Sentences in our justice system range from a fine to a custodial sentence. These are the categories contained within Criminal Justice Act 1991. It is possible to impose a fine for almost any offence except murder. A set maximum of fines is built into the system operating in a Magistrates court. Each fine depends on the offence in question, with the highest fine being £5000. The Criminal Justice Act 1991 requires Magistrates to issue a fine that fits the nature of the crime as well as paying attention to the offenders circumstances so as they can reduce or increase the fine as a result. There is no maximum in the Crown Court. The advantages to courts issuing a fine include bringing income into the justice system and it does not have the long- term disruptive effects of custodial sentencing. It has also been said that fines result in less re-offending than in other sentences. Community sentences are given when the relevant offence was sufficiently serious to justify one. The court must decide which order is the most suitable; choosing from probation orders, community service orders, combination orders, curfew orders and attendance centre orders. The courts must then decide on what is the most suitable order. However, this is seen as a “soft” option and has poor reconviction rates. Advantages of community service orders include allowing useful community work to be done. Custodial sentences apply to person’s aged 21 or over. The court may issue either a prison sentence or a suspended sentence and in reference to youth sentencing they may issue a sentence in a young offenders institution or detention under the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, s. 53 (2). Before a custodial sentence is imposed the court must distinguish between non violent and non-sexual and those which are. A custodial sentence is seen as justified when it is seen as an offence that is so serious, that justice can only be seen to be done if a custodial sentence is passed. The 1991 Act states that judges can look at all associated offences when deciding the seriousness of the offence. They are now allowed to take into account previous convictions, failure to respond to previous sentences and the commission of an offence while on bail. Advantages of custodial sentencing include the fact that offenders cannot commit offences while they are behind bars. Thus, the public is protected. Disadvantages include high reconviction rates partially due to some people becoming used to prison conditions. It is estimated there is a 65% reconviction rate. There are a range of miscellaneous sentences and examples of these include the death sentence, binding over to be of good behaviour and disqualification. In reference to the death sentence, this is still available for a certain number of uncommon offences including high treason and piracy. Binding over to be of good behaviour means that the person in question has to put up a sum of money and/or find someone else to do so which will be fortified if the undertaking is broken. Disqualification is very common as a sentence following a motoring offence. It also applies to sentences relating to keeping pets or livestock.
A separate section of rules applies to youth sentencing. This area of sentencing has changed options open to judges in the past couple of decades as far as sentencing young offenders is concerned. Examples of these types of sentences are detention in a young offenders institute, secure training orders and detention “during her Majesty’s pleasure.” Detention in a young offenders institute applies to those aged between 15 and 21. For those aged between 15 and 17, the maximum term they may serve is 24 months. Secure training orders mean that under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, offenders aged between twelve and fourteen can be detained in a secure training centre for half of their sentence and placed under supervision for the second half. However this sentence can only be used for someone who has been convicted of three or more imprisonable offences, and who have re-offended or been in breach of a supervision order. Detention “during her Majesty’s pleasure,” means a young offender convicted of murder aged under eighteen may be detained indefinitely, otherwise known as “during her Majesty’s pleasure.”
Thus, there is quite a wide range of sentencing options open to judges in the British justice system. This raises the question concerning courts with the same jurisdiction passing different sentences. This is largely due to the factors behind sentencing that control the way in which it is administered.
Aims of sentencing affect passing a sentence because there is an option which sentence to select-retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation and public protection. The relevant court may decide on deterrence (as previously stated), retribution- where the main concern is recognising the criminal has done something wrong, rehabilitation- where the object of this sentence is to “reform the offender” or public protection where the offender is placed in custody in order to prevent the commission of further crimes. Each sentence is designed to achieve something different and the courts have to choose either one according to what they see as a fit punishment. The different options available will almost certainly lead to courts passing different sentences. The background of the judge is also important as far as courts with concurrent jurisdiction passing different sentences is concerned. The decision of sentencing being left to the judge can lead to in consistent results. The Government has tried to correct this by restricting judicial discretion. Other jurisdictions allow less discretion by the judges. However, in this country judicial discretion is seen as very important as it is seen as an aspect of judicial independence. Therefore, this will continue with different judges in different courts deciding on different sentences. Acts applying to sentencing, for example The Criminal Justice Act 1991 state certain aspects of sentencing which may be interpreted differently by different courts. For example, a court has to decide wether the relevant sentence falls into a violent or non- violent category or sexual or non-sexual offence thus producing different results according to what category the sentence falls in. Different courts will have their own ideas about what is the correct sentence to pass.