Sir Nicholas told the House of Commons yesterday that he had asked for details of the case from the Crown Prosecution Service in Gwent, following widespread criticism of the treatment of the rapist. He has 28 days in which to refer the case to the Court of Appeal, which can consider increasing the sentence of three years' probation plus pounds 500 compensation.
The girl from Cwmbran, Gwent, was raped by a 15-year-old classmate five months ago. She was a virgin. Newport Crown Court was told last Friday that the boy dragged her from a tennis court and attacked her in a nearby wood. However, Judge John Prosser refrained from imposing a custodial sentence because the rapist might mix with people who would introduce him to more 'bad habits'.
MPs on both sides of the Commons yesterday protested at the inadequacy of the sentence, while Gwent police said they were relieved the case was being reviewed.
John Fraser, a Labour legal affairs spokesman, urged the Attorney General to use the opportunity to ask the Court of Appeal for guidance on the sentencing of juveniles. 'There has been a good deal of concern about the sort of sentences that have been received for very serious crimes,' he said.
Sir Nicholas said he understood the concern, but added: 'It would be wrong for me to pre-empt my decision until I have seen the papers and the factors (that) impinged on the mind of the learned judge in that case.
'I will look very, very carefully at it and, if it is referred, of course it will give the Court of Appeal that opportunity among others.'
John Over, Chief Constable of Gwent, said the Crown Prosecution Service's decision to hand over the papers to Sir Nicholas had come as a relief to his officers. 'I am increasingly concerned that criminals seem to be treated better than their victims.
'This has been a terrible ordeal for the young girl, made all the worse by knowing she could bump into the rapist at any time . . . There is no question of vindictiveness here; we believe it is important that justice is seen to be done.'
If the Attorney General decides the sentence was 'unduly lenient', he may seek leave to refer the case to the Court of Appeal under Section 36 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. If the court agrees to re-consider the case, it has the power to increase or reduce sentence.
Since April 1989, when the Act came into operation, 106 cases have been referred. Of those, 13 were withdrawn, 62 - or 82 per cent - resulted in increased sentences, 10 were unchanged and one, an incest case, was reduced. Leave to appeal was refused in three cases and 17 are outstanding.
However, even where the Court of Appeal has rejected sentences, the judges involved have had little fear of losing their jobs.
Only one circuit judge has ever been removed by the Lord Chancellor - Judge Bruce Campbell, who was convicted of smuggling alcohol into the country in 1983. High Court judges are even less likely to lose their positions. A joint address, voted upon by MPs and peers, must be issued by the House Commons and the House of Lords before a High Court judge can be removed. Since 1701, when legislation for their removal was passed, no High Court judges have been dismissed.
One law officer said: 'Judges don't tend to get sacked. They just suddenly find that they are given fewer and fewer cases to try and they simply fade away.'
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