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Stalking victims to be allowed to challenge sentences

Distressed female Image copyright Getty Images

Victims of stalking, harassment and sex crimes will be able to challenge sentences they think are too lenient, under an expansion of a government scheme in England and Wales.

Fourteen offences are to be added to the unduly lenient sentence scheme, which examines crown court punishments.

Murder, robbery, rape and some child sex cases can currently be heard.

The offences being added include abuse by a person in a position of trust and having indecent child images.

The Ministry of Justice said controlling and coercive behaviour and sexual activity with a person who has a mental disorder would also now be covered.

'Victims have a voice'

The unduly lenient sentence scheme began in 1989 after a series of controversial court cases caused public outcry.

It allows anyone to ask for a sentence to be reviewed by the Attorney General's Office, even if they have no connection to the case.

Only one request is needed for the government to decide whether a sentence can be looked at again, but it must be lodged within 28 days of the court hearing.

Last year, 99 people saw their sentences increased after a review by the courts in England and Wales. There are similar schemes in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Terror offences and the most serious fraud, assault and drug cases can also be challenged under the existing scheme.

The government says it hopes the changes will come into effect in the autumn via secondary legislation, which can be brought in without Parliament having to pass a new act.

Although reforms to the scheme were under consideration before Boris Johnson became prime minister, they tie in with his commitment to a more punitive sentencing regime.

Details of the expansion were first reported in a Sunday Telegraph story about government proposals to bring in longer sentences for violent and sexual offenders.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said it was "absolutely right that victims have a voice in the system when punishments don't appear to fit the crime".

He said the scheme's expansion delivers on a key commitment in the cross-government victims' strategy, published last year.

But Frances Crook from the Howard League for Penal Reform has suggested the move was as much about satisfying an apparent need for tougher punishments, as it is about public safety.

"There are questions to be asked about whether increasing the prison term of one person really has an impact on reducing harm and preventing crime more generally," she said.

Unduly lenient sentence scheme: Rejected appeals

Ten most common types of offences where public requests for a review were rejected because the crimes were "not in scheme"

Note: 360 offences where the nature of the offence was not listed were excluded
Source: Attorney General's Office

Figures obtained by the BBC under Freedom of Information laws this year show requests to increase 3,499 crown court sentences were received between 2015 and 2018.

Only 643 of these ended up at the Court of Appeal, with 478 resulting in harsher punishments.

About a third of all requests, 1,148, were dismissed outright because the crimes committed were not eligible for review.


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