It is time for judges to stop dusting off decades-old sentencing law, the Law Commission has said today, outlining proposals to tidy up sentencing legislation which it said could save up to £255m over 10 years.

The commission is consulting on a sentencing code to ensure sentencing law is 'readily comprehensible and operates within a clear framework', increase public confidence in the criminal justice system and ensure the latter operates efficiently.

The code would stop unlawful sentences by giving courts a single reference point. Complex provisions would be simplified and judges would no longer need to refer to historic legislation. The law would be rewritten in 'modern language'. Judges would be able to use 'modern' sentencing powers for current and historic cases.

The commission says the code will save up to £255m over the next decade by avoiding unnecessary appeals and reducing sentencing delays 'clogging up' the court system.

Law Commissioner Professor David Ormerod QC said: 'People want and expect clarity and transparency when the courts sentence offenders, but judges face an increasingly difficult task when doing so. Our changes will make sentencing simpler by getting rid of the need to dust off decades-old law, cut court waiting times and help make sure people get the justice they deserve.'

The code will not alter maximum sentences, subject offenders to harsher penalties, create new minimum sentences, reduce judicial discretion or replace the Sentencing Council's work.

The council, which has been updating guidance on various offences for judges, welcomed today's proposals. Chair Lord Justice Treacy said sentencing law is currently 'overly complex, which causes inefficiency and can prevent people understanding this important part of criminal justice'.

'[The commission's] proposed approach to reforming sentencing will help improve not only the work of the courts, but will increase the transparency of sentencing and therefore people’s understanding of how it works,' he added.

The commission’s sentencing code work is part of its 12th programme of law reform. Terms of reference were agreed with the Ministry of Justice.

The consultation closes on 26 January 2018. A final version will be published next spring. The code will be enacted as a consolidation bill.