If the accused is found guilty, the Judge, Sheriff or Justice of the peace will decide on the sentence. The following factors may be taken into account in deciding a sentence:

  • The person’s circumstances, their age, and whether they have a criminal record (including time in prison)
  • Background information such as criminal justice social work reports, written by social workers, with information about the offender’s background and home life
  • Medical or psychiatric reports with information about the offender’s physical or mental well-being
  • Any time spent by the offender in custody waiting for the trial and whether they pled guilty or not guilty
  • The crime. Some crimes have a minimum sentence, and sometimes crimes can be made worse if, for instance, they have a hate element.

Possible sentences
Once the judge has assessed all these factors, there are various possible sentences, these include:

Absolute discharge: can be granted when the Judge decides it is not appropriate to punish the accused.

Reasons for this could perhaps be:

  • Because of the circumstances of the crime
  • The accused’s previous good character
  • If the crime was very minor
  • If the accused was very young, or very old.

Admonition: a warning given to the person found guilty of the crime. Although there is no fine or imprisonment, the admonition is recorded on a criminal record.

Community Payback Order: an order that is available to the court for offences committed on or after 1st February 2011.  The order can impose a range of penalties from carrying out unpaid work to attending specialist programmes that address behavioural issues and underlying problems, such as drug and alcohol misuse.

Community Service Order: unpaid work carried out by the offender under supervision which will be of benefit to the community as a whole. This applies to offences committed before 1st February 2011.

Compensation: the court may order the accused to pay money to the victim(s) for loss or injury resulting from the crime. The court will set an amount which takes account of the accused’s financial circumstances. The accused pays the money to the court, which then sends it to the victim(s).

Drug treatment testing orders: for offenders who have serious drug misuse problems and who might otherwise receive a prison sentence.  Available in both the High and Sheriff Courts.

Fine: an order to pay money to the court. The court will set an amount which takes account of the offence and the accused’s financial circumstances.

Prison: the court decides the length the prison sentence.

16 – 21 year olds are sent to a Young Offenders Institution, rather than prison.

After sentence, the offender is taken straight to prison, where the sentence will begin. If they spent time in custody before the trial, the time in prison can be counted as having started from the date they were in custody.

The actual time that the offender may spend in prison will normally be less than the length of their sentence. Offenders who are sentenced to less than four years in prison are usually released automatically at the half way point in their sentence. Various factors may affect this such as whether the prisoner has behaved well in prison. Find out more information on Parole.

Probation Order: allows the court to impose a wide range of conditions and requirements which aim to offer a combination of support and control to monitor the offending behaviour and deal with underlying causes of their offending. These orders apply to offences committed before 1st February 2011.