Courts' sentencing 'is a lottery'

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The Independent Online
Sentencing of offenders is a lottery, with criminals almost twice as likely to be sent to jail by some courts as by others, according to a report from the Penal Affairs Consortium.

The consortium - an alliance of groups campaigning for reform of the penal system - called for a sentencing council to be set up as part of the Court of Appeal which would be designed to ensure greater consistency. The council should be given the power to issue detailed guidelines which would reduce the UK's excessive reliance on custodial sentences.

The report said that in 1993 two in every three criminals sentenced at Winchester Crown Court were imprisoned compared with just over one in three at Sheffield Crown Court. There was similar inconsistency in magistrates' courts.

In Southampton, Leeds, Liverpool and Blackburn only 3 per cent of all adults were jailed in 1993 for indictable offences compared with 12 per cent in Plymouth and Greenwich, 14 per cent in Ashton-under-Lyne and 15 per cent in Tameside.

The report said not all these variations could be explained by different patterns of offending dealt with by different courts. It also pointed out that less than a quarter of those jailed last year - 13,474 out of a total of 61,258 - were convicted of offences involving violence, sex or robbery.

"Many offenders who were imprisoned could appropriately have been dealt with by community sentences. Indeed, some of them would have received such sentences had they appeared before a different court," said the report.

Some effort had been made to introduce more sentencing consistency, particularly by the Magistrates' Association, but with only limited success.