Northern Ireland

Justice minister announces review of sentencing in NI

Claire Sugden has gone from being a parliamentary assistant to justice minister in just two years
Image caption The minister said sentencing did not just affect the offender, but victims, families and the wider community

The justice minister has announced a major review of sentencing in Northern Ireland.

Claire Sugden said the review would look at the "legislative framework" for certain categories of crime and other issues, such as unduly lenient sentences.

The minister said sentencing did not just affect the offender, but victims, families and the wider community.

Ms Sugden said recommendations would be put out to consultation.

She said sentencing played a "major part" in how the criminal justice system as a whole was perceived and "impacts on public confidence in the delivery of justice".

"I am aware of concerns that have been expressed from time to time about sentencing in some individual cases," she said.

"While such cases represent a very small part of the everyday work of the courts, they can have a significant impact on public perception and confidence in the justice system and the sentencing process.

"That is why I have decided that a comprehensive review of sentencing policy is needed."

The review will consider the following areas:

  • referral of sentences to the Court of Appeal on the grounds of undue leniency
  • crimes against older and vulnerable people
  • offences which may result in death, including causing death by dangerous driving
  • attacks against those providing frontline public services, with a focus on health service staff
  • hate crimes
  • law on the determination of tariffs where a mandatory life sentence for murder has been imposed

The minister stressed it was not a review of sentencing decisions, as in each individual case it was a matter for the judiciary and the courts.

"It is essential that their independence is maintained," she added.

"However, it is my responsibility to ensure the effectiveness of the legislative framework within which individual sentencing decisions are made, and, along with the Lord Chief Justice's programme of action, to seek to ensure that there is confidence in how those decisions are reached."

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