Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘sentencing

A Smarter Approach to Sentencing: the Government’s White Paper, 2020

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Devising effective sentencing policy is hard. Ministers are often under great political pressures to deal with matters of public concern, which leads to frequent changes in sentencing law. This in turn can make the law hard to find and apply. The Sentencing Act 2020 is about to get the Royal Assent. Once in force it will provide a Code – an uptodate framework available online – within which new policies and changes to the law can be set.

Even before the ink has dried on the new Code, changes are in the pipeline. The Counter Terrorism and Sentencing Bill 2020 is well on its way through the Parliament ary process. (See https://martinpartington.com/2020/07/22/counter-terrorism-and-sentencing-bill-2020/)

More radical change is now promised by the White Paper on Sentencing, A Smarter Approach to Sentencing, published in September 2020.

It is a substantial document – reflecting a number of commitments made by the Conservative party in its election manifesto 2019 – on which the Government will be consulting over the next 12 months. A Bill is not anticipated until 2021.

The White Paper states that it is seeking to address three issues of public concern:

  1. Automatic Release: Sentences passed by judges and magistrates in the courts are criticised, often not for their overall length, but for the shortness of the time offenders actually spend in custody. The blanket use of automatic early release has, in the Government’s view, undermined confidence in the system. Too many serious and dangerous offenders are still released too early from custody; this risks public safety, and means the time spent in prison does not always properly fit the crime. The Counter-Terrorism Bill mentioned above deals with some of the issues; the White Paper argues for a more general policy to apply to all dangerous offenders, not just terrorists.
  2. Improving Confidence: Confidence in non-custodial sentencing options is low. The Government wants to gain greater confidence in the delivery of community sentencing. This is essential to reduce the prison population. Sentencers and the public need to be sure that there are effective non-custodial options, particularly for low-level offenders. The Government also wants to ensure that a wider range of non-custodial sentencing options are available to the courts, by capitalising fully on Electronic Monitoring technology, alongside enhanced community supervision delivered by a reformed National Probation Service and an expanded use of existing non-custodial conditions.
  3. Addressing the Causes of Offending: The Government wants to do more to address the causes of offending, particularly where it is driven by drug and alcohol misuse. In 2018/19, 28% of men and 42% of women entering prison reported having a drug problem. These issues are associated with offending, particularly low-level, repeat offending. Whilst there have been routes available to help treat and manage these needs in the justice system, as well as mental health needs, there have been too few options available to sentencers, and not enough confidence in the quality of these services.

The changes proposed in the White Paper are numerous. They include:

1. Introducing whole life orders for child killers, as well as allowing judges to hand out this maximum punishment to 18-20-year olds in exceptional cases to reflect the gravity of a crime. For example, acts of terrorism which lead to mass loss of life.

2. Introducing new powers to halt the automatic release of offenders who pose a terrorist threat or are a danger to the public.

3. Reducing the opportunities for over 18s who committed murder as a child, to have their minimum term reviewed – ensuring they cannot game the system and torment victims’ families further.

4. Ending the halfway release of offenders sentenced to between four and seven years in prison for serious crimes such as rape, manslaughter and GBH with intent. The Government proposes that they should have to spend two-thirds of their time behind bars.

5. Increasing the starting point for determining sentences for 15-17 year olds who commit murder from a minimum of 12 years to two thirds of the equivalent starting point for adults.This would ensure that the seriousness of the offence is taken into account and there is less of a gap between older children and young adults.

6. Longer tariffs for discretionary life sentences. Increasing the minimum period that must be spent in prison by requiring judges to base their calculation of the tariff on what two-thirds of an equivalent determinate sentence would be, rather than half as they do now. This will mean life sentence prisoners serve longer in prison before they can be considered for release by the Parole Board.

7. Raising the threshold for passing a sentence below the minimum term for repeat offenders, including key serious offences such as “third strike” burglary which carries a minimum three-year custodial sentence and “two strike” knife possession which has a minimum six-month sentence for adults. The should make it less likely that a court will depart from these minimum terms.

8. Piloting Problem Solving Court models in up to five courts, targeted at repeat offenders who would otherwise have been sent to custody.

9. Making full use of tagging technologies to create a tough restrictive order in the community. To support rehabilitation, courts and probation staff will have greater flexibility to impose curfew orders.

10. Piloting new ways of delivering timely and high-quality Pre-Sentence Reports.

11. Introducing new legislation to create the possibility of life sentences for drivers who kill.

12. Doubling the maximum sentence for assaulting an emergency worker from 12 months to 2 years.

The White Paper also proposes reforming criminal records disclosure to reduce the time period in which offenders have to declare offences to employers.

The full details of the White Paper are at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/a-smarter-approach-to-sentencing

This entry is adapted from the Government Press Release: at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/radical-sentencing-overhaul-to-cut-crime

Written by lwtmp

October 9, 2020 at 5:08 pm

Whither the Sentencing Council?

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Many Government consultation are on rather specific issues. The consultation considered here is rather different, designed to encourage some rather more blue-skies thinking about the work of the Sentencing Council.

It has been launched because 2020 marks the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Sentencing Council for England and Wales. During that time it has produced 27 sets of definitive guidelines encompassing 145 separate guidelines that cover 227 offences and eight overarching topics.

As the accompanying press release notes: “Developing guidelines is a collaborative process; as well as input from Council members and the small multi-disciplinary team who support its work, it relies on the cooperation of individuals and organisations working in the criminal justice system and beyond to ensure that it has the fullest information possible to draw on.”

Over the years, thousands of magistrates and judges have completed surveys or participated in detailed research, providing the Council with evidence which underpin the guidelines. It has held more than 30 public consultations, which have received almost 4,000 responses.

In addition to producing guidelines, the Council also: publishes research and statistics on sentencing; seeks to promote public understanding of sentencing through information on its website; provides educational materials for use in schools; and works with other organisations, for example the police.  

The stated purpose of the consultation – which opened in March 2020 – is not to look back (though obviously it reflects on the work of the Council to date), but to look forward. It is asking all those with an interest in criminal justice and sentencing to contribute to a discussion on what the Council’s future objectives and priorities should be.

The Consultation runs until mid September 2020.

It can be found at https://consult.justice.gov.uk/sentencing-council/what-next-for-sentencing-council/

Written by lwtmp

August 24, 2020 at 4:41 pm

Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill 2020

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So far as the legal system is concerned (and in many other contexts as well) the headlines have all been about dealing with Covid-19. But this does not mean we should not keep an eye on other developments which will have an impact on aspects of the legal system.

One example is the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill 2019-21, introduced in the House of Commons in May 2020, and which yesterday (21 July 2020) completed the Report Stage and Third Reading. It now proceeds to the House of Lords.

This Bill is a second response to two terror attacks which occurred in London – at Fishmongers Hall on 29 November 2019 and in Streatham on 2 February 2020.  Each attack was committed by a known terrorism offender who had been released automatically at the halfway point of their sentence without any input from the Parole Board. There was no provision to allow for an assessment of risk prior to release.

The first response was the enactment of emergency legislation, the Terrorist Offenders (Restriction of Early Release) (TORER) Act 2020. This was designed to ensure that terrorist offenders serving or sentenced to a determinate sentence could not be released before the end of their custodial term without the agreement of the Parole Board.

The Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill 2019-21 develops the law on the handling of those found guilty of terrorist offences further. It has two broad objectives:

  1. Longer periods in custody

Reflecting the seriousness of the offences they have committed, the Government hopes that the changes will offer better protection for the public and more time in which to support the disengagement and rehabilitation of offenders through the range of tailored interventions available while they are in prison.

Among the measures in the Bill are:

  • Serious and dangerous terrorist offenders will spend longer in custody, by introducing the Serious Terrorism Sentence for the most serious and dangerous terrorist offenders. This sentence carries a minimum of 14 years to be spent in custody, with an extended licence period of up to 25 years.
  • This legislation removes the possibility of an early release from custody for serious and dangerous terrorist offenders, aged under and over 18, who receive an Extended Determinate Sentence.
  • This legislation increases the maximum sentence that the court can impose for three terrorism offences (membership of a proscribed organisation, supporting a proscribed organisation, and attending a place used for terrorist training), from 10 to 14 years.
  • The courts will be given power to find any offence with a maximum penalty of more than two years to have a terrorist connection. (This may result in a higher sentence than would otherwise be the case.)

2. Changes to the management and monitoring of terrorist offenders.

The measures in the Bill include:

  • extending the scope of the sentence for offenders of particular concern (SOPC) by expanding the list of terrorist and terror-related offences which attract the sentence, and creating an equivalent sentence for offenders aged under 18 in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. This will ensure terrorist offenders have a minimum period of supervision on licence of 12 months following release.
  • extending the maximum licence periods for serious and dangerous terrorist offenders for offenders aged under and over 18.
  • extending the application of mandatory polygraph testing when on licence to terrorist offenders aged over 18.

The Bill’s measures will also

  • strengthen Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (used by Counter-terrorism Police and the Security Services),
  • support the use of Serious Crime Prevention Orders in terrorism cases, and
  • expand the list of offences that trigger the Registered Terrorist Offender notification requirements. These changes strengthen our ability to manage the risk posed by those of terrorism concern.

Details of the Bill and background fact sheets are available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/counter-terrorism-and-sentencing-bill.

The Bill and the Explanatory Notes are at https://services.parliament.uk/Bills/2019-21/counterterrorismandsentencing.html

Enacting the Sentencing Code

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In 2018, the Law Commission published the final report on one of its largest law consolidation exercises – the creation of a Sentencing Code. The Sentencing Code does not make new law, but consolidates into a single place all the law relating to sentencing.

The law on sentencing was spread throughout a large number of enactments. It had become particularly complex because changes in the law often resulted in earlier pieces of legislation being repealed except for specific provisions relating to sentencing. Thus the law applicable to any particular offence could be very hard to discover. Indeed, it was so hard to discover that, in 2012, an analysis of 262 randomly selected cases in the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) found that 36 percent had received unlawful sentences. The Law Commission attributed these results to the level of complexity in the existing legislation.

In order to achieve this outcome, two pieces of legislation are required:

  • The Sentencing (Pre-consolidation Amendments) Act 2020
  • The Sentencing Bill

Sentencing (Pre-consolidation Amendments) Act 2020

This is a very technical piece of legislation which amends current law so that it is brought into a state to be consolidated when the Sentencing Code itself comes into effect (which will be on 1 October 2020). Once the Code is effective, the pre-consolidation Act becomes redundant.

The Sentencing Bill 2020

The Sentencing Bill which contains the Sentencing Code is a consolidation bill. It does not therefore need to go through the normal Parliamentary Process. Instead it is considered by a specially constituted Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills. At the time of preparing this note, the Bill has been introduced into the House of Lords where it has received its second reading. However, the Joint Committee has not yet been established.

Sentencing code: structure
The code is set out in Parts 2 to 13 of the bill. The code’s structure follows the chronology of a sentencing hearing, as follows:

(a) Before sentencing:

• Part 2 is about powers exercisable by a court before passing sentence.

(b) Sentencing:

• Part 3 is about court procedure when sentencing.
• Part 4 is about the discretion a court has when sentencing.

(c) Sentences:

• Part 5 is about absolute and conditional discharges.
• Part 6 is about orders relating to conduct.
• Part 7 is about fines and other orders relating to property.
• Part 8 is about disqualification.
• Part 9 is about community sentences.
• Part 10 is about custodial sentences.
• Part 11 is about behaviour orders.

(d) General:

• Part 12 contains miscellaneous and general provisions about sentencing.
• Part 13 deals with interpretation.

As a consolidation bill does not alter the law, there are no explanatory notes. However the House of Lords Library has provided an excellent short introduction to the Bill, available at  https://lordslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/lln-2020-0084/

What about new offences or new sentences? Keeping the Code up to date

As is well known, Governments frequently change the criminal law, adding new offences of amending existing ones. Henceforth the sentencing implications of such changes are to be dealt with by way of amendments to the Sentencing Code. The intention is that the Code will automatically be updated as new sentencing provisions are enacted. One of the first examples of changes to the Code can be found in the Counter Terrorism and Sentencing Bill 2020, currently before Parliament. See https://services.parliament.uk/Bills/2019-21/counterterrorismandsentencing/documents.html

Up to date electronic versions of the Code will be available online.

The role of the Sentencing Council

Sentencing powers give sentencers considerable discretion. The role of the Sentencing Council, giving guidance on how that discretion should be exercised, is unaffected by the Sentencing Act and the creation of the Sentencing Code.

 

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

July 21, 2020 at 11:07 am

Creating a Sentencing Code: proposals from the Law Commission

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Way back in May 2016 I noted the publication of a Consultation by the Law Commission on the creation of a single code of law on sentencing for criminal offences. Well, the outcome of that consultation is now published. It is a great law reform effort and one that deserves to be implemented at the earliest opportunity.

To remind readers, the current law is so complicated that judges frequently get their sentencing decisions wrong. As the Commission itself noted:

The current law of sentencing is inefficient and lacks transparency. The law is incredibly complex and difficult to understand even for experienced judges and lawyers.

It is spread across a huge number of statutes, and is frequently amended. Worse, amendments are brought into force at different times for different cases. The result of this is that there are multiple versions of the law that could apply to any given case.

This makes it difficult, if not impossible at times, for practitioners and the courts to understand what the present law of sentencing procedure actually is.

This leads to delays, costly appeals and unlawful sentences.

There is near unanimity from legal practitioners, judges and academic lawyers that the law in this area is in urgent need of reform.

A new Sentencing Code has three key benefits:

  • it makes the law simpler and easier to use;
  • it increases public confidence in the criminal justice system; and
  • it increases the efficiency of the sentencing process.

The benefits claimed for the new code are that it 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 £256 million 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;

  • remove the unnecessary layers of historic legislation; 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.

It is hoped that the Sentencing Code could be enacted as a Consolidation Bill which would take up far less Parliamentary time than a normal bill. Progress ought to be made on this during 2019, if the political will is there.

For further information see https://www.lawcom.gov.uk/project/sentencing-code/ which provides links to the Report and the Draft Code

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

November 27, 2018 at 4:57 pm

Posted in Chapter 5

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Reforming prisons

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One of the most intractable issues in the criminal justice system is enabling prisons do more to try to draw offenders away from a life of crime and to become more productive and engaged citizens.

In the Queen’s Speech, delivered on 18 May 2016, the announcement of a new Prisons Bill was made. The details are not yet available but at the heart of the reforms are proposals to significantly improve educational opportunities for inmates – and to give Prison Governors more autonomy over how they run their prisons.

Accompanying the text of the Queen’s speech was an announcement that in the short-term 6 pilot ‘trailblazer’ reform prisons would be established to test the effectiveness of new approaches. The intention is that 5000 prisoners should be in the reform prisons by the end of 2016.

The importance of education of prisoners was emphasise in a review, published at the same time by Dame Sally Coates.

For further (preliminary) information on reform prisons see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/biggest-shake-up-of-prison-system-announced-as-part-of-queens-speech

The Coates report can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/unlocking-potential-a-review-of-education-in-prison

The big challenge, noted by many commentators, is how such reforms can be made effective given the large numbers of people currently detained in prison. Many think that it will be essential for numbers in jail to be reduced if those who would really benefit from the reform proposals are to be helped.

 

Written by lwtmp

May 20, 2016 at 5:56 pm

Bringing coherence to sentencing: proposals from the Law Commission

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There is a huge volume of law relating to the sentences courts may impose on those found guilt of committing criminal offences.

Indeed, there is so much that judges often take decisions that, in law, they are not allowed to make. To quote from a recent announcement from the Law Commission:

A survey of 400 Court of Appeal cases from 2012 by the sentencing expert Robert Banks found that 262 were appeals against sentences and that of these, 76 included sentences that had been unlawfully passed in the Crown Court. Banks wrote, “[This] figure shows that we can no longer say the sentencing system is working properly. Cases since then have indicated that these figures are not unrepresentative.”

Currently, the law lacks coherence and clarity: it is spread across many statutes, and frequent updates are brought into force at different times by different statutory instruments and with a variety of transitional arrangements. This makes it difficult, if not impossible for practitioners and the courts to understand what the present law of sentencing procedure actually is. This can lead to delays, costly appeals and unlawful sentences.

The Law Commission is currently engaged in a project designed to introduce a single sentencing statute that will act as the first and only port of call for sentencing tribunals.

It will set out the relevant provisions in a clear and logical way, and ensure that all updates to sentencing procedure can be found in a single place. It is not the aim of this project to interfere with mandatory minimum sentences or with sentencing tariffs in general. Those will remain entirely untouched, but the process by which they come to be imposed will be streamlined and much improved.

The latest stage in the process has recently taken place with the publication on 20 May 2016 of a paper setting out proposals for the transition from the current position to a reformed position.

The amount of work still to be undertaken is enormous, and will not be effective for at least two more year – perhaps longer. But this is a project of great importance not just to criminal lawyers, but all those interested in the criminal justice system.

For an outline of the progress on work to date go to http://www.lawcom.gov.uk/project/sentencing-code/

 

Written by lwtmp

May 20, 2016 at 5:27 pm

The treasure in the heart of man – making prisons work

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The new Lord Chancellor, Michael Gove, is turning out to be a very interesting appointment. Following his speech on his vision for the justice system, (see this blog 23 June 2015), he has now given a truly remarkable lecture on how prisons might be made to work more effectively in helping to rehabilitate offenders and leading them to play a constructive role in society.

Taking his inspiration from Winston Churchill, who once said ‘There is a treasure, if only you can find it, in the heart of every man’ he has noted that education must be at the heart of the prison experience.

To be fair, his predecessor said something very similar; but then went on to ban books being available to prisoners, which seemed, at the least, to be counter-productive.

Michael Gove, pursuing interested he had as Secretary of State for Education, has returned to the same theme.

At present, Gove noted

45% of adult prisoners re-offend within one year of release. For those prisoners serving shorter sentences – those of less than twelve months – the figure rises to 58%. And, saddest of all, more than two-thirds of offenders under the age of 18 re-offend within twelve months of release.

Referring to the characteristics of those in prison, he said:

Prisoners come – disproportionately – from backgrounds where they were deprived of proper parenting, where the home they first grew up in was violent, where they spent time in care, where they experienced disrupted and difficult schooling, where they failed to get the qualifications necessary to succeed in life and where they got drawn into drug-taking.

Three quarters of young offenders had an absent father, one third had an absent mother, two-fifths have been on the child protection register because they were at risk of abuse and neglect.

  • 41% of prisoners observed domestic violence as a child
  • 24% of prisoners were taken into care as children. That compares with just 2% of the general population
  • 42% of those leaving prison had been expelled from school when children compared to 2% of general population
  • 47% have no school qualifications at all – not one single GCSE – this compares to 15% of the working age general population
  • Between 20 and 30% of prisoners have learning difficulties or disabilities and 64% have used Class A drugs

His answer to this is to try to ensure that there is much more ‘purposeful activity’ in prisons so that prisoners are helped to fill in some of the gaps in their education and upbringing.

Gove continued:

In prisons there is a – literally – captive population whose inability to read properly or master basic mathematics makes them prime candidates for re-offending. Ensuring those offenders become literate and numerate makes them employable and thus contributors to society, not a problem for our communities. Getting poorly-educated adults to a basic level of literacy and numeracy is straightforward, if tried and tested teaching models are followed, as the armed forces have demonstrated. So the failure to teach our prisoners a proper lesson is indefensible.

In this context, Gove proposes that prisoners should be required to earn early release from prison by showing they have participated in and learned from appropriate educational opportunities. He want to down play, even abolish, the automatic release of prisoners halfway through their sentences – a practice which he says means that sentences imposed by judges hardly ever mean what they purport to say.

It is not clear how far detailed policy work has been undertaken to bring this vision into effect – it seems likely that it would be a policy that would require significant additional resources, even if in the long run savings could be made through the reduction It may therefore be easier said than done. But as a goal for the prison system to aim for, it makes a lot of sense.

To read the whole speech go to https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/the-treasure-in-the-heart-of-man-making-prisons-work

Written by lwtmp

August 3, 2015 at 9:55 am

Increasing sentencing powers of magistrates

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In the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, 2012, provision was made (section 85) to give magistrates greater flexibility in the fines that they may impose. Offences are divided into 5 levels – the least serious are level 1 offences, the most serious level 5. Up to now, the maximum fine for level 5 offences has generally been £5000 (although there are special circumstances where the maximum is set at a higher level). Regulations have now been made and brought into force (15 March 2015) whereby, for offences which attract a level 5 sentence, magistrates now have power to impose fines without any cap being imposed.

This will mean that in cases where magistrates want to impose higher fines for level 5 offences, they will no longer have to send cases to the Crown Court for sentence.

Magistrates who want to impose a prison sentence of more than 6 months still have to commit such cases to the Crown Court for sentencing.

The fact that magistrates in future will have increased sentencing powers will not mean that they will automatically be increasing their sentences; indeed this is likely to happen in only a small number of the most serious cases.

The Sentencing Council gives detailed guidance on the appropriate amount of fines to be imposed within each level . These relate both to the seriousness of the offence and the means available to the defendant. See

http://www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/MCSG_web_-_October_2014.pdf
For Ministerial statement see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/unlimited-fines-for-serious-offences

Written by lwtmp

May 4, 2015 at 11:09 am