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Confidence in the criminal justice system and sentencing

Sentencing Council report

15 August 2019
Confidence in the criminal justice system and sentencing

The Sentencing Council and ComRes have published the findings of research looking into public confidence in sentencing and the criminal justice system (CJS). The research considered the public’s knowledge of and attitudes towards the CJS, sentencing and sentencing guidelines, and found that:

  • Confidence in the effectiveness and fairness of the CJS is mixed, and varies according to demographic factors and interaction with the system. Young adults (18-34), those in the highest socio-demographic group, and BAME adults are particularly likely to be confident in the system.
  • Having contact with certain agencies in the system emerged as a key driver of positive perceptions of confidence and understanding of sentencing. A majority of those who had been victims of crime said that their experience of the CJS made them ‘at least a little’ more confident that it was effective (65%) and fair (54%).
  • Living in certain regions of the country, most notably the North of England, was a key driver of negative perceptions of confidence in the system and the perception that sentencing is too lenient. 
  • Around 70% of respondents thought sentencing in general was too lenient and the public was particularly likely to regard sentences for serious crimes as too lenient. White adults were more likely to say that they think sentences are too lenient, 72% said this in comparison to 59% of BAME adults. Women were more likely than men to say that sentencing is too lenient, 73% said this in comparison to 68% of men. However, this perception tends to lessen noticeably when the public were presented with actual scenarios and sentences (based on real cases).
  • A majority of those surveyed were confident they understood terms like ‘life sentence’ and ‘statutory maximum sentence’, although under half felt confident they understood the term, ‘on licence’. However, qualitative discussions shows that actual understanding lagged behind perceived understanding.
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