HC Deb 10 June 2002 vol 386 cc728-9W
Mr. Gordon Marsden

To ask the Solicitor-General what assessment she has made of the system for seeking to have sentences reviewed on the grounds of undue lenience. [53446]

The Solicitor-General

[holding answer 2 May 2002]: The Attorney-General and I have considered closely the current system and agree with the assessment of Sir Robin Auld in his "Review of the Criminal Courts of England and Wales" that on the whole the procedure appears to be working well. However, we will keep the system under review at all times.

Mr. Gordon Marsden

To ask the Solicitor-General what steps her Department has taken to ensure that victims of crime and other interested parties are routinely informed of the procedures and timescale for requesting that a sentence be referred to the Court of Appeal on the grounds of undue lenience. [53395]

The Solicitor-General

[holding answer 2 May 2002]: Sections 35 and 36 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 provide that the Law Officers may refer sentences passed in the Crown Court for a limited range of serious offences to the Court of Appeal for review if it appears to the Law Officer that the sentence passed is unduly lenient. The Law Officers must give notice to the Registrar of Criminal Appeals of an application for leave to refer within 28 days from the day on which the sentence was passed. This time limit is fixed by statute and cannot be extended.

It is most often the relevant prosecuting authority, such as the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the Serious Fraud Office, etc., that gives consideration as to whether the sentence passed in a particular case is so lenient that the matter should be brought to the attention of the Law Officers, for consideration of a referral to the Court of Appeal as an unduly lenient sentence.

In addition, both the Law Officers and the CPS receive complaints from victims of crime, Members of Parliament, members of the public, through the media or otherwise that particular sentences passed were lenient. If, in response to such a complaint, the CPS decides that the sentence does not merit submitting the matter to the Law Officers for consideration it will write to the complainant to complain direct to the Law Officers.

Complaints received by the Law Officers are considered in person by a Law Officer, often with advice from counsel experienced in sentencing law. A reply explaining the Law Officer's decision whether or not to refer the case to the Court of Appeal will be sent to the correspondent.

Since 1988 the CPS, being the principal prosecuting authority in England and Wales and responsible for the vast majority of prosecutions brought before the courts, has identified a substantial number of suitable cases to submit to the Law Officers for consideration of a reference. Advocates acting for the CPS in the Crown Court are instructed to consider whether sentences passed should be submitted to the Law Officers for consideration of a reference.

Experience suggests that victims who are at court at the time of sentencing and who are concerned about the sentence passed will express that concern to the police or prosecution representatives who would be expected to explain the options that may be available in taking those concerns forward.

Under the victim's charter the police have a responsibility for advising victims of the outcome of cases. CPS prosecutors will often advise victims of the case outcome in cases where there is a pre-existing line of communication between the CPS and the victim.

In addition, since 1988 there have been many references to the Court of Appeal, a large proportion of which result in sentences being increased and often receiving national and local media coverage.

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