Home Affairs Committee Press Notice

Session 2003-04, dated 4 November 2004




HOME AFFAIRS COMMITTEE ISSUES JUDGMENT ON DRAFT SENTENCING GUIDELINES

- Call for Alcohol and Drugs to be ‘Aggravating Factors’ in Sentencing

- Public Concern over Reductions for Early Guilty Pleas in Murder Cases Must be Recognised

Public concern about the role drugs and alcohol play in offending should be reflected in stiffer sentences for crimes committed under their influence says a new report published by the Home Affairs Select Committee, which also calls for changes in guidance on the reduction on plea of guilty in murder cases.

The report is the first from the cross-party committee in its new role as a formal consultee of the independent Sentencing Guidelines Council (SGC). This report deals with the first two guidelines to be published on ‘Reduction for a Guilty Plea’ and ‘Seriousness’.

Commenting on the Council’s draft guideline on ‘seriousness’ the Committee says that ‘being under the influence of drugs or alcohol’ should be introduced as an aggravating factor when assessing an offender’s culpability and length of sentence.

On the draft guideline that deals with reduction in sentences for a guilty plea the Committee wishes to see sentencers advised that in the case of murder, reductions for a guilty plea should not normally be granted in addition to reductions for other mitigating circumstances.

Speaking about the report, Committee Chairman Rt Hon John Denham MP said:

“We welcome this first opportunity to comment on the Council’s draft guidelines which allows Parliament to make its voice heard on sentencing policy. We have two main recommendations. 

“On the ‘seriousness’ guideline, we wish to see ‘being under the influence of drugs or alcohol’ added to the list of factors for assessing the culpability of an offender.

“Although hard evidence is hard to come by, the Committee was concerned that being under the influence of drugs or alcohol is sometimes used by defendants as an excuse for their behaviour.

"The Committee believes that these arguments should be rejected by sentencers and that being under their influence should instead be an aggravating factor.”

On the draft guideline dealing with reductions in sentence for a guilty plea Mr Denham said:

“When the draft guidance was published the proposed reduction of sentence for a guilty plea attracted a great deal of controversy.

“The Committee believes that Parliament wishes murder to be treated as significantly different to other offences. We do not believe that the current draft guidance fully reflects the wishes of Parliament or public disquiet about the reductions for a guilty plea.

“That is why we want to see sentencers advised that in the case of murder, reduction in sentence for a guilty plea should not normally be granted in addition to reductions for other mitigating circumstances.

“We accept that these may be some doubt as to whether the Sentencing Guidelines Council has the legal power to implement this change and we also express concern about the way the Criminal Justice Act was scrutinised by Parliament.

“Our report considers the options that may be available to the Sentencing Guidelines Council and the Government.”