T L Hurst
22nd May 2022
This paper questions the use of concurrent and consecutive sentences. It concludes that consecutive sentences should be preferred as they make clear the sentence for the principal offence, and that the sentences comply with the relevant statutory minima.
A major objective of the criminal justice system is to change offenders' behaviour. To do that, it is important that the sentences are not only just and proportionate but are seen to be so.
The use of concurrent sentences arises from the requirement that, when sentencing for multiple offences, the totality of the offending behaviour should be considered as well as the individual offences.
"All courts, when sentencing for more than a single offence, should pass a total sentence which reflects all the offending behaviour before it and is just and proportionate".
So if the totality of the offending merits a smaller sentence than the sum of the provisional sentences, a term between the largest provisional sentence and the sum of the provisional sentences may be applied to all the offences concurrently.
However, the use of concurrent sentences may appear to a lay person to be grossly unfair. Why should one person serve one sentence when another person has to serve a number of sentences consecutively? The sentencing guidelines state that the objective of both concurrent and consecutive sentences is to achieve a just and proportionate sentence. So, in principle, it should not matter which is used, as they are (or should be) the same sentence just expressed differently. However, is this apparent to the general public?
Also, expressing the sentence as consecutive sentences has the advantage of making clear the sentence for the principal offence, and that the sentences comply with the relevant statutory minima (if any). Consecutive sentences are therefore inherently superior to concurrent ones, and should be preferred.