Individualisation at Sentencing: The Effects of Guidelines and 'Preferred' Numbers

Posted: 18 Jul 2019

See all articles by Julian V. Roberts

Julian V. Roberts

University of Oxford - Centre for Criminology

Jose Pina-Sanchez

University of Leeds - School of Law

Ian Marder

National University of Ireland, Maynooth (Maynooth University) - Department of Law

Date Written: November 12, 2018

Abstract

Over a decade after the introduction of sentencing guidelines in England and Wales, little is known about their effects on consistency and individualisation. Limited research has addressed the issue of consistency, and no research has explored another key concept, namely individualisation. This is regrettable since one criticism of guidelines is that they undermine the principle of individualisation at sentence, and this critique is examined here. The article explores two potential threats to individualisation, using sentence length data from the Crown Court Sentencing Survey. One threat may arise if a guideline constrains judges to sentence within a restricted range, leading to a less individualised approach to sentencing. The second is more fundamental, and consists of the tendency to favour some sentence lengths over others — a preference for certain “round” numbers. The article reports an analysis of custodial sentences for assault offences. Results indicate that sentence lengths for assault offences are affected by a preference for certain numbers — a tendency first observed by Francis Galton in the 19th century. On a more positive note, we find no evidence that the sentencing guidelines for assault and burglary introduced in 2011 have diminished the degree of individualisation in sentencing. We also find that courts report taking a larger number of sentencing factors into account under the new guidelines, further evidence that the guidelines have not undermined individualisation.

Suggested Citation

Roberts, Julian V. and Pina-Sanchez, Jose and Marder, Ian, Individualisation at Sentencing: The Effects of Guidelines and 'Preferred' Numbers (November 12, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3283352

Julian V. Roberts

University of Oxford - Centre for Criminology ( email )

Manor Road Building
Manor Road
Oxford, OX1 3UQ
United Kingdom

Jose Pina-Sanchez

University of Leeds - School of Law ( email )

Leeds LS2 9JT
United Kingdom

Ian Marder (Contact Author)

National University of Ireland, Maynooth (Maynooth University) - Department of Law ( email )

Maynooth, County Kildare
Ireland

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