More victims able to challenge “unduly lenient” prison sentences

Written 18th September 2019 by Lily Grundy

A total of 14 new offences are to be added to the Unduly Lenient Sentence (ULS) scheme under plans confirmed by government ministers yesterday (17th September 2019). The government intends to implement the necessary secondary legislation in Autumn 2019 with the changes coming into effect shortly afterwards.

What is the Unduly Lenient Scheme (ULS)?

Under the extended scheme, victims will be given the power to challenge the sentences of a wider range of crimes in circumstances where they, or the public (those unconnected to the case), believe a punishment to be too lenient.

The ULS scheme permits prosecutors, victims, their families and the public to make an application to the Attorney General to review a sentence that they believe to be too low. Only one request need be lodged, which must be done within 28 days of the court hearing taking place.

The Attorney General will then consider whether to refer a sentence to the Court of Appeal for re-evaluation, following which an increase in sentence may be sought if it is deemed to be unduly lenient.

Which new offences have been added?

The new offences subject to the scheme include:

  • Child sexual abuse including abuse of a position of trust and inciting a child family member to engage in sexual activity
  • Sexual abuse of a person with a mental disorder
  • Possessing indecent photographs of children
  • Taking, possessing, distributing or publishing indecent photographs of children
  • Harassment
  • Stalking
  • Controlling or coercive behavior in an intimate family relationship

Why has the scheme been extended?

The extension of the scheme comes after calls for further commitment from the government to make the sentencing regime more punitive and reflective of the severity of certain crimes. Victims’ advocates are amongst those urging for the extension of the scheme in an attempt to give victims a voice in the system when the punishment given does not appear to fit the crime. 

Crimes such as robbery, murder, rape, serious fraud and drug offences, some child sex offences and terror-related crimes are already covered by the scheme; yet the government has pledged to extend it in an effort to further protect the public and enable victims to achieve justice. 

The Solicitor General, Michael Ellis QC MP, commented:

“The unduly lenient sentence scheme can bring comfort to victims and their families across the country. The latest extension means that the Attorney General and I can look at even more sentences which look like they don’t fit the crime.”

How frequently are cases referred as a result of ULS scheme?

Between 2015 and 2018, offences involving violence and injury,  sex,  fraud and driving offences were most commonly rejected for review due to not being included in the ULS scheme. Additionally, 3,499 requests to increase sentences were received during this same time frame. Only 643 of these requests reached the Court of Appeal, with 478 resulting in harsher sentences. About a third of all requests however were dismissed outright due to the crimes committed not being eligible for review. Click here to read more.

According to the Ministry of Justice, a total of 99 criminals saw an increase in their sentence following review by the Court of Appeal in England and Wales in 2018. Schemes of a similar nature also exist in both Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Lily Grundy – Trainee Solicitor

Article written by Lily Grundy.  Lily joined the firm in September 2019 as a trainee solicitor and is commencing a structured training contract programme where she will gain experience in the full spectrum of criminal defence work and regulatory law. Click here to read more about Lily.

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