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Lenient Sentences

Volume 548: debated on Tuesday 10 July 2012

3. How many sentences he has asked the Court of Appeal to review because they appear to be unduly lenient since May 2010; and in what proportion of those cases the sentence was subsequently increased. (115837)

The Attorney-General’s Office records show that from 10 May 2010 to 6 July 2012 the Solicitor-General and I have referred the sentences of 188 offenders from 135 separate Crown Court cases to the Court of Appeal. One of those offenders’ sentences has yet to be considered. Of 187 individual sentences that have been considered since May 2010, the Court considered 87% to be unduly lenient and increased the sentences of 155—or 83%—of them. Annual statistics are published on my Department’s website, and the 2011 figures were published last week.

May I warmly congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on taking forward these unduly lenient cases and making sure that proper sentences are handed out? However, can he tell us what remedial action is taken against the lily-livered, wet, soft, liberal judges who hand out these unduly lenient sentences in the first place to make sure that this does not happen again?

I am afraid that I do not entirely agree with my hon. Friend’s basic premise. Just to get the position in perspective, I should say that 95,795 sentences were passed in the Crown Court in 2011, and we had referred to us in that period some 377 requests to reconsider sentences. Many of those requests were in fact wrong, and the total number we referred reflects the sorts of cases that we identify where a mistake has been made. I have to say to him that I am afraid that in human affairs such mistakes will always be made, which is precisely why we have the mechanism we have got to try to ensure that they are corrected.

It would be odd for me to agree too often with the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) but, nevertheless, there is genuine public concern about levels of sentencing. It is certainly true, on one level, that too many people go to prison, but it is also a matter of fact that at any point in time there are cases that do trouble the public. A 71-year-old man being given a four-year prison sentence for sexually assaulting a very young child is not seen as the kind of punishment that the public would expect. Nobody wants overly harsh sentences, but we do want realistic sentences, so how do we assess the judges?

May I say to the hon. Gentleman that I can only do my job? I have a job, laid down by statute, to review cases where it is thought that the sentence may be unduly lenient, and if I think it is, I will refer it. The success rate that we have been enjoying seems to indicate that, broadly speaking, on most of the references we make the Court agrees with us. It is worth pointing out that there are sentencing guidelines, which lay down very clearly how a judge should go about sentencing. In some cases, although the public may be unhappy about a sentence, it may conform to those guidelines. If the lawyers who advise me and I consider that that is so, the case may not be suitable for a reference.