General sentencing guideline for use where there is no offence specific guideline

Closed 11 Sep 2018

Opened 19 Jun 2018


What is this consultation about?

The Sentencing Council is consulting on a draft General sentencing guideline for use where there is no offence specific guideline. A link to the draft guideline can be found here.

What is the Sentencing Council?

The Sentencing Council is the independent body responsible for developing sentencing guidelines for the courts to use when passing a sentence. The Council’s remit extends to allow consultation on the sentencing of offenders following conviction.


The Sentencing Council’s predecessor body, the Sentencing Guidelines Council (SGC), published its Overarching Principles: Seriousness guideline in 2004.  It remains in force although parts of it have been superseded. It can be found here (right click to open in a new tab or window)

The SGC Seriousness guideline sets out the statutory provisions governing the five purposes of sentencing and the assessment of culpability and harm as set out in the Criminal Justice Act 2003. The SGC guideline then goes on to give guidance on the assessment of harm and culpability and to list factors that indicate an increase or decrease the harm or culpability.

It also gives guidance on reductions for a guilty plea (which has been superseded by the Reduction in Sentence for a Guilty Plea Definitive Guideline), the custody and community sentence thresholds (superseded by the Imposition of Community and Custodial Sentences Definitive Guideline) and prevalence (which is still current).

Why is the Council producing a general guideline?

The Council aims to replace all SGC guidelines by 2020, so that all guidelines are in the Sentencing Council format and are up-to-date.  During 2018 the Council will be moving to digital guidelines for use in the Crown Court (magistrates’ courts already use digital guidelines) and this presents an opportunity to embed additional information into guidelines.

The Council has produced offence specific guidelines for most of the high volume criminal offences sentenced by courts in England and Wales and is currently developing guidelines for the remaining high volume offences. There remain, however, many offences which are not yet covered by definitive or draft offence-specific guidelines.   These include: blackmail, child abduction, cybercrime / hacking, data protection offences, female genital mutilation, fire regulation offences, forgery, immigration offences, kidnap and false imprisonment, landlord/ HMO offences, modern slavery, offences against vulnerable adults, offences committed in custody, perverting the course of justice / perjury planning offences, wildlife offences.

In addition the Council has produced overarching guidance on many of the key issues of sentencing (including totality, sentencing children and young people, domestic abuse, reductions in sentence of a guilty plea and imposition of custodial and community sentences) and the Council has recently commenced work on developing overarching guidance on mental health and learning disabilities in sentencing. There are other overarching issues about which the Council has been asked to provide guidance, such as youth and immaturity and the significance of previous convictions.

The Council has therefore taken this opportunity to:

  1. replace the SGC Seriousness guideline;
  2. provide a guideline for the sentencing of offences not covered by an offence specific guideline;
  3. embed in that guideline, overarching guidance on sentencing issues.

This draft guideline will apply to sentencing adults and organisations only.  The Overarching Principles – Sentencing Children and Young People Definitive Guideline sets out the approach to be taken when sentencing under 18s.

Guidance for factors in offence-specific guidelines

The introduction of digital guidelines will also allow the Council to provide additional guidance on the factors in existing and new offence specific guidelines.  The Council will consult separately on this in late 2018 or early 2019. 

What is the Council consulting about?

The Council has produced this consultation paper in order to seek the views of people interested in criminal sentencing.

Through this consultation process, the Council is seeking views on:

  • the principal factors that make offences more or less serious;
  • additional factors which should influence the sentence;
  • the applicability of the guideline to a wide range of offences;
  • the clarity and accessibility of the guideline; and
  • anything else that you think should be considered.

The Council recognises that when all the additional information is taken into account this general guideline is longer than most offence specific guidelines and that not all aspects of the guideline will be of interest to all respondents.  The Council welcomes responses to all or part of this consultation and you can save and return to your response later.

Freedom of Information:

We will treat all responses as public documents in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act and we may attribute comments and include a list of all respondents’ names in any final report we publish.  In addition, responses may be shared with the Justice Committee of the House of Commons. If you wish to submit a confidential response, you should contact us before sending the response.  PLEASE NOTE – We will disregard automatic confidentiality statements generated by an IT system.

What else is happening as part of the consultation process?

This is a 12 week public consultation. During the consultation period, the Council will host a number of consultation meetings to seek views from interested organisations as well as with sentencers. Once the consultation exercise is over and the results considered, a final guideline will be published and used by all adult courts.

The Council has also produced a resource assessment which considers the impact of the guideline on the resources required for the provision of prison places and probation services.  This can be found on the Sentencing Council’s website:


  • Government departments
  • Legal professionals
  • Judiciary
  • Police
  • Prosecutors


  • Criminal justice