If the offence for which someone is sentenced is trivial, or there are special circumstances relating to the offender, which means that “it is inexpedient to inflict punishment“, the a court can ‘discharge’ the individual. This can be either conditionally or unconditionally (called an absolute discharge).
Discharges are often treated differently from other forms of sentences. For example, it does not count as a Community Order. Also, an offence which leads to a discharge does not count as a qualifying offence for the purpose of a mandatory sentence, nor can it trigger a breach of a suspended sentence.
A discharge is available for almost all offences. The exceptions being where there is a mandatory sentence (for example – murder) or it has been specifically excluded by Parliament (for example – Breach of an ASBO).
If a discharge is made, this cannot be combined with other sentences such as a Community Order (for the same offence). It can however be combined with an order for costs, compensation or confiscation, as well as a disqualification from driving and other ancillary orders.
There is no minimum period of the discharge if it is conditional. The maximum period is 3 years.
A court has no power to attach any conditions to a conditional discharge except for the one that is automatically there – not to commit any further offences. If there is no further offending, then that is the end of the matter. If there is a further offence committed, then the court can re-sentence the person to any sentence (subject to the maximum for the original offence).