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Criminal Appeals: Victims of Crime

The Secretary of State was asked – in the House of Commons on 14th January 2020.

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Photo of Gareth Johnson Gareth Johnson Conservative, Dartford

What recent assessment he has made of the effect of criminal appeals procedures on victims of crime.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Minister of State (London)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Gareth Johnson for his tireless campaigning for victims over the years. Partly as a consequence of his campaigning, the unduly lenient sentence scheme was expanded in November to cover 14 more offences, including child sexual offending, stalking and harassment, in order to ensure that the victims of those crimes have a right of appeal if they feel that the sentence handed down by the judge is unduly lenient. I would urge any victim who feels that that is the case for a qualifying sentence to avail themselves of the ULS scheme.

Photo of Gareth Johnson Gareth Johnson Conservative, Dartford

Nobody has done more to widen the scope of the unduly lenient sentence scheme than the Secretary of State. However, may I ask the Minister to continue expanding the scheme? There is currently no ability to appeal against ridiculously lenient sentences for offences such as burglary, possession of a knife, actual bodily harm, and even for rape when dealt with in a youth court. Surely we owe it to the victims of crime to give them a right to an appropriate sentence.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Minister of State (London)

I wholly agree with the sentiment that my hon. Friend is expressing. Let me reassure him on the question of rape defendants in the youth court. If the judge feels that the crime is sufficiently grave and merits a sentence of more than two years, they can move the case to the Crown court, where it is then eligible for the unduly lenient sentence scheme. In the past few years, the number of referrals under the ULS scheme has increased significantly. In 2018, 1,066 cases were referred to the Attorney General, who passed 140 on to the Court of Appeal; the sentence was increased in 99 of those cases. We keep the ULS scheme under continual review and will certainly consider very carefully my hon. Friend’s representations about its scope.

Photo of Lucy Powell Lucy Powell Labour/Co-operative, Manchester Central

I welcome you to your place in the Chair, Mr Speaker.

As well as victims of crime, there are also miscarriages of justice. Can the Minister tell us how many appeals the Criminal Cases Review Commission has recommended should progress to appeal, and how many cases the Court of Appeal has granted in the last two years? Can he assure the House that, if those figures are as low as I fear, miscarriages of justice are not being brushed under the carpet by a legal establishment watching its own back, rather than being open to real scrutiny?

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Minister of State (London)

The hon. Lady is quite right to raise that issue. I do not have the figures she asks for immediately to hand, so perhaps I could undertake to write to her. Let me assure her that this Government are certainly committed to making sure that miscarriages of justice are properly investigated, and if there is anything more that needs to be done, she can rest assured that we will do it.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

I very much welcome what the Minister says about procedures for unreasonably short sentencing, but my constituent Ellie Gould was brutally murdered by Thomas Griffiths this time last year and he was given only a nine-year sentence, much to the outrage of the family, and me, because he was only 17 at the time, although he was 18 when he was tried and convicted. Surely the hurdle is too high for referral to the Attorney General. It should be much lower to make it easier for the courts and for the families to seek the Attorney General’s referral to the Court of Appeal.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Minister of State (London)

I believe that my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor is meeting my hon. Friend next week to discuss precisely that case. Not every case referred to the Attorney General will be referred onward to the Court of Appeal, because obviously the Attorney General has to assess the case in the light of statute. I know that the Lord Chancellor is looking forward to his meeting with my hon. Friend and will be discussing that particular, very distressing case in some detail.