The Sentencing Council for England and Wales was created pursuant to the 2009 Coroners and Justice Act. The primary purpose, or goal, of the Sentencing Council is to create sentencing guidelines for crimes committed within the jurisdiction. The concept behind the Sentencing Council is similar to the purpose of the United States Sentencing Commission and various other groups created in numerous jurisdictions throughout the world. While judges may deviate from the guidelines created by the Council under certain circumstances, the guidelines are intended to be followed as a way to create uniformity and fairness in sentencing.
Members of the Sentencing Council are appointed by the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice of the Ministry of Justice. The Council consists of 13 independent members and a Chairman. The members of the Council consist of judges, individuals who have worked in the court system, and representatives of well-known social organizations.
The Council produced its first set of guidelines in 2010, and, as a result, judges have been required to follow the guidelines for all crimes committed after 6 April 2010. The guidelines take into account the crime itself and the offenders criminal background when setting a guideline sentence. A judge may, however, deviate from the guidelines if it is in the interest of justice to do so in the judge's opinion.
Along with creating sentencing guidelines for crimes committed within the jurisdiction of England and Wales, the Council is also responsible for conducting research on sentencing, analyzing the research, and educating the public about issues that revolve around sentencing. As has been the case in many jurisdictions throughout the world at one time or another, public confidence regarding the fairness and equality of sentencing has been an issue for the judiciary in England and Wales. One of the goals of the Sentencing Council is also to elevate public opinion and confidence in sentencing practices within the jurisdiction.
The Sentencing Council is very similar to the United States Sentencing Commission. In the United States, the Sentencing Commission has been responsible for creating the federal sentencing guidelines that are used within the United States federal court system. The additional responsibilities of the Sentencing Commission are similar to those of its counterpart in England and Wales. As with the guidelines created in England and Wales, a federal judge in the United States is allowed to deviate from the guidelines if he or she articulates a reason for the upward or downward departure.