Hemel Hempstead MP, Sir Mike Penning, led a debate in the Houses of Parliament yesterday calling for reform of the unduly lenient sentences scheme.
Under the scheme anyone can ask for a Crown Court sentence to be reviewed if they think it is too lenient. However, there are restrictions. Firstly, only certain types of cases are included in the scheme and secondly, the request must be submitted within 28 days of the sentence being passed.
Sir Mike is calling for changes to both these restrictions. Speaking in the debate, he said:
“Anyone who has been found guilty has the right to appeal against the severity of their sentence. There is no argument about that. In a civilised society, that is right and there is a procedure for it.
“In our courts, however, the procedure for victims, a victim’s representative or someone such as their MP to appeal against the undue leniency of a sentence is quite perverse.”
The types of cases that can be reviewed is unclear and the list on the Government website is vague on the details. Regarding the 28-day limit, in many cases it passes before the sentence is widely known. There have been several cases where due to reporting restriction imposed by the Judge, the limit has passed even before the sentence is reported in the press.
Sir Mike said:
“Constituents have written to me calling for a longer sentence in a particular case and when I write to the Attorney General on their behalf, it turns out the 28-day limit had long passed before the press report was published. This is wrong. It is unfair for the victims.”
The Solicitor General, responding to the debate, agreed to consider extending the scheme to all cases at Crown Court as it would create consistency. He also agreed to pilot a trial where all cases with reporting restrictions are sent to the Attorney General for review.
Sir Mike commented:
“I welcome the Solicitor General’s comments on extending the scheme to all cases at Crown Court. I also welcome the fact that he has agreed to pilot a trial on cases with reporting restrictions. This temporary workaround is a step in the right direction, but it is not yet the solution. The victims just want a level playing field. They want to know that justice is being served.”