Bridging gaps, not leaping chasms: trust, confidence and sentencing councils

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Public confidence is crucial to the effective operation of the criminal justice system as it influences the relationship between the public, victims, offenders and the law. It is said to be a requirement of the legitimacy of judicial authority in democracies and is emblematic of broader issues, such as trust in government and its legitimacy.

In the case of courts generally, and the sentencing of those convicted of offences against the criminal law, in particular, loss of confidence can lead to legislative interventions in the judicial process. These often take the form of restrictions on decision-makers’ discretion and an undermining of their independence.

A number of jurisdictions have established sentencing councils; an initiative to promote trust and confidence in sentencing. These are organisations, independent of the courts and governments, whose role it is to develop sentencing guidelines, engage in public education, gauge public opinion, conduct research, provide advice to governments in relation to sentencing policy and to collect and publish statistical information on the operation of the sentencing system.

This article examines the role of sentencing councils in promoting trust and confidence in sentencing, and, by extension, in criminal courts themselves. It concludes that, while they do not provide a complete answer to the trust deficit, they do have the potential, over time, to contribute to that important task.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal for Court Administration
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes

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