A New Sentencing Code for England and Wales

Today we are publishing the first consultation in our project to create a New Sentencing Code for England and Wales.

The law on sentencing affects all criminal cases, and is applied in hundreds of thousands of trials and at thousands of appeals each year. But it lacks coherence and clarity: it is spread across many statutes, and frequent updates are brought into force at different times by different statutory instruments and have a variety of transitional arrangements.

Our aim in this project is to introduce a single sentencing statute that will act as the first and only port of call for sentencing tribunals. It will set out the relevant provisions in a clear and logical way, and ensure that all updates to sentencing procedure can be found in a single place. It is not the aim of this project to interfere with mandatory minimum sentences or with sentencing tariffs in general. Those will remain entirely untouched, but the process by which they come to be imposed will be streamlined and much improved.

This first paper is about the process of transition to the Code. While a seemingly technical issue, it is in fact vital to the success of the Code: we think that to maximise its impact the new Code should apply to everyone being sentenced after its implementation. We want to avoid judges being forced to continue to use the complex existing procedural regimes for months if not years to come. In this paper, we explain why sweeping away the vast bulk of the historic sentencing procedure will cause no unfairness to the defendant, nor will it involve any breach of human rights obligations, as long as certain basic safeguards are observed.

Professor David Ormerod QC, Criminal Law Commissioner, said: “We are excited to be releasing our first paper as part of the sentencing codification project. This long anticipated project will bring much needed structure and clarity to the law of sentencing, and has firm support of the judiciary and criminal lawyers alike.

“Our paper explains how an important first stage of this process in laying the groundwork for the New Sentencing Code involves taking a clean sweep, and consigning much of the current morass of historic sentencing law to history. While this approach is a bold one, in this paper we explain how it is compatible with existing legal principle and human rights law, and how it will bring great gains in terms of certainty and the Rule of Law.”