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Sentencing Guidelines (Manslaughter)

Volume 527: debated on Thursday 12 May 2011

The Petition of residents of Alyn and Deeside,

Declares that Peter Jones, a 24-year-old former pupil of Alun School, Mold, died in hospital following an attack by Gafyn Thomas Denman, 21, who is from the Mold area; notes that Gafyn Thomas Denman was found guilty of manslaughter and was jailed for 40 months for an unprovoked attack; further notes that, at the time of sentencing, Judge Merfyn Hughes QC explained that his hands were tied by the sentencing guidelines in cases of “one-punch” manslaughter such as this.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to review sentencing guidelines for those convicted of manslaughter so that sentences can better reflect the severity of the offence.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mark Tami, Official Report, 22 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 923.]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Justice:

The Government express their deepest sympathy to the family of Peter Jones over their tragic loss.

The Government have the following observations to make.

The maximum penalty for manslaughter is a life sentence but, because of the wide-range of circumstances in which a manslaughter conviction can arise, this offence covers a wider band of sentences than for any other offence. Sentencing in individual cases is entirely a matter for the courts, which will take account of all the circumstances of the particular case. In doing so, the courts will be guided by relevant case law laid down by the Court of Appeal and any relevant sentencing guidelines when determining the appropriate sentence.

The independent Sentencing Council and the Court of Appeal are responsible for producing sentencing guidelines. There is no current guideline on unlawful act manslaughter but the courts will take account of relevant case law and guidance established by the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal has concluded that it is not realistic to treat what is described as “one-punch manslaughter” as comprising a single set of circumstances; cases involving death resulting from a single blow vary greatly in their seriousness. In a judgment issued in December 2009 on manslaughter cases, the Court of Appeal said that

“the manslaughter cases with which we are concerned involved gratuitous, unprovoked violence in the streets of the kind which seriously discourages law-abiding citizens from walking their streets, particularly at night”.

It went on to say

“that crimes which result in death should be treated more seriously, as to ensure that the increased focus on the fact that the victim has died in consequence of an unlawful act of violence, even where the conviction is for manslaughter, should, in accordance with the legislative intention, be given greater weight”.

The Government have no plans to request to the Sentencing Council to produce a guideline on unlawful act manslaughter.