JOHNSON GARETHGareth Johnson is the Member of Parliament for Dartford.

This week I am presenting my Ten Minute Rule Bill to the
House.  It is entitled “Unduly Lenient
Sentences (Right of Appeal) Bill”.  It
seeks to tackle one of the most unjust aspects of the entire Criminal Justice
System.  The purpose of the Bill is to
redress the inequality of the defence being able to appeal against any sentence
and yet, in the vast majority of cases, the prosecution are prevented from

Currently the prosecution is unable to appeal any sentence
imposed by the courts except for a small number of the most serious offences.
It cannot appeal against any sentence imposed at the Magistrates Court or Youth
Court, nor can it appeal against most sentences imposed at the Crown Court. The
defence, however, can appeal against any sentence imposed at the Magistrates
and Youth Court automatically and through ‘Leave of a Judge’ against any
sentence imposed at the Crown Court.

This system should exist to protect victims and their
families and yet, if a sentence given to a defendant in a Magistrates Court or
Youth Court is felt to be too lenient by the victim or the prosecutor there is
absolutely nothing that can be done. Similarly for most cases dealt with at the
Crown Court.

In certain circumstances Magistrates have powers to sentence
up to 1 year and they have the ability to sentence for many serious offences
including dangerous driving, burglary, affray, ABH and malicious wounding.  In a Youth Court, Magistrates have powers to
sentence up to two years youth detention and so can deal with more serious
offences such as rape.  It is commonplace
for Sexual Assaults to remain in the Youth Court. It is also commonplace for
robberies, offences against children and supplying drugs to remain there.  Yet there is no power at all for the
prosecution to appeal if an unduly lenient sentence is imposed. What message
does a lenient sentence send to a victim of crime when that victim is a child
or young person themselves? If there is no recourse for the prosecution to
appeal a lenient sentence given to a person in a Youth Court, what does it say
to the victim about the fairness of the system; a system we want our children
and young people to grow up to respect.
There are currently many numbers of offences under the
Sexual Offences Act 2003 which cannot be appealed against by the prosecution
over the sentence given to a defendant. These include sexual offences committed
on those with mental disorders and those committed by a person in a
position of trust, such as a care worker or youth worker.

In addition, sentences cannot be appealed when given for the
following offences; Affray, Violent Disorder, Theft, Burglary (including
dwellings), Fraud, Deception, Assault (Actual Bodily Harm), possession of
drugs, witness intimidation, dangerous driving, causing death by careless
driving, possession of a knife and possession of an offensive weapon. Also
sentences for offences in relation to the possession of and distribution of
child pornography cannot currently be appealed by the prosecution.

The fact that the defence can appeal against a sentence
imposed for these offences, yet the prosecution cannot, is simply not right.
The whole ethos of our Criminal Justice System is that the scales of justice
should balance, yet clearly they do not. There is no equality of arms for
sentencing in our Court system. This is why I am introducing my Bill. It is
surely obvious that both the prosecution and defence should have similar powers
of appeal against sentences yet this is not currently the case.

It is my belief that our current
appeals procedure inherently favours the rights of the offender over the rights
of the victim. It also allows the Courts, when dealing with certain offences,
to be as lenient as they like without redress, yet subject to appeal if they
are robust. It shouldn’t be surprising therefore that the Courts can spiral
into a culture of leniency.

By way
of example, in 2010 three males were handed community service orders and three-month
curfews as ‘an intensive alternative to custody’ for the assault on a 17 year
old boy with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. Whilst using their mobile telephone to
film the assault, they kicked and stamped on his head, repeatedly
punched him in the chest, beat him with a tennis racket, scratched his arms and
legs with sandpaper, threw him down a steep hill, pelted him with dog mess and
forced him to drink alcohol until he passed out.

The Attorney General’s office revealed that it had received a large number of
requests asking the Law Officers to refer the sentences in that case to the
Court of Appeal as possibly unduly lenient but could not as Actual Bodily Harm
(for which the males had been convicted) was not one of the offences capable of
being referred for appeal.

If the cornerstone of the Justice System is "Justice being
seen to be done", it cannot favour a defendant over a victim. It is my belief
that the current system does just that.

This is why I will be
presenting my Ten Minute Rule Bill to the House of Commons. The
short title of the Bill is "Unduly Lenient Sentences (Right of Appeal)
Bill". The purpose of the Bill is to allow the prosecution or another
concerned party, such as a victim, to refer a sentence received by a defendant
for any case, in any Court, to the Attorney General for consideration as to
whether a formal appeal should be lodged. This would level the playing field
and mean that a victim had the same rights as a defendant. Surely that is what
a balanced, fair, judicial system is all about.

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