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Sophie Cameron

Features and Opinion Editor, Solicitors Journal

Committee publishes findings from survey on public attitudes towards sentencing

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Committee publishes findings from survey on public attitudes towards sentencing

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The survey is part of wider inquiry on public opinion and understanding of sentencing

The House of Commons Justice Committee published the findings from its survey on the public understanding of and attitudes towards sentencing on 27 March, which finds that nearly two in five adults in England and Wales get their information on sentencing by courts from online news sources. The second most cited source of information on sentencing was broadcast media, with one in three respondents stating that they got their information on sentencing from broadcast media.

The wide-ranging survey, which was conducted on the Committee’s behalf by data and market research firm Savanta, is part of the broader inquiry into public opinion and understanding of sentencing in England and Wales, which was launched on 7 June 2022. This wider inquiry is investigating how the public access information on sentencing and the barriers to improving public awareness on how sentencing works. The inquiry also aims to consider public opinion on sentencing, which includes the extent to which public opinion should inform sentencing policy and practice.

This latest survey, which was completed by over 2,000 adults in England and Wales between 24 February and 1 March 2023, found that half the respondents said that they have experience of the criminal justice system, with around one in five stating that they have performed jury service. According to the data, almost half of respondents said that their experience of the criminal justice system had made them more confident in the system and the way that the system processes offenders.

Concerning respondents’ understanding of sentencing, three quarters of respondents said that when sentencing an individual, the judge is under a legal obligation to follow sentencing guidelines, while around one in five responded that they didn’t know whether a judge is under a legal obligation to follow sentencing guidelines when deciding on the length of the sentence.

In regards to the mitigating factors that respondents felt judges should take into account during sentencing, half of the respondents opined that mental health conditions or learning difficulties should be considered when deciding on sentencing. Of the total respondents, 39 per cent said that judges should take into account that the offender has shown remorse when deciding on sentencing.  

The Committee is due to publish its report on the overall inquiry into public opinion and understanding of sentencing in due course. Commenting on the launch of the wider inquiry, Chair of the Justice Committee, Sir Bob Neill MP, said: “We want to know how the public accesses information on sentencing and what the public thinks about the current system.”

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