The Sentencing Code: a new approach to streamline criminal sentences

By  |  25.11.2020

Phoebe Epstein previews the Sentencing Code, which will come into force in England and Wales on 1 December 2020 and codifies existing procedural law relied on by courts when sentencing offenders.

Judges and legal practitioners have long emphasised the urgency of reform to the sentencing process, due to the complexity of the existing legal provisions which emanate from an array of sources. The Law Commission’s compilation of the current provisions ran to over 1,300 pages and identified issues included:

• Errors by sentencers which resulted in unlawful decisions and appeals
• Inefficiency, resulting in costly delays in proceedings
• A lack of transparency around the law of sentencing
• A lack of public confidence in the criminal justice system and its ability to deliver fair and consistent sentencing outcomes

The Law Commission set out to create a single instrument containing all the relevant law on sentencing.

The Sentencing Code
The Sentencing Code was introduced by the Sentencing Act 2020 and is aimed at making the process clearer, quicker, and fairer.

The Code does not introduce any new substantive laws. For example, it does not alter the maximum sentence that can be imposed on an offender, or their release date; and will not subject any defendants to harsher penalties than they could have received at the time of the conviction. It does, though, codify existing measures around sentencing procedure in a single, user-friendly document.

The Code introduces a ‘clean sweep’, meaning that any person convicted of an offence after the Code comes into force will be sentenced in line with the most up-to-date law, irrespective of when the offence took place. There will, therefore, be no need to refer to the old legislation, reducing the scope for error.

By bringing a clear structure to the law, the Code should make it easier for courts to apply the law consistently. This is likely to improve the efficiency of the process, leading to fewer delays. Moreover, the transparency of the Code should lead to greater public confidence, especially where the outcome is more predictable.

In the current climate of rushed legislation and widespread uncertainty surrounding the law, this Code is a welcome development.

For further information about the Sentencing Code, click here to see the Law Commission website.

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