Technical consultation to simplify sentencing launched

A new consultation which looks to tidy up sentencing law has been launched by the Law Commission.

Currently, the law of sentencing procedure is contained in many different Acts of Parliament, dating as far back as the 14th century. It is often not clear how the Acts apply and many use outdated and inaccessible language.

So in plans published today – which do not affect current maximum or minimum sentences for criminal offences, nor replace the work of the Sentencing Council – the Law Commission offers a technical fix to modernise the law, bring greater transparency and improve efficiency.

Law Commissioner Professor David Ormerod QC said:

“People want and expect clarity and transparency when the courts sentence offenders, but judges face an increasingly difficult task when doing so.

“Our changes will make sentencing simpler, by getting rid of the need to dust off decades’ old law, cut court waiting times and help make sure people get the justice they deserve.”

Sweeping up sentencing

When a person is convicted of, or pleads guilty to a criminal offence in England and Wales, they are sentenced by magistrates or a judge.

Last year over 1.2 million offenders were sentenced but the current time between charge to final disposal of the case is 55 days in magistrates’ courts and 245 days in the Crown Court. This inefficiency costs millions and can delay other cases being heard.

As a result in a new consultation today the Law Commission proposes a new Sentencing Code. The Sentencing Code would:

  • help stop unlawful sentences by providing a single reference point for the law of sentencing, simplify many complex provisions and remove the need  to refer to historic legislation;
  • save up to £255million over the next decade by avoiding unnecessary appeals and reducing delays in sentencing clogging up the court system;
  • rewrite the law in modern language, improving public confidence and allowing non-lawyers to understand sentencing more easily; and
  • allow judges to use the modern sentencing powers for both current and historic cases, making cases simpler to deal with and ensuring justice is better served.

However, the Sentencing Code would not:

  • alter the maximum sentences for criminal offences;
  • subject any offender to a harsher penalty than that which could have been imposed at the time of their offence;
  • extend minimum sentencing provisions or create new minimum sentences;
  • reduce judicial discretion; or
  • replace sentencing guidelines or the work of the Sentencing Council.

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) welcomed the consultation.  Chair Francis FitzGibbon QC and Vice Chair Angela Rafferty QC said:

“This is an extremely important consultation. It addresses the increasingly complex and difficult issue of sentencing upon which we would all welcome some clarity.

“All CBA members should analyse the draft Code and respond to the consultation paper with comments and suggestions”.

Further information

The Law Commission began the project in January 2015 and is making recommendations designed to simplify the law of sentencing. This will be achieved by:

  1. updating the language;
  2. bringing clarity to the operation of many of the provisions;
  3. reducing an unnecessary repetition; and
  4. repealing a large amount of historic legislation relating to sentencing procedure which is no longer needed.

In its research the Law Commission found that the law of sentencing was contained in numerous statutes running to more than 1,300 pages.

The Sentencing Code consultation launched on 00:01 27 July. It is open until 26 January 2018. To view the consultation paper and submit a response visit: http://www.lawcom.gov.uk/project/sentencing-code/