Confusing sentencing procedure to come under Law Commission review

The law on sentencing procedure affects a great many criminal cases, and is applied in hundreds of thousands of cases and thousands of appeals every year. But it is incoherent and unclear, and can be difficult for the courts and practitioners to understand and use.

The Law Commission, independent law reform adviser to the government, has today announced a project to reform the law relating to sentencing procedure.

The existing law is spread across many statutes, and frequent updates are brought into force at different times by different statutory instruments. It can be extremely challenging for practitioners and the courts to work out what the present law actually is. This can lead to delays, technical failings and costly appeals. Misunderstandings of these complex and confusing rules can also lead to prisoners being kept in prison for too long or released too early.

An investigation of Court of Appeal cases from 2012 found that one third of all sentences reviewed by the Court of Appeal in a specific period were unlawful sentences – that is the court had no power to make the sentencing order it did, irrespective of whether the penalty imposed was too lenient or too harsh. There is also strong evidence that the high number of unlawful sentences being handed down is a direct result of the difficulty sentencers are having in finding their way through the relevant provisions.
Professor David Ormerod QC, Law Commissioner for criminal law, said:

“Public confidence in sentencing is being undermined, and a great deal of public money is being spent rectifying mistakes. Our aim in this project is to introduce a single sentencing statute that will act as the first and only port of call for courts passing sentence. It will set out the relevant provisions in a clear and logical way, and help to ensure that updates to sentencing procedure can be found in a single place. Crucially, it will act as a code for sentencing procedure that will stand the test of time and not require constant statutory amendment.

“Our review will not touch on mandatory minimum sentences or sentencing tariffs in general but we will streamline and greatly improve the process by which they come to be imposed.”

This review is one of nine projects the Law Commission is launching for its new 12th Programme of Law Reform.
Notes for editors
1. The Law Commission is a non-political independent body, set up by Parliament in 1965 to keep all the law of England and Wales under review, and to recommend reform where it is needed.
2. For more details on this project and other projects in the new 12th Programme, visit www.lawcom.gov.uk
3. For all press queries please contact:
Phil Hodgson, Head of External Relations:  020 3334 3305
Jackie Samuel:  020 3334 3648
Email:  communications@lawcommission.gsi.gov.uk