Unduly lenient sentence? What next?

November 24, 2020

If the Attorney General believes that a sentence is “unduly lenient”, or too soft as the media may say, she can ask for the case to be referred to court to be reconsidered.

This is what happened to Taha Amin. He was 18 years old at the time of the offences and had not been in trouble before. Amin was remanded in custody for seven months before the sentencing hearing.

He pleaded guilty to several robberies and thefts and was sentenced to 23 months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years. Conditions were attached to the sentence that he completes a Thinking Skills Programme, abide by a tagged curfew for four months, complete 180 hours of unpaid work and undergo supervision with the probation service for two years. 

It was found that the sentence was unduly lenient, and each offence was worsened by the fact Amin had been acting as part of a group. However, it was acknowledged there was remorse, a lack of maturity or significant planning, and Amin had also tried to break away from the group before his arrest. 

On behalf of Amin, the court was reminded of a recent court decision which indicated that the effects Covid-19 had on conditions in custody should be considered. Amin had been locked in a cell for 23 ½ hours a day and had not received any family visits. It would also mean that if he did receive immediate custody, he would not be able to complete any rehabilitative courses.

The court agreed that, even considering the seriousness of the offences, a sentence of 3 years detention would have been appropriate.

Having decided that the sentence was unduly lenient, the court then had to determine if the sentence needed to be changed.

Amin had used the time since his sentence wisely; he had attended all required appointments, complied with his curfew and developed a good rapport with his offender manager. Probation provided a positive report confirming Amin was very motivated to engage with them. The fact that the conditions on his sentence were a significant restriction on his liberty and the amount of time spent in custody were also considered.

The court decided not to change Amin’s sentence, saying his behaviour since sentencing demonstrated the contrast between the prospects of rehabilitation under the present sentence and if he were required to return to custody.

When can a sentence be referred?

The power to review only applies to sentences passed in proceedings in the crown court and to certain offences. Furthermore, the right to review should only be granted in exceptional circumstances.

What does unduly lenient mean?

A sentence must be considered unduly lenient rather than simply lenient. A sentence is unduly lenient if it falls outside of the range of sentences the judge could reasonably deem appropriate. Regard needs to be had to reported cases, guideline cases and the relevant sentencing guidelines. 

Varying the sentence

If the court finds that the sentence was unduly lenient, the sentence can be increased. The court can also take ‘double jeopardy’ into account. Double jeopardy refers to the fact the person is being sentenced for a second time and the sentence can be reduced to reflect that.

As can be seen from the case of Amin, the court does not have to change the sentence even when it is unduly lenient. Although part of the considerations, in this case, was the impact of Covid on prisoners, the court can and will consider any behaviour or compliance with the sentence that had been imposed.

We notify our clients if their offence is one which can be referred and provide advice as to whether we think it is likely. If you need any advice regarding any aspect of sentencing law, please do not hesitate to contact us.