The courts have been instructed by The Sentencing Guidelines Council to give defendants a reduction in sentence as the benefit for an early guilty plea in criminal proceedings. This indication should be done as early in the court process as possible. Nothing in the guideline should be used to put pressure on a defendant to plead guilty.

Although a guilty person is entitled not to admit the offence and to put the prosecution to proof of its case, an acceptance of guilt:
a) normally reduces the impact of the crime upon victims;
b) saves victims and witnesses from having to testify;
c) is in the public interest in that it saves public time and money on investigations and trials.

A guilty plea produces greater benefits the earlier the plea is indicated.
In order to maximise the above benefits and to provide an incentive to those who are guilty to indicate a guilty plea as early as possible, this guideline makes a clear distinction between a reduction in the sentence available at the first stage of the proceedings and a reduction in the sentence available at a later stage of the proceedings.

Factors such as admissions at interview, co-operation with the investigation and demonstrations of remorse should not be taken into account in determining the level of reduction. Rather, they should be considered separately and prior to any guilty plea reduction, as potential mitigating factors. The purpose of reducing the sentence for a guilty plea is to yield the benefits described above. The guilty plea should be considered by the court to be independent of the offender’s personal mitigation.

The benefits apply regardless of the strength of the evidence against an offender. The strength of the evidence should not be taken into account when determining the level of reduction.
The guideline applies only to the punitive elements of the sentence and has no impact on ancillary orders including orders of disqualification from driving.


Stage 1: Determine the appropriate sentence for the offence(s).
Stage 2: Determine the level of reduction for a guilty plea in accordance with this guideline.
Stage 3: State the amount of that reduction.
Stage 4: Apply the reduction to the appropriate sentence.


The maximum level of reduction in sentence for a guilty plea is one-third for
a plea indicated at the first stage of the proceedings.
Where a guilty plea is indicated at the first stage of proceedings a reduction of one-third should be made. The first stage will normally be the first hearing at which a plea or indication of plea is sought and recorded by the court.
After the first stage of the proceedings the maximum level of reduction is one-quarter.
The reduction should be decreased from one-quarter to a maximum of one-tenth on the first day of trial having regard to the time when the guilty plea is first indicated to the court relative to the progress of the case and the trial date. The reduction should normally be decreased further, even to zero, if the guilty plea is entered during the course of the trial.


The reduction can be applied in the following ways:
The reduction in sentence for a guilty plea can be taken into account by imposing one type of sentence rather than another; for example:

  • by reducing a custodial sentence to a community sentence, or
  • by reducing a community sentence to a fine.
  • by reducing the size of a fine by the appropriate amount.
    Where a court has imposed one sentence rather than another to reflect the guilty plea there should normally be no further reduction.
  • by keeping an either way case in the magistrates’ court to reflect a guilty plea instead of sending it to Crown Court.

If you require fuller information, please contact us to discuss it with a criminal lawyer.