A new body with a remit to ‘demystify’ court processes and sentencing has begun the first national survey of how individual judges decide on the punishments they mete out to offenders.

The Sentencing Council is to require judges to complete a questionnaire after each hearing to assist it in producing sentencing guidelines.

The survey of the judiciary will initially be piloted in four Crown courts before being rolled out nationally. The council said the research will help it determine whether there is any substance to anecdotal evidence that some judges habitually ignore sentencing guidelines.

Tony Edwards, senior partner at London firm TV Edwards, said the new body’s objective is to ensure consistency and fairness in sentencing. ‘Courts will still retain their independence, but will need strong public-interest reasons for diverging from the new guidelines,’ he said. The council has ‘extended powers’ to analyse the statistics around sentencing, helping identify which sentences are most effective at reducing reoffending or deterring offenders, Edwards added.

A spokeswoman for the council said its ‘essential role’ was to increase public confidence in the criminal justice system and ‘demystify what factors influence sentencing and the process by which somebody is sentenced’.

The Sentencing Council, chaired by Lord Justice Leveson, comprises eight judges and six lay members. It replaces the Sentencing Guidelines Council and the Sentencing Advisory Panel.