Justice Minister announces sentencing review

Date published: 09 June 2016

Justice Minister Claire Sugden has today announced a major review of policy issues in relation to sentencing.

The Review will look at the legislative framework for certain categories of crime, the setting of tariffs for murder, the arrangements for unduly lenient sentences and the effectiveness of the current sentencing guidelines mechanism to enhance public confidence, consistency and transparency in sentencing.

Claire Sugden said: “Sentencing doesn’t just affect the offender. It affects victims, their families and the wider community. It plays a major part in how the criminal justice system as a whole is perceived and impacts on public confidence in the delivery of justice.

“I am aware of concerns that have been expressed from time to time about sentencing in some individual cases.  While such cases represent a very small part of the everyday work of the courts, they can have a significant impact on public perception and confidence in the justice system and the sentencing process. That is why I have decided that a comprehensive review of sentencing policy is needed.”

Continuing the Minister said: “This is not a review about sentencing decisions. Sentencing in the individual case is, of course, a matter for the judiciary and the courts and it is essential that their independence is maintained.  However, it is my responsibility to ensure the effectiveness of the legislative framework within which individual sentencing decisions are made, and, along with the Lord Chief Justice’s programme of action, to seek to ensure that there is confidence in how those decisions are reached.

“Significant steps have already been taken by the judiciary to bring increased transparency and consistency to sentencing. I want to see if anything more can be done to increase public confidence, something which is of fundamental importance to the objective of providing an effective and responsive criminal justice system.”

Recommendations arising out of the review will be subject to public consultation.

Notes to editors: 

1. In 2012, the Department of Justice announced proposals for a sentencing guidelines mechanism for Northern Ireland. This included: enhanced engagement with the Lord Chief Justice, and with the community, on sentencing issues; and the participation of lay members on the Sentencing Group, established by the Lord Chief Justice to oversee the development of sentencing guidance for the judiciary.

2. The Review will consider the extent to which these arrangements meet the objectives of an effective sentencing guidelines mechanism, and consider possible alternative approaches to securing public confidence in sentencing.

3. The Review will also consider the appropriateness of the current legislative framework governing:

-  the referral of sentences to the Court of Appeal on the grounds of undue leniency;

-  crimes against older and vulnerable people;

-  offences which may result in death, including causing death by dangerous driving;

-  attacks against those providing frontline public services, with a focus on health service staff;

-  hate crimes; and

-  the law on the determination of tariffs where a mandatory life sentence for murder has been imposed.

4. The Review will also look at the effectiveness of community disposals in meeting the complex needs of lower level offenders and providing for reduced offending.

5. The Department plans to engage with relevant voluntary organisations, statutory agencies and interested parties to help inform policy development.

6. For media enquiries please contact the Department of Justice press office on 028 90526444.  Out of office hours contact the Duty Press Officer on pager 07699 715 440 and your call will be returned.    

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