HC Deb 07 November 1986 vol 103 c646W
Mr. Galley

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has any proposals concerning Crown court sentencing practice; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Hurd

Most sentences passed by the courts are in line with what the public expect. For less serious offences, specially those not involving violence, sentences should clearly be no more severe than necessary, and full use should be made of sensible alternatives to custody. But there is a small minority of sentences for serious offences which are widely regarded as unduly lenient. This can damage public confidence disproportionately. The main guarantees of high sentencing standards are the good sense of the judges and the guidance provided by the Court of Appeal. I welcome the Court's willingness to extend arid develop its guidance, and the steps which are being taken to make that guidance more accessible to sentencers. I do not at present think it necessary to take forward the suggestion in the White Paper on Criminal Justice legislation (Cmnd. 9658) that the publication and dissemination of the guidelines by the Judicial Studies Board should be put on a statutory basis.

I am, however, persuaded that there is a case for reinforcing the Court of Appeal's role by providing a means by which the issues raised in individual cases can be ventilated and the correct sentencing principles laid down. I therefore intend to include in the Criminal Justice Bill a procedure under which the Attorney General would be able to draw cases to the attention of the Court of Appeal, thus enabling the Court to state or reaffirm the principles which should be applied in any future case of a similar character. The procedure would be similar to that proposed during the passage of the Prosecution of Offences Bill. As with the earlier proposal, the sentence of an offender whose case was the subject of the new procedure would not be affected. Unlike that proposal, however, it would be confined to cases which in the Attorney-General's view raised sentencing issues of public importance.