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Unduly Lenient Sentencing Scheme

Volume 724: debated on Wednesday 7 December 2022

In the vast majority of cases, judges get sentencing right. The Court of Appeal grants permission to refer a sentence only in exceptional circumstances, and over the last five years the Court of Appeal has increased the sentence in around 70% of cases.

My hon. Friend will be aware that the recent publication of statistics regarding the operation of the unduly lenient sentencing scheme during 2021 indicated 151 referrals to the Court of Appeal. How many of those referrals under the scheme followed representations from the victim of a crime to the Attorney General’s Office about the sentence given, and what is being done to ensure that victims are aware of their ability to do that?

My hon. Friend knows a lot about the scheme and has long-term interest in it. Of those 151 cases, only eight were referred by victims and a further nine by a member of a victim’s family, and that is not just an aberration for that year; it is a consistent trend. We regularly publish updates on the outcome of these sentences, and the revised victims code includes details of the ULS scheme.[Official Report, 17 May 2023, Vol. 732, c. 2MC.]

Would the Solicitor General recognise that whenever people in this country try to have a debate around mandatory minimum sentences there is an automatic superficial reaction that talks about the need for judicial discretion, yet there are crimes for which we as a Parliament should be clear as to the appropriate sentence that people ought to expect? [Interruption.]

Order. I just want to remind Members not to walk in front of other Members—[Interruption.] Mary Kelly Foy, you walked right in front of the Member who was asking the Minister a question. Please can we all wait, to help each other?

The hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) always raises a serious point in relation to these issues. It is right to acknowledge that in the vast majority of cases the sentencing judges get it right, but when Parliament sets down the guidelines and the ambits, they should be followed closely.