Criminal convictions and sentencing

27th April 2018

Unless there is a mistrial in a criminal case, there are generally only two outcomes – guilty or not guilty

Not guilty is fairly straightforward, you have been cleared of all charges and are free to go and live your life without the spectre of a criminal record hanging over your head.

Guilty verdicts are where criminal convictions can get complicated, and there are many different types of sentences the Courts can choose from.

Conditional and unconditional discharges

A conditional discharge is a sentence that diminishes the finding of guilt in which the offender receives no punishment provided that, in a period set by the court (not more than three years), no further offence is committed. If an offence is committed in that time, then the offender may also be resentenced for the offence for which a conditional discharge was given.

Under criminal law, a conditional discharge does not constitute a conviction unless the individual breaches the discharge and is resentenced. An unconditional, or absolute, discharge is where the Court finds that a crime has technically been committed, but that any punishment of the defendant would be inappropriate.

With both conditional and unconditional discharges, the discharge does not necessarily exonerate the defendant from paying compensation to a victim or a contribution towards the prosecution's costs, or from being disqualified from driving.


When a defendant is found guilty but not discharged they will be convicted and punished by the Court as it sees fit. There are a few options available to the Court:

  • A fine.
  • A custodial sentence i.e. jail time.
  • Community Service.
  • A Bind Over – this is not a conviction or punishment, but more of a precautionary agreement by the defendant not to commit the act in question again. These are usually used for minor public order offences.

Criminal sentences can either be immediate or suspended. Immediate means the sentence will be served straight away. Suspended, allows the defendant to go free from court but if they reoffend their sentence would be activated, and they would also face prosecution for the new crime.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act

Our guide gives you useful information if you have previously been convicted and are looking to change your life for the better.

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