Non-custodial sentences

As an alternative to prison the judge may choose to give a non custodial sentence.

Types of non-custodial sentence

There is a wide range of non custodial sentences which a court may give to adult offenders, including:

  • fine
  • probation order or community service order (or a combination of both)
  • conditional or absolute discharge

Non custodial sentences for young people who offend include:

  • attendance centre order
  • community responsibility order
  • reparation order
  • youth conference order


A fine is the most common form of punishment imposed by the criminal courts. Find out how to pay a court fine, how to get help with paying fines and what happens if you don’t pay on the following page:

Community service orders

A community service order requires the offender to do unpaid work in the community. The offender must be aged 16 years or over and consent to the order. The order must be

  • for at least 40 hours
  • no longer than 240 hours
  • completed within one year

The offender is required to work the hours as instructed. If the offender does not carry out the work, they will be returned to court, where they could receive a fine, or any other sentence.

Probation orders

A probation order requires an offender, aged 10 or over, consenting to the order, to be supervised by a probation officer in the community for a period of between six months and three years

Sometimes the court will apply additional requirements to the probation order, including:

  • go to an alcohol or drug rehabilitation centre
  • go to a Day Centre
  • receive any other medical treatment or counselling

If the offender does not go along with any of the requirements they may be returned to court where a fine or any other sentence can be imposed.

Find out more about probation and community sentencing

Combination orders

A combination order is a probation order and community service order together. The probation part of the order will be between one and three years, and the community service part for between 40 and 100 hours, to be completed within one year.

Custody probation orders

Custody probation orders are for offences serious enough to deserve a custodial sentence of one year or more. The offender must be aged 17 or over and consent to the order being made. The order will involve a period of custody followed by a period of supervision by a probation officer in the community of between one and three years.

Conditional discharge

A conditional discharge means that the defendant is absolved from punishment, if they commit no further offences during the period stated by the court, which may be up to three years.

The defendant will be liable to be sentenced for the original offence, if found guilty of committing another offence during the stated time.

Absolute discharge

An absolute discharge means that the defendant is released unconditionally without any penalty being imposed. It is suitable for cases where the defendant, though technically guilty of the offence, is not thought to deserve any punishment. An absolute discharge is the most lenient sentence available to the court.

Binding over

Binding over is when an offender 'binds' to good behaviour, for example. If the offender breaks this commitment, they will have to pay a sum of money to the court.

Road traffic offences

There are a number of penalties only for road traffic offences. This includes:

  • penalty points - depending on the seriousness of the offence, a motorist may choose to have the matter dealt with by way of the Fixed Penalty Process
  • endorsements
  • disqualification from driving

Find out more about endorsements and disqualifications.

Non custodial sentences for young people who offend

The non custodial sentences for young offenders include:

  • Attendance Centre Order - the young person has to go to a designated attendance centre for a period between 12 and 24 hours over a number of months
  • Reparation Order - the young person has to make reparation to the victim or the wider community by carrying out an agreed activity for a period of up to 24 hours
  • Community Responsibility Order - imposes a combination of a stated number of hours (between 20 and 40) to be spent on practical activities and instruction on citizenship
  • Youth Conference Order - gives young people who offend the opportunity to understand and make amends to their victims for the consequences of their offending and to take steps to stop future crime

Find out more about the youth justice system.

Share this page


Your comments are anonymous and can’t be responded to - if you would like a reply, use the feedback form.

Your comments
Plain text only, 750 characters maximum. Don't include personal or financial information.