LEGAL EAGLE: What it means if the Attorney General reviews a sentence

I read that the Attorney General is to review the recent sentence imposed on the stepmother and father of the young boy who was killed in Birmingham. What does this mean? Does the judge not have the final say on sentence?

Tuesday, 14th December 2021, 12:00 am
Does the judge not have the final say on sentence?

This seems to relate to the tragic case of 6-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes who was killed at the hands of his stepmother and father. His stepmother was sentenced to 29 years for murder and child cruelty and his father was sentenced to 21 years for manslaughter.

The Attorney General is the chief legal adviser to the Crown and has several independent public interest functions, as well as overseeing the Law Officers’ departments. For certain offences a request can be made to the Attorney General to consider whether the sentence imposed was unduly lenient. Offences that can be sent for review include murder, rape, robbery and some child sex crimes and child cruelty.

Anyone can ask for a sentence to be reviewed - you do not have to be involved in the case.

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Any request to the Attorney General’s Office must be within 28 calendar days of the sentencing.

The Attorney General’s Office will review the request and decide whether to send it to the Court of Appeal, who can decide about the sentence.

The Court of Appeal may decide that the sentence:

should stay the same

is unreasonably low and may increase it

refuse to hear the case

If the Court of Appeal considers that the sentence imposed on the offender was ‘unduly lenient’ they can increase it and replace it with the sentence they think is appropriate. These cases are commonly called an Attorney General’s reference. This is because it is primarily the Attorney General who has the power to refer a case to the Court of Appeal to be considered.

The stepmother in this case was jailed for life with a minimum term of 29 years. She can only be considered for parole after she has served that minimum term. She will also remain in prison unless or until the parole board determine after that period that she can released.

There will often be public interest in high profile cases such as this but the final decision regarding sentencing will remain with the Appeal Court.