A new sentencing guideline developed by the Scottish Sentencing Council comes into force in Scotland.

The sentencing process guideline sets out 8 steps which courts should follow in order to reach a sentencing decision.

The guideline, which began yesterday, was approved at the High Court of Justiciary in July, will increase public knowledge and understanding of the sentencing process in Scotland.

Sheriff Principal Craig Turnbull, Chair of the Scottish Sentencing Council’s Sentencing Process Committee, said: “The introduction of the sentencing process guideline is a significant milestone in the Council’s work to make sentencing more open and transparent in Scotland.

Photo: Sheriff Principal Craig Turnbull. Image Credit: Scottish Sentencing Council

“People will now be able to see the steps a court follows in order to arrive at an appropriate sentence, and some of the factors which are taken into account.   

“The Council believes this guideline will promote a consistent approach to sentencing and will enhance understanding of how sentencing works in Scotland’s courts.

“The approval of the sentencing process guideline also paves the way for the introduction of specific offence guidelines, a number of are currently being developed by the Council.”


The eight steps of the sentencing process are split into three categories: arriving at the headline sentence (steps 1-4); other considerations (steps 5-7); and imposing sentence (step 8).

The eight steps are:

Step 1: Assess the seriousness of the offence (determined by the culpability of the offender and the harm caused)

Step 2: Select the sentence range (this is the range of sentences within which the appropriate headline sentence for the offence appears to fall, having regard to the assessment of seriousness at step 1)

Step 3: Identify aggravating and mitigating factors (factors which may increase or reduce the sentence)

Step 4: Determine the headline sentence (the sentence before any reduction for a guilty plea, or time already spent in custody, is made)

Step 5: Take into account a plea of guilty (courts are required to do this by law)

Step 6: Consider time spent in custody (a custodial sentence may be reduced to take account of any time already spent in detention awaiting sentence)

Step 7: Consider ancillary orders (these are orders in addition to the sentence, such as a non-harassment order which could be made in a domestic abuse case)

Step 8: Impose sentence and give reasons (the court should always be satisfied that the overall sentence, taken together with any ancillary order to be imposed, is fair and proportionate)


The Council has a remit to increase public knowledge and awareness of sentencing in Scotland.

As well as developing sentencing guidelines, the Council also provides popular resources on its website including a jargon buster and ‘If you were the judge’  case scenarios, which allows people to select the sentence after considering different factors in a particular case.

This is the second sentencing guideline to be approved by the High Court and is intended to be read alongside the Principles and purposes of sentencing guideline, which has been in force since November 2018.

A third general guideline – for sentencing young people – is currently being finalised.

The guideline is available to view here. The impact assessment is available to view here.