HC Deb 30 January 2001 vol 362 cc164-5
27. Mr. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington)

If he will make a statement on the application of common sentencing standards in England. [146208]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. David Lock)

Sentencing is a matter for the courts. Parliament lays down the parameters within which sentencers must work, but it is then for the courts to decide on the sentence in individual cases. Sentencing guidelines are laid down by the Court of Appeal and the Government have set up the sentencing advisory panel to provide advice for the Court of Appeal when it proposes to lay down such guidelines. Additionally, the Magistrates Association publishes guidance to assist magistrates with sentencing.

Mr. Brake

I listened carefully to that response. The hon. Gentleman may be aware of a case in my constituency in which someone was found guilty of indecently assaulting a young girl but received no prison sentence. In considering those guidelines, will he look again at common sentencing standards across England to ensure that such crimes receive suitable punishment?

Mr. Lock

I am not aware of the individual case to which the hon. Gentleman refers. It would clearly be inappropriate to comment on the sentence imposed and, if there is an appeal, the matter must be referred to the Attorney-General. However, the Home Office is assisting the Magistrates Association to achieve greater consistency by supplying it with figures for each bench showing the sentencing patterns for selected offences and how they vary by petty sessional area. It is hoped that that will be a further inducement to magistrates to maintain consistency—while, of course, recognising the features of the individual cases that come before them.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

Is not it a fact that a large proportion of crimes is committed by a small number of people who commit crimes over and again, yet the "three strikes and you're out" legislation that the Government enacted has not been applied in a single case? If the judges will not apply the law, will the Government reconsider it? What is the point of passing laws when judges are so evidently out of touch with what is required?

Mr. Lock

It does not come well from the hon. Gentleman's lips to criticise judges, who, by and large, do an extremely good job. Neither is it fair to say that the courts are too lenient in sentencing. Most people base such comments on what appears in the press; they do not have the benefit of hearing all the evidence or reading the reports. It is interesting to note that, when members of the press were asked to look at a case study and reach a sentence in a recent exercise, they arrived at a range of sentences somewhat more lenient than the courts would have imposed in those cases. I invite the hon. Gentleman to be extremely careful when criticising judges for being too lenient.