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Unduly Lenient Sentence Scheme

Volume 640: debated on Thursday 10 May 2018

The unduly lenient sentence scheme remains an important avenue for victims, family members and the wider public to ensure that justice is delivered. In 2017, the Solicitor General and I referred 173 cases to the Court of Appeal for consideration. Of those, the Court agreed that 144 sentences were unduly lenient and increased 137 of them.

I thank the Attorney General for that answer. Will he explain the process by which a referral is made and how decisions are taken, because it is very important that victims’ families understand it.

I agree with my hon. Friend. In the time that we have held our positions, the Solicitor General and I have been very keen to ensure that there are no procedural barriers to prevent anyone making use of the unduly lenient sentence scheme. There is no particular rubric or form that needs to be filled in. All that anyone who is concerned about a criminal sentence needs to do is to contact the Attorney General’s office. If the case is within the scheme, we will look at it. What will then happen is that if either the Solicitor General or I believe that a sentence is unduly lenient, we will make a reference to the Court of Appeal. In the end, the Court of Appeal will decide.

I am not sure that I agree with the first part of my right hon. Friend’s question, but in answer to the second part, he will know that the Conservative party has now set out in two successive general election manifestos our commitment to extending the scheme. He will know that we have made a very good start by extending it last August to several additional terrorism offences. He and I both hope that we will be able to go further.

Recently, 26 out of 30 people who were involved in a pack-style attack were sentenced after some excellent work by Humberside police, but my constituents in Grimsby are really alarmed that they have effectively been given a sentence of litter picking. Does the Attorney General agree that that sends the wrong message about such group attacks on defenceless individuals?

I understand what the hon. Lady says, but she will understand, of course, that I would need to see a great deal more detail to make a judgment about that sentence. If that is a relatively recent sentence, I encourage her to refer it, if she wishes, to the Law Officers so that we can look at it. I advise her that there is a 28-day statutory time limit after the point of sentence, so if she can, I would ask her to get on with it.

If the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) were not already on the Christmas card list of his hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), it is a safe bet that he is now. I call Mr Philip Davies.

I commend the Attorney General and the Solicitor General for what they do in appealing unduly lenient sentences, which they carry out with great skill—I am very impressed by their work. However, the Attorney General said that he hopes that the scheme will be extended, and he also said that we have been promising this for quite some time, so can he give us a date for when we will extend the unduly lenient sentence scheme?

As I said to the House a moment ago, the scheme has already been extended—a number of terrorism offences have been brought under the scheme—but my hon. Friend knows that I share his enthusiasm for further extension. It seems important to me that victims of crime, and members of the public more broadly, can access the scheme across a broader range of offences so that when mistakes are made, which he will recognise is a rare event in the criminal justice system—about 80,000 criminal cases are heard in the Crown court every year and, as I indicated, 137 sentences were increased last year—they can be remedied.

My right hon. learned Friend will be aware of a case that I referred to him, which he said was out of the scope of the scheme. I urge him to look at expanding the scope of the scheme so that justice is done, and is seen to be done, particularly by victims of crime.