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Sentencing: Craig Sweeney

Volume 684: debated on Monday 10 July 2006

Craig Sweeney committed terrible crimes against a young child, for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of six years, less time served on remand. It is my responsibility as Attorney-General to consider whether to refer this sentence to the Court of Appeal as being unduly lenient.

My power to refer sentences to the Court of Appeal is one I exercise in my public interest capacity. Before I decide whether or not to refer a case, I give very careful consideration to the facts and surrounding circumstances of it, and receive advice from independent, specialist lawyers on the sentence imposed. I have approached this case in this way, and am satisfied that as the law stands and on current sentencing guidelines, the Court of Appeal would not interfere with this sentence. Accordingly, I cannot refer his case to the Court of Appeal.

The judge did what he could to protect the public from this dangerous man by passing a life sentence on him. This means he will not be released unless and until the Parole Board is satisfied that it would be safe to do so. It will now be its responsibility to make that judgment. The judge was, however, also required to set a “minimum term”, that is to say a term before the Parole Board could even consider that question. In setting that term, he acted within existing sentencing guidance and law. Given his history, Sweeney may never be released.

Like the case of Webster and French, this case raises a number of more general issues about the current sentencing framework, both the statutory requirements and the guidelines issued by the SGC.

I have already made clear my views that judges should have more discretion over the discount they give for an early guilty plea, and that the way discounts apply when a case is referred to the Court of Appeal needs to be re-examined. It is also plain that there is a need to re-examine the automatic 50 per cent reduction in fixing the minimum term.

The Home Secretary, the Lord Chancellor and I are in complete agreement that we need a criminal justice system which protects the public, particularly vulnerable children, and in which the public has confidence. We will be making a further announcement on sentencing issues before the Summer Recess.