Legal notepad

Important legal provisions on sentencing

The scope of sentencing law is huge, so we will only be dipping in to some selected aspects of it.

Section 142 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 tells us that a court must have regard to a number of purposes of sentencing:

  • Punishment of offenders
  • Crime reduction - including by way of deterrence
  • Reform and rehabilitation of offenders
  • Public protection
  • Reparations by offenders to those affected by their offences

The first three should sound familiar (although the word ‘desert’ is not used, that seems to be what is being driven at by ‘punishment’). We have not had the chance to look at the other aims yet.

Public protection refers to the idea that a sentence will remove the danger posed by an offender. Criminologists sometimes refer to the idea of ‘incapacitation’ as a justification for sentencing; so an offender is removed from public circulation when they are imprisoned; their imprisonment ‘incapacitates’ them and hence the public is protected. (But offending behaviour might take place in prison itself; what does that say about the nature of a claim to incapacitation?).

Reparations refers to the idea of ‘making good’ (or ‘repairing’) the harms done by an offence. These harms might be to things, but they might also be to relationships. We’ll pick this up again when we look at restorative justice in a future Activity.

If you were a judge, what would you make of the requirement to have regard to these purposes? What does ‘have regard to’ mean? How do you weight them? Which take priority when? How do you know?

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This article is from the free online course:

From Crime to Punishment: an Introduction to Criminal Justice

University of York