Sentencing in the criminal justice system Summary

it can be seen that 18. 2%, or almost one in five of the defendants pleaded guilty as a result of a specific offer made to them. These offers, one presumes, must be a result of the judge breaching legitimate guidelines, as there is no-one else, at this level of the British criminal justice system who is in a position to make an offer of this type. Again, as I have suggested earlier, the need for administrative expediency is causing actors in the criminal justice system, such as judges and lawyers for the defence, to place the right of the defendants to justice and a fair trial, at the bottom of their list of priorities.


We have seen how the various actors in the judicial system actively conspire to exert influence on the outcome of a defendants appearance in court, but what of the unconscious influences on the defendants courtroom appearance? There are, as I briefly mentioned at the beginning of this essay, a number of significant inconsistencies in the enforcement of justice at courtroom level. Firstly there is an variation that is apparent in the sentencing practices of different courtrooms over various areas of the country.

Roger Hood, from his study of sentencing of adult males in magistrate's courts in 1962, concluded that, "… some offenders' chances of being imprisoned are far higher in certain parts of the country than in others. " The reasons suggested for this disparity in sentencing are varied, but it seems most clearly that the courts whose magistrates were most likely to pass a prison sentence "were located in towns with better social conditions and a larger middle class element". As I have mentioned earlier, the social class composition of the magistracy is a relevant factor in the explaining of inconsistencies in sentencing practice.

Evidence has suggested that when the magistracy is mainly made up of professional persons, imprisonment is a far mor likely outcome of sentencing. However, it is difficult to assess exactly how much influence the class status of the magistracy has, and the extent to which the geographical placing of the court is a factor stimulating specific levels of imprisonment. Perhaps it is enough to say, as Bottomley has, that, "… there is a congruent pattern between the personal characteristics of magistrates, the type of community in which they live and their perception of their judicial responsibilities.

" A further problem decreasing the likelihood of a fair decision by the magistracy, is the supplementary information given to magistrates on the past history of the defendants. After being found guilty of a crime the defendants history of previous convictions, and also his 'character' are paraded in front of the magistrates in order that they can make decisions as to the future of the defendants. This is the greatest difficulty in allowing so much discretionary power to magistrates and judges, as they then apply this information as they themselves see fit.

Clearly we can see here the constant danger that moral judgements (on the basis of the beliefs and opinions that the actor has brought with him to the courtroom) will be made, rather thana just interpretation of the existing law. Magistrates are, as I have already stated, inevitably going to have beliefs, opinions and prejudices which come with them into the courtroom. Until the acting upon of these can be replaced by consistent and impartial judicial decisions, all does not bode well for the British criminal justice system.

The information given to magistrates will continue to be applied selectively, so magistrates are able to process parts of the information, while their preconceptions are allowed to remain intact. Says Bottomley, it is, "… no good giving magistrates large quantities of information, unless they were also given adequate guidance as to the correct application of that information… "


I have shown then, that the outcome of court proceedings depends on far more factors than whether a defendant is guilty or innocent.The actors on behalf of the criminal justice system, including Law Lords, magistrates, judges and the lawyers for the defence, are all guilty of acting against the interests of the accused, through reasons as personal as individual prejudice, or as impersonal as administrative expediency. Unconsciously and consciously, the various parts and indeed the whole nature of the British criminal justice system conspire to convict the defendants, guilty or innocent. The criminal justice system determines the outcome of criminal proceedings in court, with almost no regard whatsoever, for the defendants status as innocent or guilty.