Attorney General’s References


Historically, a rule of English law has been that the Prosecution do not have a right of appeal against anything that happens in a Crown Court. This came about for good reasons, to stop a defendant being harassed by the government and give them a level of certainty.

This can also obviously lead to injustice to the public. As a compromise, the law allows the Attorney-General to refer certain cases to the Court of Appeal for them to be reviewed.

Can any sentence be referred?

Only certain cases (that are deemed to be sufficiently serious) can be referred. This is any case that is indictable only as well as cerain listed offences. The offences that are listed are all either way ones (you can find a complete list here and here) and most are sexual offences and drug offences.

What is the test – is it the same as when a defendant appeals?

Firstly, there is a safeguard in that the Attorney-General must consider the case personally. Only then can he refer the case. The Court of Appeal is only able to interfere with a sentence if it is “unduly lenient”. It is not supposed to give the Prosecution a general right of appeal and should not be seen as such.

A good statement of this if from AG Ref (No 4 of 1989) where it was said that “A sentence is unduly lenient, we would hold, where it falls outside the range of sentences which the judge, applying his mind to all the relevant factors, could reasonably consider appropriate … However it must always be remembered that sentencing is an art rather than a science; that the trial judge is particularly well placed to assess the weight to be given to various competing considerations; and that leniency is not in itself a vice. That mercy should season justice is a proposition as soundly based in law as it is in literature.”

Even if the Court of Appeal think that the sentence is unduly lenient, then there is still a discretion to not increase the sentence.

The sentence has to be referred within 28 days. There is no ability to extend this.

Is any allowance made for the fact that someone’s sentence is being increased?

Historically, the Court of Appeal has always made some allowance for this (often called double jeopardy). Generally there was a much greater allowance if it involved imposing a custodial sentence on someone who was originally sentenced to a non-custodial one.

The only exception is for cases where a mandatory life sentence is imposed. In those cases, Parliament has specifically excluded ‘double jeopardy’ as a factor in refixing a sentence.

A good overview of this is in the case of AG Ref (no 14 & 15 of 2006) [2006] EWCA Crim 1335. This was the high profile case of Tanya French and Alan Webster.

Are these common?

Whilst they have become increasingly common in recent times, they are still relatively rare (about 100-150 a year), certainly when compared to the number of appeals against sentence every year.

21 thoughts on “Attorney General’s References

  1. Pingback: Loppington Farm Robbery | UK Criminal Law Blog

  2. Pingback: Appeals from the Crown Court | UK Criminal Law Blog

  3. Pingback: 17 year minimum term for beating her 7-year-old son to death – is it long enough? | UK Criminal Law Blog

  4. Pingback: Normal service resumed? 5 years for Robert Downes | UK Criminal Law Blog

  5. Pingback: When are circumstances ‘exceptional’? Comment on R v Dowes | UK Criminal Law Blog

  6. Pingback: Mark Chalcroft – under the bed rocket launcher | UK Criminal Law Blog

  7. Pingback: Judicial error allows defendant to avoid an immediate custodial sentence | UK Criminal Law Blog

  8. Pingback: Kallakis and Williams – Prosecutors appeal prison sentences | UK Criminal Law Blog

  9. Pingback: Stuart Hall sentenced to 15 months | UK Criminal Law Blog

  10. Pingback: Stuart Hall’s 15 month sentence referred to the Court of Appeal by Attorney General | UK Criminal Law Blog

  11. Pingback: Stuart Hall – Attorney General’s Reference against ‘lenient’ 15 month sentence | UK Criminal Law Blog

  12. Pingback: Paedophile recieves suspended sentence after admitting sex with 13 year-old “predatory” school girl | UK Criminal Law Blog

  13. Pingback: Neil Wilson’s sentence referred to Court of Appeal by Attorney-General | UK Criminal Law Blog

  14. Pingback: Neil Wilson (‘predatory’ case) has sentenced increased | UK Criminal Law Blog

  15. Pingback: Graham Ovenden sent to prison after a Prosecution appeal | UK Criminal Law Blog

  16. Pingback: A failure of Open Justice? | UK Criminal Law Blog

  17. Pingback: Marine A – Sergeant Blackman – sentenced to Life Imprisonment | UK Criminal Law Blog

  18. Pingback: Daniel Crompton jailed for life – an AG Reference beckons? | UK Criminal Law Blog

  19. Pingback: Emma Wilson – sentence increased for murder | UK Criminal Law Blog

  20. Pingback: Adam Hulin escapes jail for oral rape – another AG Ref? | UK Criminal Law Blog

  21. Pingback: Adam Hulin case referred to the Attorney-General | UK Criminal Law Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s