When Can An Apology Assist In Criminal Law?

If you have been wrongly accused of a crime then you would inevitably want a solicitor who would fight tooth and nail in order to win the case. But what about when you find yourself in trouble with the courts as you have made a mistake? Often, a simple ‘sorry’ can go a long way in assisting you.

If the act of contrition is genuine and communicated properly, it can alter the outcome of a case significantly.

How can an admission or apology assist?

An early admission of guilt and expression of sorrow can mean the difference between a formal resolution versus an out-of-court community resolution. Courts must give credit or discounts in sentences of up to one third for those defendants who plead guilty and those who are charged with offences and indicate that they wish to admit offences at an early stage will attract the largest discount.

Restorative justice is now an extremely popular out-of-court disposal and preferable to almost all other outcomes when guilt is not in doubt. Research has shown that it has benefits for both victim and offender.

Other out-of-court disposals such as driver awareness courses can also have a positive impact on an offender willing to address their behaviour. After all, few people are undisturbed by the graphic images shown on those courses.

These out-of-court measures can often persuade a court to impose a more lenient punishment. For this reason, it’s important for solicitors to work with clients to ensure mitigation is advanced adequately at all stages.

Of course, ‘sorry’ in itself might not mean much. The more important question is “what are you sorry for?” If you’re sorry for finding yourself in court, getting caught, or not hitting the victim harder, it does not amount to 'genuine remorse' and isn’t worth being said.



What does the Sentencing Council say about remorse:

In sentencing terms 'genuine remorse' is a mitigating factor in almost all sentencing guidelines and can make a substantial difference to the outcome. The Sentencing Council said:

“This factor appears in all Sentencing Council guidelines and is one that sentencers are adept at assessing. Sentencers sitting in court on a daily basis are alive to the ease with which ‘sorry’ can be said but not meant. Evidence obtained during the course of interviews with judges (during the consultation process) confirmed the way in which judges carry out this assessment; often the judges used phrases in conversation with us such as ‘genuinely remorseful’, ‘genuine remorse’ and ‘true remorse’. This confirms the Council’s view that the consideration of remorse is nuanced, and that all the circumstances of the case will be considered by the sentencing in deciding whether any expressed remorse is in fact genuine.”

What is genuine remorse?

The Oxford English dictionary defines remorse as “deep regret or guilt for a wrong committed”. Examples of genuine remorse might be:

  • Deliberate withdrawal from an ongoing criminal enterprise.
  • Removing yourself from criminal associates or sources of temptation.
  • Behaviour immediately after the offence such as obtaining medical aid.
  • Voluntary surrender to the police.
  • Efforts to reform. For example, this could involve drug-rehabilitation or alcohol withdrawal programmes.
  • Return to education.
  • Providing information or assistance to the authorities in tackling crime.
  • Voluntary payment of compensation without order from the court or restoring damaged property.
  • Expressions of remorse in police interviews after arrest.
  • The impression of genuine remorse given to a probation officer, psychiatrist or psychologist when being interviewed for the purpose of preparing a report for the court before sentencing.
  • Letters of apology written by offenders to victims or the court.

How can we assist?

When representing clients, it is our job to ensure that their best case is put forward. We’ll raise awareness of all the aspects of our client’s character so that the court understands who they really are.

People make mistakes, sometimes serious ones, but rarely does that alone define the real person.

Carefully presented mitigation makes a real difference and could make the difference between whether you receive a custodial sentence or not.


For assistance with any criminal matter, please contact us.