enter a guilty plea late in the proceedings, then a much higher sum may be requested, usually a few hundred pounds.  Costs in the Crown Court can be higher still. 

Where the offence involved violence against a particular victim or where property was stolen or damaged, the court is obliged to consider awarding a sum in compensation for the injury or loss.  The award of compensation will not prevent the other party from bringing a civil claim for damages against the offender but it will be a relevant factor for the civil court to consider. 

In all cases, the court is required to impose a Victim Surcharge, sometimes referred to as the Court Surcharge.  There are fixed sums that apply to the type of sentence imposed.  These figures change from time to time. 

The court will consider the entire sum that the offender has been ordered to pay, including any Fine, Costs, Victims Surcharge and Compensation.  A Collection Order may then be imposed in respect of the total. 

Ancillary Orders

In many cases, the court will have the power to make an ancillary order against the offender.  The order will relate to the offence that has been committed and is usually designed to prevent a similar offence from being committed in the future.  Examples of ancillary orders are as follows:

  1. Restraining Orders – for violent or harassment type offences
  2. Disqualification from driving – for driving offences
  3. Sexual Harm Prevention Orders – for certain sexual offences.
  4. Forfeiture and destruction orders – in relation to weapons, drugs or other items used in the commission of an offence
  5. Football Banning Orders – for violence and disorder offences related to football matches
  6. Criminal Behaviour Orders – in relation to any offence where anti-social behaviour is the cause of the offence. This might relate to the offender’s excessive alcohol consumption


A different sentencing regime exits in the case of youths (offenders aged under 18 at the point of sentence). 

In the Youth Court, sentences are generally proposed by the Youth Offender Service.  For first time offenders, a Referral Order will generally be appropriate.  This is considered to be the least onerous option and it is designed to help the young offender to tackle whatever issues they may have in order to prevent a return to the Criminal Justice System. 

Youth Rehabilitation Orders will be imposed for repeat offenders or for more serious offences.  These Orders may have a number of requirements attached to them which are tailored to the needs of the offender. 

Custodial sentences, reserved for the most serious offences or persistent offenders where community based options have failed, are called Detention and Training Orders.  These sentences can only be imposed for fixed terms (4 , 6, 8, 10, 12, 18 or 24 months).  Half the sentence will be served in custody and the remaining half will be served in the community. 


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