Since 1998 various forms of ‘three strikes and you’re out’ legislation have been introduced. There are three categories currently:
Burglary – Since 30th November 1999, if someone aged over 18 has been convicted of burglary of a house (a domestic burglary) and sentenced, then committed another one and sentenced (whatever the sentences were) then, if they are convicted of a third burglary, there is a mandatory minimum of 3-year custodial sentence. If this is imposed, then the usual rules about release apply.
A Judge can only give a sentence less than 3 years if either of the following circumstances apply:
(a) The defendant pleads guilty – in that case the minimum sentence can be discounted to 80% of 3 years (about 2 years 5 months)
(b) There are particular circumstances (relating to the offence or the defendant) that make it unjust to impose a 3-year sentence in all the circumstances – in that case, the Judge can impose any sentence.
Firearms – For anyone over the age of 18 convicted of certain types of firearms offences (those listed in s51A Firearms Act 1968 – possession of most types of gun and some ammunition, as well as the aggravated forms of the offences), they are liable to a minimum sentence of 5 years’ imprisonment, unless there are ‘exceptional circumstances relating to the offence or offender which justify its not doing so’. In working out whether the case has exceptional circumstances, the Judge has to ask himself whether giving a sentence of five years would be arbitrary and disproportionate.
If the defendant is under the age of 18 when found guilty, then the minimum sentence is 3 years (although this will be detention). If the offence was committed when someone is under 16, then there is no minimum sentence.
Note that a guilty plea won’t of itself lead to a discount of sentence to under 5 years (but it can form part of wider exceptional circumstances) and the test for whether the minimum sentence should be imposed is different for firearms than for burglary (and drug offences).
Drug offences – This was introduced at the same time as the burglary sentencing. The trigger conditions are slightly different – if someone aged over 18 is convicted of a ‘Class A drug trafficking offence’ (any offence listed here – including the common offences of possession with intent to supply, supply, or production of Class A drugs) and they have been convicted on two separate occasions (at any time) of a drug trafficking offence, then there is a mandatory minimum sentence of 7 years.
As with the Burglary offence, there can be a 20% discount for a plea of guilty, or there are particular circumstances (relating to the offence or the defendant) that make it unjust to impose a 7-year sentence in all the circumstances – in that case, the Judge can impose any sentence he feels appropriate.
In practice, this is rarely relevant. This is because if someone has two previous convictions for such offences, they would in all probability receive a sentence well in excess of 7 years in any event.