Headlines: May 12th, 2003

Burglars in Leeds are much more likely to receive an immediate custody sentence than burglars on Teeside. 78% of drivers who drive whilst disqualified in Mid North Essex receive a custody sentence, but only 25% of drivers committing the same offence in North Pembrokeshire go to prison. This inconsistency results from a mish mash of sentencing advisory arrangements which include occasional guidance from the Court of Appeal and the Magistrates Association. A sentencing Advisory Panel also assists the Court of Appeal. Current sentencing practice relies heavily on individual discretion.Home Secretary David Blunkett has announced plans for a radical reform of arrangements which will include setting up a Sentencing Guidelines Council. The Council will have members with current experience of the police, the probation and prison services, of defence and prosecution advocacy and of the interests of victims of crime. The majority of the Council will remain those who sentence in the magistrates’ courts, the crown court and the court of appeal.

David Blunkett said: “The Sentencing Guidelines Council will create dialogue between the judiciary that pass sentences and the correctional services that have to implement them. This will strengthen the Council and ensure greater confidence than ever before in the quality of the guidelines.”

It is expected that all courts will be required to take the Guidelines into account and to give reasons for departing from them. The Council will be created as soon as possible after the Criminal Justice Bill is enacted.