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Sentencing Guidelines (Manslaughter)

Volume 577: debated on Tuesday 18 March 2014

19. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of current sentencing guidelines in manslaughter cases where a single punch to the head results in death; and if he will make a statement. (903112)

Manslaughter carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. There is no current Sentencing Council guideline for manslaughter. However, the Court of Appeal issued a guideline judgment in 2009 on sentencing for that offence in which it made it clear that attention should be paid to the problem of gratuitous, unprovoked violence in our city centres and streets.

In November last year Andrew Young, a constituent of mine, challenged a cyclist for riding on the pavement. For his troubles he was viciously punched in the head and tragically died the next day. His attacker was convicted of manslaughter a fortnight ago and received a sentence of just four years, so he is likely to be out in just two years. I am grateful for the Attorney-General calling the case in, but I hope that the Minister will agree that there is no excuse for such violent behaviour and that the sentence seems unduly lenient.

I certainly agree that there is no excuse for that kind of behaviour, and this is clearly a very tragic case. My hon. Friend is right to refer to the Attorney-General’s consideration of the matter. My right hon. and learned Friend will reach his own conclusions in due course. As I have said, I think it is right that we have high penalties available in appropriate cases. Of course, as my hon. Friend will recognise, it is for individual sentencers to decide how to use them.

Does my hon. Friend understand that, as there has been more than one instance of a low sentence in the event of taking a life under such circumstances, as illustrated by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), there will be a growing demand for mandatory sentences unless the courts respond accordingly?

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern; he has an enviable track record in campaigning on these matters. It is important, however, that we all recognise that it is difficult to make an appropriate judgment on the adequacy of a sentence unless we have heard all the evidence and mitigation in the case; few of us have that advantage. The existence of the right of the Attorney-General to refer matters to the Court of Appeal where he believes there to be unduly lenient sentences is the right mechanism. As my hon. Friend knows, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is considering the matter at the moment.