Society, through Parliament, for many centuries has assigned the task of deciding the correct sentence for an offence to the judges in criminal courts. This responsibility is not to be exercised in an arbitrary way, but exists within a complex framework of restraints. Parliament lays down the maximum, and in some cases the minimum, sentence available for each offence and the common law has developed the principles of sentencing; requiring the judge to carefully analyse the individual facts of the individual offence, taking into consideration the gravity of the crime within the scale of all crimes, the consequences of the offence to the victim and to society, and the mitigating circumstances relating to the defendant. The purpose of sentencing guidelines is to increase the transparency and consistency of these judicial decisions and to help members of the public to understand more about the sentencing process.
This first ever set of Sentencing Guidelines for the Magistrates’ Courts in Northern Ireland is merely the beginning of what shall become a compendium of guidance on the offences which come before the Magistrates’ Courts on a daily basis.
I commend these Sentencing Guidelines to the judiciary, the legal professions and the public.
The Rt. Hon. Sir Declan Morgan
Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland