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Sentencing is one of the most difficult and sometimes controversial responsibilities of a judge. In our society opinions can vary widely as to what the proper penalty should be for any particular offence.

Judges, however, must impose sentences that comply with the law and the principles of sentencing, and which conform in general with other sentences imposed in similar cases. The purpose and principles of sentencing are set out in the Criminal Code of Canada.

Objectives of Sentencing

The fundamental purpose of sentencing is to contribute, along with crime prevention initiatives, to respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society by imposing just sanctions that have one or more of the following objectives:

  • to denounce unlawful conduct
  • to deter the offender and other persons from committing offences
  • to separate offenders from society, where necessary
  • to assist in rehabilitating offenders
  • to provide reparations for harm done to victims or to the community
  • to promote a sense of responsibility in offenders, and acknowledgment of the harm done to victims and to the community.

Principles of Sentencing

A court that imposes a sentence shall also take into consideration the following principles:

  • sentence should be increased or reduced to account for any relevant aggravating or mitigating circumstances relating to the offence or the offender, and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing
  • a sentence should be similar to sentences imposed on similar offenders for similar offences committed in similar circumstances
  • where consecutive sentences are imposed, the combined sentence should not be unduly long or harsh
  • an offender should not be deprived of liberty, if less restrictive sanctions may be appropriate in the circumstances
  • all available sanctions other than imprisonment that are reasonable in the circumstances should be considered for all offenders, with particular attention to the circumstances of aboriginal offenders.

Considerations Prior to Sentencing

The judge may consider a number of factors, including the presence or absence of a criminal record, the lifestyle of the offender, attitude and history of the offender, the impact on the victim, the seriousness of the offence, and the circumstances concerning how the offence was committed. The judge might impose the sentence immediately or the judge might ask for more information about the accused. In the latter case, probation officers would prepare a pre-sentence report.

Before deciding on the sentence, the judge must also consider a Victim Impact Statement if one is presented, or other victim impact information.

The judge is able to order restorative justice processes, in some cases. The judge may hold a 'sentencing circle' that brings together the members of the community to discuss sentences that will help make the defendant accountable to the community. A victim’s participation is voluntary.

Learn More About:

  • Pre-Sentence Reports
  • Types of Sentence
  • Restorative Justice
  • Young Offender Sentences
  • Restitution
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