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More lawyers to review lenient sentences after complaints soar

6th Jan 2016

More lawyers are to be recruited to a scheme that reviews “unduly lenient” sentences following a 97% rise in the number of complaints about judges’ decisions on jail terms under the unduly lenient sentence (ULS) scheme  between 2010 and 2014, increasing from 342 cases to 674.

Jeremy Wright QC, the attorney general, is to announce an extension of the legal programme that allows prosecutors to review cases on behalf of the government.

For a sentence to be reviewed, the attorney general’s office must receive a complaint from at least one member of the public. Not every submission results in a referral, but between 2010 and 2014 the number of cases the attorney general’s office sent to the court of appeal rose by 35%, from 90 to 122.

Responding to statistics on ULS cases Sir Brian Leveson, the president of the Queen’s bench division, said: “The number of sentences found to be unduly lenient following consideration by the attorney general or solicitor general continues to be low.”

Sir Leveson noted that “Sentencing is a complex process where the judge must take into account a number of factors in reaching a balanced decision. In order to maintain public confidence in sentencing, it is important that any member of the public may request a review by the attorney general of a sentence imposed in the crown court.”

Complaints can only be made about crown court sentences imposed for particular types of crime, including murder, rape, robbery, child sex crimes, fraud, drug offences and those committed because of the victim’s race or religion. They must be lodged within 28 days of sentencing.

Legal reviews are currently conducted by a small number of highly qualified barristers, known as treasury counsel. But senior lawyers classed as grade four prosecution advocates by the Crown Prosecution Service will now be recruited to the ULS scheme for a six-month trial period.

The attorney general said that it’s “vital that the public are able to legally challenge custodial sentences and to make sure offences are being properly punished.” He continued to note that “This trial extension is a great opportunity for experienced lawyers to develop their skills further while preserving the continued effective operation of the ULS scheme. With the number of referrals increasing, it is right that we look at ways to widen the approach.”