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Unduly Lenient Sentence Scheme

Volume 662: debated on Thursday 4 July 2019

I know my hon. Friend takes very seriously the importance of getting appropriate sentences for those who are convicted, and he worked closely with my predecessor on extending sentences for those who had received lenient sentences. The ULS scheme remains an important part of the justice system to ensure justice for victims’ families.

I can tell my hon. Friend that, in 2018, the Law Officers referred a fifth of all eligible cases to the Court of Appeal and, of those, 73% were found to be unduly lenient. In answer to his question, we are looking carefully at the ambit of the scheme.

It has been a long-standing promise of this Government to extend the unduly lenient sentence scheme to other offences. Apart from a bit of tinkering, they have basically done very little. May I urge the Solicitor General to get on with it and extend the unduly lenient sentence scheme so that we can have appropriate sentences? That would be good for victims and for restoring people’s faith in the criminal justice system.

I assure my hon. Friend that I am looking at this with the Ministry of Justice, but the increase in the number of offences is more than just tinkering. For example, since its inception, the ULS scheme has been extended to some sexual offences, child cruelty, modern slavery and, in 2017-18, a number of terror-related offences. This is something we are looking at.

Can we have clarity on how the scheme works? I have written to Ministers complaining about too lenient sentences and about too severe sentences, and I never hear back. Can we have an explanatory memorandum on how the scheme works and what the follow-up should be?

I am happy to do so. A few hon. Members have referred cases to me, and I always write back, so I apologise if that has not happened. If any cases to do with my responsibilities come to him, I would like to know about that. We can discuss how the system works in more detail outside the Chamber but, in brief, a large number of people write to us about cases, which have to satisfy a number of thresholds. The cases have to be referred within 28 days, the sentences have to fall within the scheme and they have to be unduly lenient, not just lenient. There has to be a prospect of the Court of Appeal considering this to be outwith the range. I am happy to discuss these issues with him in more detail.

Many of my constituents were shocked when a fatal stabbing occurred on a quiet residential street in east Barnet. Will the Government consider whether it is time to introduce a tougher sentencing regime for knife crime?

The Government have taken a number of measures in relation to knife crime, not only on which weapons can be carried but on the consequences of such offences, including restrictions on the use of the internet and curfews. The Government take this issue seriously, and I am sure the Ministry of Justice, which is in charge of sentencing, is considering these issues.

Does the Solicitor General believe this scheme is effective enough? We see that, of 943 applications under the scheme in 2017, only 143 were successful in seeing a change to a sentence. Is she prepared to review the scheme in the light of that?

I admire very much the hon. Gentleman’s American tie. He is auditioning for a new role as a fashion specialist.

I point out to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) that 73% of the cases that were referred by the Attorney General’s office resulted in an increase in convictions. The reason for the disparity between the number of cases that are referred to my office and the number that go to the Court of Appeal is that a large number of them do not fall within the scheme in the first place, either because they are out of time or because the offences do not fall within the scheme. We must always remember that the judge has heard the trial, heard the evidence and read the pre-sentence report. Judges up and down the country are doing an outstanding job to ensure that, when crimes have been committed, perpetrators get the sentences that they deserve and victims get the justice that they deserve.