LL284      Half Unit
Topics in Sentencing and Criminal Justice

This information is for the 2021/22 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 community sentences as case studies to apply the general principles of sentencing, then conclude the course by assessing the impact that Covid-19 has had on the criminal justice system. 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 Justice System in England and Wales

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 Victims’ Rights

5. In Court: The Criminal Courts and Legal Representation

6. Reading Week

7. Sentencing Rationales: Aims, Principles and Policies

8. Sentencing Practices: Discretion and Guidelines

9. Sentencing in Turbulent Times: Rioters

10. Community Sentences

11. The Impact of Covid-19 on the Criminal Justice System


This course will have a minimum of two hours of teaching content each week, either in the form of a two hour seminar or an online lecture and one hour class. This course includes a reading week in Weeks 6 of term.

Seminars include small group discussion and full class discussions, as well as practical exercises in which you are tasked with advising fictional clients or performing the role of sentencing judges. I will begin the seminar with some introductory remarks, usually outlining the topic or setting out its legal or political context. There are PowerPoint slides which will be uploaded on the Course’s Moodle webpage in advance of each seminar. We will work in and out of these slides during the seminar.

Formative coursework

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

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.

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 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 differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching 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 2020/21: 22

Average class size 2020/21: 11

Capped 2020/21: Yes (30)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Communication
  • Specialist skills