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Justice: Sentencing

House of Lords written question – answered on 12th December 2011.

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Photo of Lord Ouseley Lord Ouseley Crossbench

To ask Her Majesty's Government what information and evidence is available to demonstrate whether there is differential sentencing by the courts of white, black and Asian offenders for similar offences.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

The Ministry of Justice Court proceedings database contains information on sentencing and ethnicity. Analysis of these data was reported in Statistics on Race and the Criminal Justice System 2010.

Table 1 below shows the number of persons sentenced for indictable offences at all courts by observed ethnicity, and the average immediate custodial sentence length (ACSL) in months in 2010.

Table 1: Persons sentenced at all courts for indictable offences by ethnic appearance, England and Wales 2010
Sentence White Black Asian Other Unknown Total
Fine 16.4% 18.9% 18.8% 11.0% 21.4% 17.1%
Community Sentence 32.2% 29.5% 27.6% 20.7% 28.7% 31.2%
Suspended Sentence 9.8% 8.5% 10.4% 11.9% 10.4% 9.8%
Other 18.5% 16.5% 14.1% 14.0% 17.7% 18.0%
Immediate Custody 23.0% 26.6% 29.2% 42.4% 21.8% 23.9%
Total Sentenced 259,593 31,945 16,588 6,066 33,230 347,422
Average immediate Custodial Sentence Length (months) 14.9 20.8 19.9 19.7 17.6 16.2

It shows that a higher percentage of those in the black, asian and minority ethnic (BME) groups were sentenced to immediate custody for indictable offences than in the white group in 2010 (white 23 per cent, black 27 per cent, asian 29 per cent and other 42 per cent).

Table 2 shows the average custodial sentence length (ACSL) in 2010 for the 81,536 who were given determinate sentences for indictable offences. It indicates that there are differences in ACSL by ethnic group within offence group.

Table 2: Average immediate custodial sentence length at all courts by offence group and ethnic appearance, England and Wales 2010
Average immediate custodial sentence length (months)
Offence group White Black Asian Other Unknown Total
Violence against the person 16.8 20.1 23.6 21.8 20.2 17.8
Sexual offences 48.9 60.4 39.0 46.0 45.5 48.7
Burglary 18.5 22.7 16.9 17.5 18.7 18.7
Robbery 34.5 36.6 31.3 35.2 32.4 34.5
Theft and handling stolen goods 3.7 4.5 6.3 7.6 5.1 4.1
Fraud and forgery 11.5 9.3 11.7 10.3 11.9 11.0
Criminal damage 18.1 14.8 21.8 18.2 17.8 18.0
Drug offences 28.5 34.3 29.4 28.9 41.4 30.7
Other (excl motoring offences) 8.3 14.7 16.2 13.3 9.4 9.6
Indictable motoring offences 9.9 9.6 9.0 9.2 8.6 9.6
All indictable offences 14.9 20.8 19.9 19.7 17.6 16.2

Note: Average immediate custodial sentence length excludes indeterminate sentences.

Further information on sentencing by ethnic groups for specific offence types can be found in the supplementary tables that accompany Statistics on Race and the Criminal Justice System 2010.

The identification of differences should not be equated with discrimination as there are many reasons why apparent disparities exist. Differences between ethnic groups may occur for a number of reasons including: the mix of crimes committed; the seriousness of the offence; the presence of mitigating or aggravating factors; whether a defendant pleads guilty; or whether the defendant was represented or not. Research by Thomas (2010) for the Ministry of Justice indicated that people from BME backgrounds were more likely to plead not guilty and be tried. A guilty plea can reduce a sentence by up to a third.

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