Section 125: Sentencing Guidelines: duty of court
584.Every court must, in sentencing an offender, follow any relevant guidelines, unless it is satisfied that it would be contrary to the interests of justice to do so. The interests of justice exception qualifies all the duties mentioned below. Where there are offence-specific guidelines relevant to the offender’s case which are structured in the way set out in section 121(2) to (5) a court must sentence within the offence range set out in the guideline. Where those guidelines specify different levels of seriousness of the offence, the court must if possible decide which category most resembles the offender’s case in order to identify the sentencing starting point. The court’s duty is to sentence within the range of sentences for the offence as a whole (as opposed to the range specified for the particular level).
585.The duty to follow sentencing guidelines is subject to various statutory provisions, for example, those which place restrictions on imposing community sentences and imposing discretionary custodial sentences; the requirement that custodial sentences should be for the shortest term commensurate with the seriousness of an offence and the requirements for minimum sentences in certain cases. The duty to impose a sentence within the identified range is subject to the requirements to take into account an early guilty plea, the reduction in sentence for providing assistance (Queen’s evidence) and any rule of law as to reducing sentences under the totality principle.