Police Informers – A case of risk versus reward

There is a long-established practice of reducing the sentence that an offender would otherwise receive to reflect the fact that he provided information and assistance to the police. The justification for doing so is purely pragmatic.  

A former Lord Chief Justice explained the reason for giving such sentencing discounts in these terms: 

“There never has been, and never will be, much enthusiasm about a process by which criminals receive lower sentences than they otherwise deserve because they have informed on or given evidence against those who participated in the same or linked crimes …..  

However, like the process which provides for a reduced sentence following a guilty plea, this is a longstanding and entirely pragmatic convention. 

The stark reality is that without it major criminals…..might, and in many cases certainly would, escape justice.….. The solitary incentive to encourage cooperation is provided by a reduced sentence, and the common law, and now statute, have accepted that this is a price worth paying …..”


What procedure should be followed?

The sentencer should first identify, by reference to any applicable guideline, the appropriate starting point. This should then be adjusted up or down to reflect the balance of any aggravating and mitigating factors. Having thus arrived at the sentence which would otherwise be imposed, the sentencer should reduce the sentence to the extent that appears appropriate given the information and assistance provided to the police. That reduced sentence should then be further reduced to reflect a guilty plea. 

Although a guilty plea is not a prerequisite of the making of a reduction for information and assistance provided, it may affect the extent of the reduction made. 


How much reduction in sentence to expect

In one case the Lord Chief Justice referred to the risk to informers of suffering violent reprisals, and observed that it is to the advantage of the public that criminals should be encouraged to inform upon other criminals. He continued: 

“…….an expectation of some substantial mitigation of what would otherwise be the proper sentence is required…..  

The amount of that reduction, it seems to us, will vary…… from about one half to two thirds reduction according to the circumstances…” 


To expand upon that, in another case, the Court of Appeal commented: 

“The extent of the discount will ordinarily depend on the value of the help given and expected to be given. Value is a function of quality and quantity. 

If the information given is unreliable, vague, lacking in practical utility or already known to the authorities, no identifiable discount may be given or, if given, any discount will be minimal. 

If the information given is accurate, particularised, useful in practice, and hitherto unknown to the authorities, enabling serious criminal activity to be stopped and serious criminals brought to book, the discount may be substantial….. 

Where, by supplying valuable information to the authorities, a defendant exposes himself or his family to personal jeopardy, it will ordinarily be recognised in the sentence passed. For all these purposes, account will be taken of help given and reasonably expected to be given in the future.”


Assessing the significance of the information or assistance provided

Pulling this together, it seems that the following factors could determine the extent of any discount given to defendants providing information or assistance: 


The points to take away

Those considering whether to cooperate with the authorities in return for a potentially substantial discount in their sentence face a difficult decision which must be carefully judged against any personal risks to the defendant and, quite possibly, his wider family.  

It is not a decision to be rushed or taken lightly. Specialist legal advice should always be sought by a defendant before engaging in any discussion with the authorities. 


How can we help?

We have over 30 years’ experience of representing those facing investigation or charges for serious offences. We make sure we are up to date with legal developments so that we are always best placed to advise you properly and to fight your corner.  

If you would like to discuss any aspect of your case, please contact Tarsem Salhan on 0121 605 6000 or at tsalhan@salhan.co.uk.