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Stalking victims supported in challenging lenient court sentences

21st Oct 2016

Lenient sentences in cases involving stalking, terrorism, and the sexual abuse of children could be challenged by victims under a law reform that is receiving cross-party support numerous cases of so-called soft justice.

Judges in the court of appeal can increase sentences for a range of crimes, but this power does not currently apply to convictions involving stalking, coercive control, incitement to support a terrorist organisation, or possession of indecent images of children.

The Plaid Cymru peer Lord Wigley is proposing an amendment to the policing and crime bill, due to be debated during November in the Lords, to increase the powers of the attorney general to refer such cases to the court of appeal. Wigley said: “The laws on leniency in sentencing need updating. There have been a number of disturbing instances recently of such leniency, but at the moment they are not offences that can be referred. The amendments would make that possible.”

It is understood the government has privately offered support to the change.

Harry Fletcher, director of Voice4Victims, who drafted the amendments, said that in cases of stalking, where the convicted person showed no remorse for their behaviour, it was crucial for the courts to keep them off the streets. “The law on the ability of the attorney general to refer such cases to the court of appeal needs urgent revision”, he said.

Claire Waxman, a mother of two who was aggressively harassed by a former classmate for over ten years, was also involved in drafting the change as founder and director of Voice4Victims.

Waxman stated that “It takes a lot of courage for a victim to come forward and face the ordeal of the justice process. When an unduly lenient sentence is then passed and the victim cannot have their case referred to the attorney general, because the scheme is outdated, justice has failed.”

“This is devastating for a victim,” she continued, “especially when all perpetrators have the right to appeal against their sentences, but it’s not the same from the victim’s side. This imbalance of rights must be addressed.”