School of Law

Proportionality in the England and Wales Sentencing Guidelines: An Empirical Study Using the Offence Starting Points

02 December 2015 | 13:00-14:00 | Seminar
G.28, School of Law, Liberty Building

This is a free event but registration is required in advance. This event will be of relevance to anyone with an interest on the substantive topic of sentencing and/or the methodological topic of applied statistics to Criminal Justice research.

In England and Wales most offences structured by sentencing guidelines establish levels of punishment severity that escalate according to three categories of harm and culpability. Specifically, for each offence and category a starting point and a range of possible sentence outcomes are specified. I use these starting points to model the growth rate of severity as a function of harm and culpability. This is done using a Bayesian log-linear random slopes model. Such model allows me to: a) estimate the average within offence function of proportionality that has been implicitly considered by the Sentencing Council; and b) estimate the variability with which that function has been applied across different offences. Findings show an exponential relationship between severity, and harm and culpability, however, varying widely across offences, with the more serious offences showing slower rates of change. This substantial variability does not fit the Council’s vision of fostering “consistency of approach”. As an alternative a unified function of proportionality across offences is suggested, or in its absence, a more systematic approach specifying a limited number of fixed functions of proportionality according to the seriousness of the offence. Incidentally, the findings obtained here could be used to generate a new index of severity in sentencing.

Jose Pina-Sánchez is a Lecturer in Quantitative Criminology based at the University of Leeds. His research interest are on the topics of Sentencing and Survey Methodology. Before moving to Leeds he worked as an LSE Fellow in the department of Statistics, and as an ESRC intern at the Sentencing Council for England and Wales.

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