About Sentencing

Jp, sheriff and high court judge

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Jack assaults a steward in a nightclub. Watch the video and then decide what sentence you would give him - if you were the judge.



Legal words used on this page are explained in our jargon buster.

What happens before sentencing?

A person who is charged with committing a crime is called the accused. A person who has been convicted of committing a crime in court is called an offender and will be sentenced for the crime by a judge. Offenders are convicted of a crime in two ways. They can admit that they committed the crime (plead guilty) or they can be found to have committed the crime following a trial (found guilty). 

What is a sentence?

A sentence is what the judge decides should happen to an offender who has been convicted of a crime.

The judge decides the sentence at the end of the prosecution (court case). For more information on how an accused is prosecuted in court, see the links below.

 CourtsCourt systemCourt prosecution

How does a judge decide a sentence?

Judges are independent and make their decisions based on what the law says and the unique circumstances of each case. No two cases will ever be exactly the same. A judge will take the law and the different circumstances and factors into account when deciding a sentence.


A judge must first see whether the law sets out minimum or maximum sentences for the offence.

 More information on what the law says 

A judge will then decide which factors are relevant and should be taken into account in the case and consider how much weight to give to each one.


Some of the main factors include:

Factors that are likely to increase a sentence are called ‘aggravating’ and factors that are likely to decrease a sentence are called ‘mitigating’.

 More information on factors 

What sentences and disposals are available?

A disposal is the sentence or outcome of a criminal case. These range from an absolute discharge, where no punishment is given, to imprisonment for life.

 More information on disposals 


Before imposing a sentence, a judge may request a social worker to provide a report on the background of the offender. Some sentences cannot be given without such a report. A date for sentence will be set allowing enough time for the report to be completed.

How will guidelines fit in?

The Council will prepare sentencing guidelines on certain offences or type of offender. Once guidelines are in place, a judge must take those which are relevant into account when deciding a sentence.  For further explanation see our web page About guidelines.