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Judges: Sentencing

Volume 502: debated on Wednesday 16 December 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice (1) what training judges receive on consistency in sentencing; what steps he (a) has taken in the last three years and (b) plans to take to encourage consistency in sentencing; and if he will make a statement; (306107)

(2) what guidelines his Department has issued to judges on consistency of sentencing since December 2008; 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 independent Judicial Studies Board (JSB).

Sentencing is an independent 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 a sentence will also consider relevant case law, Court of Appeal decisions and any guidelines issued by the independent Sentencing Guidelines Council.

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 Sentencing Council for England and Wales, created by the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 as an independent body, will replace the Sentencing Advisory Panel and the Sentencing Guidelines Council with a significantly expanded remit.

Subject to Parliament’s approval of the relevant orders provided for in the Coroners and Justice Act, it is expected that the Sentencing Council for England and Wales will be established by April 2010. The Sentencing Council will encourage greater consistency in sentencing as courts will be obliged to follow relevant guidelines published by the Council unless it would be contrary to the interests of justice to do so, and must include reference to those guidelines when explaining why a sentence given is significantly different from that guideline.