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Unduly Lenient Sentence Scheme

Volume 646: debated on Thursday 6 September 2018

7. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the unduly lenient sentence scheme. (906703)

Last year, the unduly lenient sentence scheme involved the referral by the Attorney General and me of 173 cases to the Court of Appeal. Of those 173 cases, the Court of Appeal agreed that 144 were unduly lenient. The scheme remains an important avenue for victims, family members and the public to ensure that justice is delivered.

I thank the Solicitor General for that response. Does he agree that urgent attention should be given to extending the unduly lenient sentence scheme to cover the production and/or distribution of indecent images of children?

We are giving urgent consideration to extending the scope of the scheme, and I have said on record that I strongly advocate the scheme’s extension to that type of offence. Online abuse of children is as insidious as abuse offline, and it can be achieved in a much quicker timeframe than has been the case. I want to make sure that the public have full confidence in the system, and that is why I strongly support the extension of the scheme in that respect.

I thank the Solicitor General for his response. Will he carry out a review of sentencing on the basis of the successful applications to the unduly lenient sentence scheme? I think that it is important to have a review.

I reassure the hon. Gentleman that, happily, we are dealing with a small number of the about 80,000 cases prosecuted in the Crown court in England and Wales. Day in and day out, our judges are complying with the guidelines, where appropriate, and getting it right. This scheme is an important safety valve to ensure that we get maximum consistency and confidence, as well as guidance from the Court of Appeal on sentences for new offences.

We can see an increase in public interest—we have reached a figure of nearly 1,000 inquiries from members of the public and agencies this year. We are using social media and the mainstream media to publicise the scheme, talking about individual cases of note and making sure that as many people as possible, including victims and their families, know about their rights.

In July, a 13-year-old took to the rooftops in Grimsby and caused over £2,000 of damage—tearing down tiles, throwing them at police cars and hitting a police officer. Frankly, he has been causing misery for his neighbours and the whole town for months. He has just been given a year’s supervision, a curfew and a fine of just £20. What confidence can the Solicitor General give to people in Grimsby that this sentence will be effective in deterring other young people from behaving in such a lawless fashion?

The hon. Lady rightly raises a case of great concern to her constituents, and we as constituency MPs will have similar experiences. I cannot comment on the individual case, but it sounds to me as though it probably would not be within the scheme.

Indeed, the question the hon. Lady asks is about confidence, and we are playing our part as Law Officers to ensure that it increases. The fact that she has raised the case today will again help those responsible to understand the need for consistency when it comes to dealing with serious offences.