LL284      Half Unit
Topics in Sentencing and Criminal Justice

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Richard Martin


This course is available on the BA in Anthropology and Law and LLB in Laws. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit. This course is available to General Course students.

Course content

In this course we explore the routine practices and decision-making of key actors within the criminal justice system. In doing so, we examine the laws, policies and regulatory schemes that purport to govern how actors perform their specific roles in the criminal process. In the first five weeks, we track the construction of cases through the criminal process. This requires us to closely analyse the work of police, prosecutors and judges: How do they exercise their discretion? What kinds of dynamics, sub-cultures and formal (and informal) rules affect their decision-making? And how does this impact on the rights and interests of suspects, defendants, offenders and victims? In the second five weeks, we enter the realm of sentencing law and practice. We focus on how judges perform their role as sentencers, the principles and legal guidelines they rely upon and the types of sentences they can (or must) hand down in different types of cases. We use the sentencing of rioters and the life sentence for murder as case studies to apply the general principles of sentencing, then conclude the course with non-custodial sentences. By preparing fully for seminars and actively contributing to our discussions, the course will equip you with the knowledge and tools necessary to critically assess contemporary criminal justice issues.

Topics by Week

  1. The Criminal Process and Models of Justice
  2. In the Community: What Do Police Do and Why Do They Do It?
  3. In the Station: Police Practices and Case Construction
  4. Bringing the Case: Prosecutorial Discretion and Plea Bargaining
  5. In Court: The Judiciary and Legal Representation
  6. Reading Week
  7. Sentencing Theory: Aims, Principles and Policies
  8. Sentencing Practice: Discretion and Guidelines
  9. Sentencing Rioters
  10. The Life Sentence for Murder
  11. Non-Custodial Sentences


This course is delivered through a combination of classes and lectures totalling a minimum of 20 hours across Lent Term. This year some or all of this teaching will be delivered through recorded online lectures and a mix of both in-person and online classes to accommodate students who are unable to physically be on campus.  This course includes a reading week in Week 6 of Lent Term.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce a 1500-word literature review in the LT.

Indicative reading

I want to encourage you to take responsibility for what you read and to come to class keen to present your own thoughts and ideas based on this reading. There is textbook reading, but I am keen to keep the material and topics we discuss as relevant as possible, so I have updated these texts with more recent articles or chapters I think are particularly helpful or insightful. Sanders, Young and Burton’s Criminal Justice is a brilliant text, albeit badly out of date (the latest edition was 2010). The standard sentencing text for England and Wales is: A. Ashworth (2015) Sentencing and Criminal Justice (6th ed., Cambridge:  CUP) and S. Easton and C. Piper (2016) Sentencing and Punishment: The Quest for Justice (4th ed., Oxford: OUP) is also good. Most of our readings are articles in journal e.g. British Journal of Criminology (BJ Crim), the Criminal Law Review (Crim LR) and the Journal of Law and Society (J. Law & Soc) and chapters in edited collection (various readings come from the sixth edition of The Oxford Handbook of Criminology, as well as Changing Contours of Criminal Justice).


Essay (100%, 5000 words) in the ST.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Law

Total students 2019/20: 18

Average class size 2019/20: 18

Capped 2019/20: Yes (20)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Communication
  • Specialist skills