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Human Rights And Wrongs

UK keyboard warriors can now officially complain about a greater range of lenient sentences


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Victims and the public are able to challenge ‘unduly lenient’ prison sentences. Fourteen new offences have been added to the scheme allowing them to do so.

The Unduly Lenient Sentence scheme gives anyone the power to ask the Attorney General to consider referring a sentence to the Court of Appeal for reconsideration – where it could then be potentially increased if deemed unduly lenient.

From 17 November 2019, criminals convicted of stalking, harassment, child sexual abuse and other sex offences could see their sentences increased if victims or the public think their punishment is too lenient.  

Vitally important for gender equality activists is that it gives the public the same rights to query the leniency of a sentence.

Crimes such as murder, robbery, and a range of terror offences were already covered.

In July, an intervention under the scheme caused the sentence of a mother who allowed her partner to rape her daughter, to be increased from three to five years behind bars.

However, solicitor general Michael Ellis QC MP, said the bar for cases to be accepted for review is set high, raising issues over whether or not the scheme can offer victims of violence the relief, and justice, they seek.

But criminal law never was intended to provide justice for the victim. That’s the purpose of civil law. Criminal law, which the Unduly Lenient Sentence scheme covers, is about society getting justice.

Concerns are also raised by domestic violence campaigners who say that the scheme just places the burden of a fair trial on the shoulders of victims, and the jail sentences set for these crimes should be much longer to start with.

Yet the scheme allows anyone to request a re-examination of sentencing, so those very same domestic violence campaigners can take the burden from victims by being directly involved.

Campaigners have additionally warned that the scheme would prolong proceedings unnecessarily and also place victims at further risk of abuse. There is no evidence for this, based on the scheme to date.

The following offences have now been included within the scheme:

  • Abuse of position of trust: sexual activity with a child (s.16, Sexual Offences Act 2003),
  • Abuse of position of trust: causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity (s.17, Sexual Offences Act 2003)
  • Abuse of position of trust: sexual activity in the presence of a child (s.18, Sexual Offences Act 2003)
  • Abuse of position of trust: causing a child to watch a sexual act (s.19, Sexual Offences Act 2003)
  • Inciting a child family member to engage in sexual activity (s.26, Sexual Offences Act 2003)
  • Sexual activity with a person with a mental disorder impeding choice (s.30, Sexual Offences Act 2003)
  • Causing or inciting a person, with a mental disorder impeding choice, to engage in sexual activity (s.31, Sexual Offences Act 2003)
  • Engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a person with a mental disorder impeding choice (s.32, Sexual Offences Act 2003)
  • Causing a person, with a mental disorder impeding choice, to watch a sexual act (s.33, Sexual Offences Act 2003)
  • Possession of indecent photograph of a child (Criminal Justice Act 1988, s.160)
  • Taking, possessing, distributing, publishing Indecent Photographs of Children (s.1 Protection of Children Act 1978)
  • Harassment: putting people in fear of violence (s.4, Protection from Harassment Act 1997)
  • Stalking involving fear of violence or serious alarm or distress (Protection from Harassment Act 1997, s.4A, Protection from Harassment Act 1997)
  • Controlling or Coercive Behaviour in an Intimate or Family Relationship (s.76, Serious Crime Act 201,).

Apply for a review of a lenient sentence on the UK government website

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