Over a third of sentences considered by the Court of Appeal are ‘unlawful’, according to the government’s law reform body which has recommended ‘a clean sweep’ of sentencing law. The Law Commission is calling for a streamlined sentencing code to replace more than 1,300 pages of law in more than 65 acts of parliament filled with, in its words, ‘outdated and inaccessible language’.
According to the Law Commission, 1.19 million sentences were handed out to offenders last year however ‘the unnecessary complexity of sentencing legislation has led to a disproportionate number of errors and unlawful sentences being imposed’. It continued: ‘The outdated language and need for judges to examine historic versions of sentencing procedure law also gives rise to inefficient court procedures. Combined with other pressures on the criminal justice system, this contributes to significant delays in justice for victims and offenders.’
It takes 53 days in a magistrates’ court and 200 days in the Crown Court from charge to the end of the trial process. The Law Commission reckons that problems to do with sentencing damages public confidence in sentencing but also leads to ‘delays, an unnecessary number of appeals, and waste millions in public money’.
In the year ending September 2016 just over 1.2 million offenders were sentenced in the criminal courts, there were 4,241 appeals against sentence heard in the Crown Court and 1,294 appeals in the Court of Appeal. According to an impact statement prepared by the Law Commission, the figures must be seen against ‘a backdrop of an over-worked criminal justice system where the average waiting time for an offender whose case is committed to the Crown Court for sentence is 6.1 weeks and 5.7 months for an appeal against sentence to the Court of Appeal’. It noted that amount of judicial time spent on getting to grips with sentencing and that Justice Mitting reported that it had taken almost five hours to explain the statutory provisions in question to him, a High Court judge, in one case (Noone).
The Law Commission reckons its review would save more than £250 million over 10 years by avoiding unnecessary appeals, reducing delays and stopping unlawful sentences.