HC Deb 15 July 1996 vol 281 cc779-80
33. Mr. Jacques Arnold

To ask the Attorney-General how many cases during the past year have been referred to the Court of Appeal on grounds of undue leniency. [35537]

The Attorney-General

In 1995, 77 cases were referred to the Court of Appeal in England and Wales and four were referred in Northern Ireland. To date, 69 of those cases have been heard by the Court of Appeal. Sentence was increased in 63 cases or 91 per cent.

Mr. Arnold

My right hon. and learned Friend may not be aware that he has the gratitude of my constituents for referring a particularly vicious, fatal knifing case to the Court of Appeal on the ground of undue leniency. What might have befallen my constituents and what opportunities would they have had if Labour had been successful in voting down the capability to refer such cases to the Court of Appeal?

The Attorney-General

My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. The Attorney-General's right to refer unduly lenient sentences has undoubtedly been of real assistance to the administration of justice. It enables the Court of Appeal to put right not only unduly lenient sentences in, it must be said, the very small proportion of cases where such sentences are imposed, but to give valuable guidelines to the judiciary about the right sentence for grave offences of the type to which my hon. Friend refers.

Mr. Bermingham

Does the Attorney-General agree that the limitation on the nature of sentences that can be referred to the Court of Appeal, namely indictment-only type cases, creates the right atmosphere and allows only the correct cases to be forwarded? Does he further agree that the Crown Prosecution Service, in which I obviously declare an interest, by its careful sifting has aided the Attorney-General's office on the nature and type of cases that should come before the court and that that has benefited the whole sentencing process?

The Attorney-General

The hon. Gentleman makes two good points. He is correct to say that the Crown Prosecution Service looks carefully at each case that is capable of being referred. If it thinks that the sentence may have been unduly lenient, the case is referred to me, if necessary. That is in addition to the opportunity for hon. Members and the public to draw such cases to my attention.