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Unduly Lenient Sentence Scheme: Extension

Volume 669: debated on Thursday 16 January 2020

9. What progress he has made on the implementation of the extension of the unduly lenient sentence scheme. (900236)

The ULS scheme is an important avenue for victims, family members and the public to ensure that justice is delivered in the most serious cases, which is why the Government have extended the scheme to cover further child sexual abuse offences, as well as some domestic abuse offences, including controlling and coercive behaviour. The remit of the scheme remains under constant review.

I am grateful to the Solicitor General for his answer. It is absolutely right that the most serious sentences are reviewable, but will he also ensure that there is always a path towards rehabilitation, and even redemption?

My hon. Friend is quite right. It has always been recognised in our criminal justice system that punishment includes not only deterrence but rehabilitation. That is something we seek to do in our sentencing regime and in our criminal justice system generally. My hon. Friend is right to highlight that feature.

I am glad to hear what the Solicitor General has to say, because the people of Willenhall and Bloxwich certainly do not want to see unduly lenient sentences for those convicted of rape, murder or terrorism. When he gets a referral under the scheme, how often is the sentence increased?

The number of sentences considered by the Law Officers—the Attorney General and myself—has trebled since 2010. There were approximately 1,000 referrals last year, of which 86 cases were referred to the Court of Appeal and 50 offenders had their sentences increased.

I often ask this question because it is a little campaign of mine. When people get unduly severe sentences, I write to the Solicitor General. It is usually women sentenced for a non-violent crime who get a long, disproportionate sentence. Does he welcome that kind of communication from Members? What does he do about that communication when he gets it?

I always welcome communication from the hon. Gentleman and, in fact, from any Member. The issue of manifestly excessive sentences is one for the defence in each case, and there are mechanisms by which, within a time limit, defence lawyers can appeal to the Court of Appeal against a sentence that they consider to be manifestly excessive. It is not a matter for the Law Officers; we deal with unduly lenient sentences.

Assaults on emergency workers continue to increase, particularly against ambulance workers and people working in the NHS and in the police. Surely that is a disgrace. I have yet to see a single sentence handed down in such cases that is not unduly lenient. One reason for that is that the Sentencing Council has still not introduced any guidelines in relation to assaults on emergency workers since the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill became an Act more than a year ago. Will the Solicitor General ring up the chaps or the women who run the Sentencing Council and ensure that we get proper sentences for people who attack our emergency workers?

I think I can provide some reassurance because I have seen some cases where sentences have clearly been imposed for the offence mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, who played a large part in bringing about the legislation. Assaults on emergency service personnel are serious aggravating features in many cases and I know that they are already being prosecuted. The Sentencing Council is clearly looking at a number of offences, and I am sure that they will look at that one in due course.