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 Powers of the courts - the community sentence 
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The community sentence

The Threshold for Community Sentence

Section 148(1) Criminal Justice Act 2003 provides:

“A court must not pass a community sentence on an offender unless it is of the opinion that the offence, or the combination of the offence and one or more offences associated with it, was serious enough to warrant such a sentence.”


This does not mean that offenders who have completed a community sentence and have then re-offended should be regarded as ineligible for a second community sentence on the basis that this has been tried and failed. A further community sentence, perhaps with different requirements, may well be justified.


There is only one (generic) community sentence provided by statute

Section 177 Criminal Justice Act 2003 established a single community order (the generic community sentence) which can be applied to an offender aged 16 or over.   This one order replaces all previous adult community orders to allow the court greater flexibility to tailor the sentence to the individual offender.


A community sentence, which combines punishment and rehabilitation and making amends, can include ‘restorative justice’ – making amends directly to the victim(s) of the crime.


A community sentence should be tailored to the individual. Within each community sentence there will be restrictions on the convicted person’s free time, these restrictions imposed should be "commensurate with the seriousness of the offence, or the combination of the offence and one or more offences associated with it".


Low medium and high

The Sentencing Guidelines Council guidelines lay down 3 levels within the community order commensurate with the seriousness of the crime they are low, medium and high seriousness. 


Only one “requirement” within the community sentence being appropriate in most cases for low seriousness offences. For high seriousness an intensive package of requirements is appropriate.


Sentencers can pick and mix

(a)   An unpaid work requirement (increased to a maximum of 300 hours from 240 hours)

  • Over a 12 month period – 40 to 300 hours – community based work

(b)   An activity requirement

  • Max 60 days - take part in specified activity e.g. help with finding job - reparation with victim, group work on social problems

(c)   A programme requirement

  • Take part in specified programme over specified period of time e.g. anger management, sex offending, drug abuse

(d)   A prohibited activity requirement

  • Prohibition from contacting a certain person or being in a certain place

(e)   A curfew requirement

  • Order to remain in a specific place for not less than 2 and no more than 12 hours in any one day for up to 6 months - Electronic tag or specific person carry out monitoring (more on tagging here)

(f)   An exclusion requirement

  • Up to 2 years - offender required to stay away from a specified place at set times - electronic tags may be used to monitor - aimed at specific offenders e.g. stalkers

(g)   A residence requirement

  • Offender to live at given address or hostel

(h)   A mental health treatment requirement

  • Requires consent of offender - requires offender to undergo mental health treatment with registered practitioner

(i)    A drug rehabilitation requirement

  • Minimum of six months - includes drug treatment and testing - Court must be satisfied that offender is dependant on or misuses controlled drug - offender must be willing to comply

(j)   An alcohol treatment requirement

  • Minimum six months - offender’s consent required

(k)   A supervision requirement

  • Offender placed under supervision of probation officer - period between 6 months and 3 years

(l)   An attendance centre requirement for those under 25 only

  • Attendance at a centre on a Saturday afternoon – originally aimed at football hooligans.  Both male and female.

Youth Community Orders for >16s

Offenders aged 16 or under can be made subject to a “Youth community order” (Section 147 Criminal Justice Act 2003) this means:

a)   a curfew order

b)   an exclusion order

c)   an attendance centre order

d)   a supervision order, or

e)   an action plan order

Advantages of the community sentence

  • Cheap to administer

  • Less disruptive to family life

  • Less disruptive to employment

  • Public perception favourable

  • Solves prison crowding problems

Disadvantages of the community sentence

  • Seen as a soft option to “real” penalties such as prison

  • No better at preventing re-offending

  • Public perception in some quarters less favourable

  • Some are never completed

Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips performs unpaid work

In 2006 the Lord Chief Justice took the highly unusual step of performing unpaid work (payback project) alongside other convicted criminals.


Lord Phillips posed as a drink driver and worked alongside criminals repainting an underpass in an attempt to show it was not a 'soft' option.
Press story here.

Thousands dodge punishment January 2008

Thousands of offenders who fail to turn up for community punishments are avoiding being returned to court if they claim to have overslept or produce their own sick note. 


This was revealed by the public spending watchdog, the National Audit office.


Press article The Times

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