Deferred Sentencing: August 2022

By Dr Elaine Freer
• Deferred sentences are available to any judge or bench of magistrates sentencing a defendant in the magistrates’ court or Crown Court. They have been available in England and Wales since the Criminal Justice Act 1972. They are currently found in section 3 of the Sentencing Act 2020.
• They allow the sentencer to defer the sentencing decision for up to six months (but no longer) with the defendant required to abide by specified conditions during that period. The sentencer must specify when deferring the sentence both what the sentence will be if the defendant does abide by the conditions of the deferment, and what it will be if they do not abide by the conditions.
• Usually the sentence will be immediate imprisonment if the defendant does not abide by the conditions, whereas it will be suspended imprisonment or a community order if the defendant does abide by the conditions.
• Deferring sentence is usually seen as especially suitable for defendants who have had a significant change in personal circumstances between the date of the offending and the date of sentence, where these may realistically mean that their risk of re-offending has already been much reduced.
• They are also commonly used where the defendant has crossed the custody threshold but there is potential for the sentence to be suspended – with the sentencer indicating a non-immediate custodial sentence if the defendant abides by the conditions, as opposed to an immediate custodial term if they do not. Similarly, where a defendant is on the cusp of the custody threshold, the sentencer may indicate a non-custodial sentence (i.e. a community order) if the defendant abides by the conditions, as opposed to a custodial sentence (whether immediate or not) if they do not abide by the conditions.
• There is little research on the use or effectiveness of deferred sentences although a recent report published by the Sentencing Academy found that the use of deferred sentences appears to have fallen significantly since the mid-1970s.
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