Most of the sentencing guidelines in Northern Ireland relate to Crown Court cases. That is a simple consequence of the fact that an appeal from the Magistrates’ Court is to the County Court, and cases from the summary jurisdiction will only come before the Court of Appeal by way of case stated. The Sentencing Group has considered a number of mechanisms for capturing good sentencing practice and giving guidance for the Magistrates’ Courts. This is more difficult than in the Crown Court because of the fast-moving and on-the-day nature of summary justice. The Sentencing Group has, therefore, established a judicial sub-committee chaired by the Presiding District Judge (Magistrates’ Courts) to look at the most significant categories of “volume offending” in the Magistrates’ Courts.
This committee has been set the task of drawing up sets of sentencing guidelines for these offences, which will be discussed and agreed by the district judges as a body as representing existing good practice. These guidelines are published on the Judiciary NI website, and are accessible to members of the judiciary, the legal profession and the public, with the aim both of enhancing consistency and of improving public information about sentencing. Although the guidelines do not have the force of law, they are relevant to the decision-making exercise undertaken by a Magistrates’ Court when sentencing an offender and will, therefore, be taken into consideration by the court. They are also applicable where a County Court is sentencing an offender on appeal from a Magistrates’ Court, or where the Crown Court is sentencing an offender for a summary offence joined on indictment. They are guidelines, not tramlines, and sentencers may, as with all sentencing guidelines, depart from them in exceptional circumstances.
These guidelines are not applicable to the Youth Court.
The Sentencing Group’s Magistrates’ Courts Sentencing Guidelines Sub-committee, chaired by the Presiding District Judge (Magistrates’ Courts), has created and published sentencing guidelines which cover the vast majority of offences which commonly come before the courts. The sentencing guidelines which have been issued are kept under review by the Sentencing Group to ensure they reflect changes in the law and current best practice.