Absolute and Conditional Discharges



Absolute and Conditional Discharges are sentences reserved only for the least serious cases.  Where the Judge/Magistrates reach the view, taking into account all the circumstances including the nature of the offence and the character of the defendant, that punishment is not required, they may impose an Absolute or a Conditional Discharge (under section 12 of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000). 

Absolute Discharge

Where the court sentences a defendant to an Absolute Discharge, it will be because the offence is very trivial, or because there are particular factors relating to the defendant, or other surrounding circumstances, which justify such a course. 

Conditional Discharge

A Conditional Discharge is more serious because it requires a defendant, for up to a maximum period of 3 years, to not commit a further offence. It means that the Magistrates/Judge do not consider that punishment needs to be imposed immediately, but in the event that the defendant commits a further offence during the period of the conditional discharge, he will be returned to court and re-sentenced for the original offence and for the new offence. To this extent it acts in a similar way to a suspended sentence, although (unlike a suspended sentence) it is not possible to attach community order conditions (see the Community Orders and Suspended Sentences sections for more). It is also not possible to fine a defendant and impose a Conditional or Absolute Discharge for the same offence (R v Sanck (1990) Cr App R (S) 155); [1990] Crim LR 663).  There are, however, certain orders which can be made in addition to an Absolute or Conditional Discharge for the same offence. These include costs and compensation orders, deprivation orders, restitution orders and orders for disqualification from driving.

Breach of a Conditional Discharge

Where a defendant commits a further offence during the period of a conditional discharge, he can be re-sentenced to the maximum sentence available in the Magistrates’ Court (if the Conditional Discharge was imposed in the Magistrates’ Court) or to the maximum available for the individual offence (if it was made in the Crown Court).  The defendant will also face sentence for the new offence he has committed.  (For powers of sentence see the section on maximum sentences in the Crown Court and Magistrates’ Court.)

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