News story

435 offenders referred to the Attorney General's Office in 2012

In 2012 sentences passed on a record 435 offenders were drawn to the attention of the Law Officers as possibly too low.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Royal Courts of Justice

The Attorney General’s Office has today released statistics for all the unduly lenient sentences (ULS) referred to the Court of Appeal in 2012. Sentences passed on a record 435 offenders were drawn to the attention of the Law Officers as being possibly unduly lenient, compared to 377 in 2011 and 342 in 2010.

Cases are usually referred to the Attorney General by the Crown Prosecution Service, but it is open also to victims, their families, members of the public and MPs to ask for review.

Of the 435 sentences sent to AGO, 344 sentences were eligible for consideration. Of these, 88 offenders were referred to the Court of Appeal and 82 cases were heard in court. Permission (‘leave’) was granted in 73 cases (89%) and 62 offenders saw their sentence increase as a result.

The Attorney General, the Rt Hon Dominic Grieve QC MP said:

I am pleased that a record number of offenders were referred to my office as possibly unduly lenient as I feel this shows that the scheme has become more prominent in the news, and more members of the public are contacting my office and bringing cases to our attention.

The ULS scheme allows anyone to refer a sentence to me for consideration. It is to be noted of course that in the vast majority of cases judges impose sentences which are entirely appropriate, but the ULS scheme does provide an important safeguard in those very few cases in which the sentence falls significantly outside the proper range.

The Solicitor General, Oliver Heald QC MP said:

The ULS scheme is an important part of the Law Officers’ role as guardians of the public interest. If we consider a sentence to be unduly lenient we will refer it to the Court of Appeal no matter who has asked us to look at it. Equally, if we believe the sentence is not unduly lenient once we have seen all the facts, we will explain why.

In broad terms, the test that is applied in all cases is whether the sentence falls outside the range which a judge, taking into account all relevant considerations, could reasonably consider appropriate.

On average each year, about a third of sentences referred are sent by the Law Officers to the Court of Appeal, and in roughly two thirds of those the sentence is increased.


Section 36 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 empowers the Attorney General, with leave of the Court of Appeal, to refer a case to them for them to review the sentencing of a person where it appears to the Attorney General that the sentencing of that person has been unduly lenient. This power only applies to sentences passed in the Crown Court for a certain limited number of offences and must be exercised within 28 days of sentence. The 28 day deadline cannot be extended.

Referral as unduly lenient is only possible for sentences for ‘indictable only offences’, and a limited number of ‘either way offences’. ‘Indictable only offences’ are criminal offences that can only be tried by the Crown Court. Some examples are: * murder * rape * robbery

‘Either way offences’ are offences where the accused may choose to be dealt with by magistrates or by committal to the Crown Court for trial by jury. Either way offences that can be referred as unduly lenient include:

  • a number of sexual offences, especially those involving children
  • child cruelty
  • threats to kill
  • certain serious frauds
  • certain drugs offences
  • racially or religiously aggravated offences
  • attempting or inciting any of the above.

If the Court of Appeal finds the sentence to be unduly lenient it can, if it considers it appropriate, quash any sentence passed and impose a higher one. Or the Court may find a sentence unduly lenient but decide that it is not appropriate to alter it, perhaps because of developments since the sentence was referred or, on occasion, where an offender has shown good progress in complying with a community based penalty and it is believed that little would be achieved by placing the offender in custody at that stage.

Cases are usually referred to the Attorney General by the Crown Prosecution Service but it is open also to victims, their families, members of the public and MPs to ask the Attorney General to consider whether he should seek permission to refer a sentence to the Court of Appeal for review. Anyone can contact the Attorney General’s Office to raise a concern about a sentence and only one complaint is needed to trigger the process.

All cases that fall within the unduly lenient sentence scheme are considered personally by the Attorney General or the Solicitor General. They look into all the facts and consider the concerns of the victim and family and apply the law and guidelines which apply to the sentencing decision.

Unduly lenient sentence statistics 2012

How to complain about a low Crown Court sentence

Published 27 June 2013