More prosecutors will be able to conduct appeals into unduly lenient sentences (ULS), the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) announced today.
At present, only Treasury counsel can conduct appeals on behalf of the government.
Grade 4 prosecution advocates will be eligible to participate in a six-month pilot period to undertake such casework, today's announcement states.
Attorney general Jeremy Wright QC MP (pictured) said: ‘It is vital that the public are able to legally challenge custodial sentences and to make sure offences are being properly punished.
‘This trial extension is a great opportunity for experienced lawyers to develop their skills further whilst preserving the continued effective operation of the [ULS] scheme.
‘With the number of referrals increasing, it is right that we look at ways to widen the approach.’
The number of sentences considered by the department has increased from 342 in 2010 to 674 in 2014. The number of referrals by the department to the Court of Appeal has risen from 90 in 2010 to 122 in 2014.
Following today's announcement, the Judicial Office reissued the president of the Queen's Bench's response to annual ULS statistics released in June 2015. Sir Brian Leveson said at the time: ‘Sentencing is a complex process where the judge must take into account a number of factors in reaching a balanced decision.’
Wright told the Gazette that he did 'not take the view' that the judiciary 'in widespread fashion are sentencing wrongly’.
He said: ‘The vast majority of sentencing in this country is not touched by the Court of Appeal at all. Judges, in my experience, get it right and spend a great deal of time and effort to do so.
‘Judges do not get it right every single time and there needs to be a mechanism to correct the situation if they have not. But this is a tiny minority of cases and remains a tiny minority.'
Explaining the reasons behind the rise in the number of cases being considered, Wright said the number of offences that could be referred to the department had increased as well as awareness of the scheme.
The attorney general may be contacted directly by MPs, peers, pressure groups or members of the public.
Wright said today’s announcement was ‘in no way an indication of loss of confidence in the Treasury counsel’, who he said were 'exceptional quality advocates and do a great job'.
A referral to the Court of Appeal must be made within 28 days of the date of the sentence. Wright said this could mean ‘several hours of work in a compressed timetable’.
Treasury counsel will continue to play the main role in ULS casework.
Wright said: ‘This is not about taking work away from them but managing an increase in workload. You cannot expect a fixed number of Treasury counsel to absorb an increasing number of cases forever.'
Should the pilot be successful, Wright said he will ‘consider whether to extend it to a larger number of advocates’ or make the pilot arrangement a ‘permanent feature of the system’.
'We need to make sure that those who are doing advocacy on my behalf are doing it well. We are going to do this gradually and make sure standards are being maintained.'