The Origins of Sentencing Councils and Commissions

Paul Hughes

Vol_5_Issue_2_Article 4

Sentencing systems in existence in different jurisdictions vary greatly. Traditionally, jurisdictions opted for guidance in the form of legislation, guiding principles from the appellate courts, guideline judgments or a combination of these. Since the mid-1970s, a time when Garland’s “culture of control” was developing, some jurisdictions have established sentencing councils or commissions to help with sentencing concerns. These jurisdictions include some states in America and Australia, and England and Wales. The primary reason for their emergence appears to be the structuring of judicial discretion to remove inconsistencies in sentences handed down. However, there are many other reasons which may not be as obvious which include: controlling prison populations; insulating sentencing from politics; dealing with the perceived inadequacies of other forms of guidance; and promoting participation from the public and victims of crime in the sentencing process. However, some jurisdictions have abandoned their sentencing councils primarily because of a lack of political support. The emergence of sentencing councils may represent a bulwark against Garland’s “culture of control” but also an expression of it.

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