NI: Sugden announces major review of sentencing law

Justice Minister Claire Sugden
Justice Minister Claire Sugden

Northern Ireland’s Justice Minister Claire Sugden has announced a major review of the legislative framework for sentencing.

The review will look at the legislative framework for certain categories of crime, the setting of tariffs for murder, the arrangements for unduly lenient sentences and the effectiveness of the current sentencing guidelines mechanism.

The Department of Justice said the aim of the review is to enhance public confidence, consistency and transparency in sentencing.

The review’s recommendations will be put out for public consultation.

Ms Sugden said: “Sentencing doesn’t just affect the offender. It affects victims, their families and the wider community. It plays a major part in how the criminal justice system as a whole is 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. 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.”

She added: “This is not a review about sentencing decisions. Sentencing in the individual case is, of course, a matter for the judiciary and the courts and it is essential that their independence is maintained.

“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.

“Significant steps have already been taken by the judiciary to bring increased transparency and consistency to sentencing. I want to see if anything more can be done to increase public confidence, something which is of fundamental importance to the objective of providing an effective and responsive criminal justice system.”

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