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The totality principle is a common law principle which applies when a court imposes multiple sentences of imprisonment. The principle was first formulated by David Thomas in his 1970 study of the sentencing decisions of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales:
The effect of the totality principle is to require a sentencer who has passed a series of sentences, each properly calculated in relation to the offence for which it is imposed and each properly made consecutive in accordance with the principles governing consecutive sentences, to review the aggregate sentence and consider whether the aggregate is 'just and appropriate'. The principle has been stated many times in various forms: 'when a number of offences are being dealt with and specific punishments in respect of them are being totted up to make a total, it is always necessary for the court to take a last look at the total just to see whether it looks wrong'; 'when ... cases of multiplicity of offences come before the court, the court must not content itself by doing the arithmetic and passing the sentence which the arithmetic produces. It must look at the totality of the criminal behaviour and ask itself what is the appropriate sentence for all the offences.'
Main article: English and Welsh law
Within the context of English and Welsh law, the totality principle is defined within the Criminal Justice Act 1991, that states that nothing in the Act "shall prevent the court ... in the case of an offender who is convicted of one or more other offences, from mitigating his sentence by applying any rule of law as to the totality of sentences". The principle was recognised in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 Section 166 (3)(b).
Sentencing guidelines are contained within the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, which states that the application of the principle are within the management of the Sentencing Council, applied along with the Offences Taken into Consideration (TICs). On 11 June 2012, the latest guidelines from the Sentencing Council came into force, which cover the three overarching aspects of sentencing: allocation; TICs; totality.
The principle of totality comprises two elements:
#All courts, when sentencing for more than a single offence, should pass a total sentence which reflects all the offending behaviour before it and is just and proportionate. This is so whether the sentences are structured as concurrent or consecutive. Therefore, concurrent sentences will ordinarily be longer than a single sentence for a single offence.
- It is usually impossible to arrive at a just and proportionate sentence for multiple offending simply by adding together notional single sentences. It is necessary to address the offending behaviour, together with the factors personal to the offender as a whole.
Resultantly, the suggestion for the application of concurrent or consecutive sentences is within the following gudielines:
Main article: Australian law
The totality principle is "well established" in the common law of Australia. The High Court quoted Thomas's formulation of the principle in Mill v R (1988). It is also reflected in the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth) s 16B.
As well as to prevent an excessive sentence, the principle is a product of two further principles "namely proportionality and mercy." Further, the principle must be applied "without a suggestion that a discount is given for multiple offences."
Main article: Canadian law
Section 718.2 applies the totality principle by stating that: c) where consecutive sentences are imposed, the combined sentence should not be unduly long or harsh; This is so as to "avoid sentences that cumulatively are out of proportion to the gravity of the offences." In application it requires Canadian courts to craft a global sentence of all offences that is not excessive. If the total sentence is excessive the court must adjust the sentence so that the "total sentence is proper".  A sentence may violate the totality principle where:
Main article: Law of Hong Kong
Hong Kong Basic Law is based on the principles of English common law, and hence include the totality principle, which are applied by the Department of Justice.
Main article: New Zealand law
The totality principle applies within New Zealand law. Aware of public concerns re perceived sentence discounting by the judiciary for multiple offences, the courts state that this assumes that offenders are "rational and well-informed calculators of the cost/benefit of committing offences", and hence see the correct application of the totality principle as "recognising a need to balance totality with deterrence and adequate denunciation of the conduct involved."