Suspended Sentences

"SUSPENDED SENTENCES ARE CUSTODIAL SENTENCES, BUT WITH THE CUSTODIAL ELEMENT SUSPENDED ON CONDITION THE DEFENDANT REMAINS OUT OF TROUBLE AND ABIDES BY ANY REQUIREMENTS THAT THE JUDGE CHOOSES TO ATTACH"

Suspended sentences are custodial sentences, but with the custodial element suspended on condition the defendant remains out of trouble and abides by any requirements that the judge chooses to attach.  A breach of a suspended sentence will normally mean activation of all or some of the custodial part of the sentence.

When can a sentence be suspended?

  • Where a Judge in the Crown Court imposes a sentence of imprisonment (for defendants aged 21+) of between 14 days and 2 years, or imposes a sentence of detention in a Young Offender Institution (for defendants aged 18-20) of between 21 days and 2 years, the Judge may suspend that sentence.  This power also exists in the Magistrates’ Court for custodial sentences of 14 days to 6 months. 
  • The period of suspension must be for between 6 months and 2 years.  This is called the ‘operational period’.
  • The Judge or Magistrates can (and usually will) add one or more requirements to a suspended sentence.  These requirements are identical to those that can be attached to a Community Order

Suspended Sentence Example

Example: A defendant aged 25 is convicted at the Crown Court of Assault Occasioning Actual Bodily Harm (ABH).  The judge decides, having consulted the sentencing guidelines and heard the plea in mitigation from the defence, that the offence is so serious that only a custodial sentence can be justified and the appropriate sentence is one of 12 months’ imprisonment.  The judge decides to suspend the sentence for 2 years and to attach an Unpaid Work order of 240 hours.

Breach of Suspended Sentence

"IF THE DEFENDANT BREACHES THE CONDITIONS OR REOFFENDS, THE LIKELIHOOD IS THAT ALL OR PART OF THE SUSPENDED SENTENCE WILL BE ACTIVATED"

In the event that the defendant complies with any requirements attached to the suspended sentence and also does not commit further offences during the operational period, the custodial sentence will not have to be served.  However, if the defendant breaches the conditions or reoffends, the likelihood is that all or part of the suspended sentence will be activated.

Failure to carry out a requirement

When a defendant fails without a reasonable excuse to carry out a requirement of a suspended sentence (such as failing without good reason to attend an unpaid work appointment) he/she will usually receive a warning stating that any further failure to comply within the next 12 months will mean the case will be brought back to court.  A further failure to comply will result in the defendant being returned to court for breach of the suspended sentence. 

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Committing a further offence

If a defendant is convicted of an offence committed during the operational period of a suspended sentence, this will also mean the case will come back to court for the defendant to be dealt with for breach.

Admitting the breach

Where a defendant is returned to court for breach of a requirement of a suspended sentence, he will be asked if he admits the breach.  If not, a hearing will have to take place for the judge to decide whether he is in breach or not.

Sentence activation

In the event of a breach, unless it considers it unjust to do so, the court will activate the suspended sentence (in whole or in part), meaning that the defendant will have to serve some or all of the sentence of imprisonment or detention in a Young Offender Institution. 

If the court concludes that it would be unjust to activate the suspended sentence, it may impose a fine of up to £2500 to deal with the breach, or where there is a community order requirement attached to the suspended sentence, it can extend this requirement to make it more onerous (although the defendant’s consent is needed for alteration to a mental health treatment requirement, drug rehabilitation requirement or alcohol treatment requirement).