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Volume 476: debated on Tuesday 20 May 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice (1) what training judges receive on consistency in sentencing; what steps he (a) has taken and (b) plans to take to encourage consistency in sentencing; and if he will make a statement; (206129)

(2) what recent guidelines his Department has issued to judges about consistency of sentencing; and if he will make a statement.

The responsibility for judicial training lies with the Lord Chief Justice as head of the judiciary and is exercised through the Judicial Studies Board (JSB), an independent body chaired by Lord Justice Maurice Kay.

Sentencing is a judicial function and judges and magistrates are responsible for making decisions in individual cases, subject to the statutory framework laid down by Parliament. All those who pass sentence will also consider relevant case law, Court of Appeal decisions and sentencing guidelines. Because of the independent nature of sentencing, training for both judges and magistrates seeks to promote a consistent approach to decision making, and uses sentencing exercises to give judges the opportunity to discuss the issues involved.

Responsibility for issuing sentencing guidelines rests with the Sentencing Guidelines Council, not the Government. The Council was set up under the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and is an independent body chaired by the Lord Chief Justice. In framing or revising sentencing guidelines the Council must have regard to the need to promote consistency in sentencing. The guidelines are binding on all courts—who must give reasons if they depart from the guidelines—and enable them to approach the sentencing of offenders from a common starting point in all criminal cases.

In response to Lord Carter’s review of the use of custody, the Sentencing Commission Working Group was set up under the chairmanship of Lord Justice Gage to consider the advantages, disadvantages and feasibility of a structured sentencing framework and permanent Sentencing Commission. The working group will report to the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice in the summer.

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what (a) recent representations he has received from and (b) discussions he has had with the police on sentencing policy; and if he will make a statement. (206131)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Straw) and departmental Ministers regularly meet with the police to discuss a wide range of criminal justice issues.

Prior to introduction of the recent Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, discussions at official level have been held with the president of ACPO, to provide an overview of the provisions. The Police Federation, together with the Lancashire and West Yorkshire forces, responded to the consultation “Making Sentencing Clearer” in late 2006.