Sentencing Glossary by UK Prison Council

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    The punishment that a court imposes on a person who is convicted of a criminal offence. Maximum sentences for different offences are set by law and in some cases there are minimum sentences. For example in the case of murder a sentence of life imprisonment is fixed by law.

    [See the full post at: Sentencing Glossary by UK Prison Council]


    The public sector equality duty (PSED) is set out in section 149 of the Equality Act 2010. It is a legal duty that requires public authorities such as the Sentencing Council to have due regard to three ‘needs’ when considering a new policy or operational proposal:

    • to eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct prohibited under the 2010 Act,
    • to advance equality of opportunity between those who share a protected characteristic and those who do not, and
    • to foster good relations between those who share a protected characteristic and those who do not.

    Under the PSED, the protected characteristics are:

    • Age
    • Disability
    • Gender reassignment
    • Pregnancy and maternity
    • Race
    • Religion or belief
    • Sex
    • Sexual orientation

    When council is developing guidelines, we consider the PSED in the context of the individual offence(s).

    Source: Sentencing Council UK



    General theft


    Knives and offensive weapons

    Harassment and stalking

    Failure to surrender to bail

    Drug offences

    Drink driving

    Breach of a suspended sentence order

    Breach of post-sentence supervision

    Breach of a protective order

    Breach of a community order


    Benefit fraud


    Benefit fraud is committed when a person deliberately claims benefits they are not entitled to. They might do this by providing false information or by not reporting a change in circumstance. Offences fall under common law, the Fraud Act 2006, the Social Security Administration Act 1992, the Tax Credits Act 2002 and the Theft Act 1968.

    Examples of benefit fraud include:

    • providing incorrect information about a household’s income, savings or capital
    • not notifying the authorities when someone moves in or moves out of the household
    • falsely declaring disability or unfitness for work
    • not reporting a change in address
    • pretending to pay more rent than is really paid

    What happens if a person is suspected of benefit fraud?

    The person suspected will be contacted by the authority responsible for the relevant benefit. This could be the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) or the local authority.

    During the investigation:

    • the person’s benefit may be stopped
    • they may be visited by Fraud Investigation Officers (FIOs)
    • they may be asked to attend an interview to talk about their claim
    • FIOs will gather facts about the case and decide whether to take further action

    An interview under caution is a formal interview that is often recorded. It can be used in any further criminal investigation.

    After the investigation, if the person has committed or attempted fraud:

    • their benefits may be reduced or stopped for up to three years
    • they will have to pay back any overpaid money
    • they may be asked to pay a penalty (between £350 and £5,000)
    • they may be charged with a criminal offence and taken to court

    Only certain benefits can be reduced or stopped. These are called sanctionable benefits. If the fraud was committed on a benefit that can’t be stopped (non-sanctionable), other sanctionable benefits may be reduced instead.


    If a person is prosecuted for benefit fraud and found guilty by a court they will be subject to criminal sentencing. Parliament sets the maximum (and sometimes minimum) penalty for any offence. When deciding the appropriate sentence, the court must follow any relevant sentencing guidelines, unless it is not in the interests of justice to do so.

    Sentencing for benefit fraud depends on the type of benefit fraud and the seriousness of the offence:

    • for a serious incidence of conspiracy to defraud, the maximum sentence is 10 years’ custody
    • for a less serious offence, for example making false representation to obtain benefits, penalties can range from discharge to a lower-level fine

    How is the sentence worked out?

    Sentences are worked out by assessing culpability and harm.

    Culpability is a measure of  how planned the fraud was and the role of the offender in committing the fraud.

    Harm is defined by the amount obtained or intended to be obtained by the fraud.

    Factors increasing the seriousness of the sentence include:

    • the claim was fraudulent from the outset
    • the proceeds of fraud were used to fund a lavish lifestyle
    • the fraud went on for a long time and involved multiple false declarations
    • attempts were made to conceal or dispose of evidence
    • damage was caused to a third party (for example as a result of identity theft)

    Factors reducing the seriousness of the sentence include where the offender:

    • has no previous or relevant convictions
    • has shown remorse
    • is of good character
    • has a serious medical condition
    • has a legitimate entitlement to benefits not claimed
    • has a mental disorder or learning disability
    • is the sole or primary carer for dependent relatives

    The court will also take it into account if the offender co-operated with the investigation, making an early admission and/or voluntarily admitting the fraud, or was experiencing exceptional circumstances of financial hardship or pressure at the time the fraud was committed.

    If the defendant pleads guilty, they will also receive a reduced sentence.

    Source: UK Sentencing Council


    The legal restrictions in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 aim to control the use and distribution of dangerous and harmful drugs. Use and distribution of ‘psychoactive substances’ is covered by the more-recent Psychoactive Substances Act 2016.

    What are the main offences associated with drugs?

    There are four main offences associated with illegal drugs: possession, supply, production and importation.

    Possession means being caught with drugs, even if they do not belong to the person caught. The police have the power to stop, detain and search people on ‘reasonable suspicion’ that they are in possession of a controlled drug. The penalty for possession depends on the class and quantity of the drug, and where the person and the drugs were found.

    Possession with intent to supply is a more serious offence that may be proved by:

    • direct evidence, for example by witness testimony or surveillance
    • possessing a quantity of drugs inconsistent with personal use
    • possessing uncut drugs
    • possessing a variety of drugs
    • evidence the drug has been prepared for sale, for example it has been cut into small portions separately wrapped
    • drug related equipment being found in the care/control of the suspect, for example weighing scales, cutting agents, bags or wraps

    Supply includes dealing or sharing drugs – even if just with friends. It does not require proof of payment or reward. The penalty for supplying drugs depends on the amount of drugs found.

    Production is committed when a suspect has some identifiable participation in the process of producing an illegal drug, by making it, growing it or any other method.

    Importation means the illegal importation or exportation of a controlled drug.

    What are controlled drugs?

    Controlled drugs are classed according to their relative degree of overall harm from misuse. There are three classes of controlled drugs. The class of drug a person is caught possessing, supplying or producing affects the severity of the offence.

    Class A drugs are treated as the most dangerous and include cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, LSD, magic mushrooms and crystal meth.

    Class B drugs include codeine, ketamine, cannabis and ‘spice’.

    Class C drugs include anabolic steroids, minor tranquilisers, GHB and khat.

    Synthetic opioids are man-made drugs that mimic the effects of natural opioids like heroin. Some are used legally as prescriptions drugs, for example fentanyl. However, it is illegal to produce, supply or possess synthetic opioids without a prescription. Most synthetic opioids are treated as class A drugs.

    Temporary class drugs are new drugs the government can ban for a year before it is decided how they should be classed. If the offence is supply or production, the temporary class drug will usually be treated like a class B drug. Simple possession of a temporary class drug is not an offence.

    It is also an offence to supply or produce psychoactive substances like laughing gas. Possession of a psychoactive substance in a custodial institution such as a prison is also illegal.


    Parliament sets the maximum (and sometimes minimum) penalty for any offence. When deciding the appropriate sentence, the court must follow any relevant sentencing guidelines, unless it is not in the interests of justice to do so.

    What is the maximum sentence for drug-related offences?

    The maximum sentence depends on whether a person is charged with possession, supply or production, and what class of drug the offence is related to.

    Source: UK Sentencing Council

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