Unduly lenient sentences

In certain types of cases the Director of Public Prosecution for Northern Ireland has a power to ask the Court of Appeal to review a sentence on the grounds that it is unduly lenient.  An application to review a sentence must be made within 28 days from the day when the sentence was imposed. If the Court of Appeal agrees that the sentence was unduly lenient it may increase the sentence.

When is a sentence unduly lenient?

An unduly lenient sentence is one that falls outside the range of sentences that a judge, taking into consideration all relevant factors, and having regard to sentencing guidance, could reasonably consider appropriate. In other words the sentence must not just be lenient, but must be unduly lenient.

The Court of Appeal has a wide discretion in deciding what to do. It will take into account any features which aggravate the offence and any features which mitigate the offence. The Court also takes account of the fact that the offender has been put through the sentencing process a second time. It will not intervene unless the sentence is significantly below that the judge should have passed, a matter which the Director must bear in mind when deciding whether or not to refer a sentence to the Court of Appeal.

Where the Director does refer a sentence, the Court of Appeal will hold a hearing to review the sentence and decide whether to quash the sentence and replace it with one it considers more appropriate, or decide that the sentence was within the range permitted and refuse the appeal.

When can a sentence be reviewed?

The sentence imposed must have related to a case that was prosecuted in the Crown Court. On 1 August 2019 the range of offence types that are the subject of potential referral was extended to include offences often associated linked to terrorism, paramilitarism and organised crime groups. The offences that can now be referred include:

  • Murder and manslaughter
  • Dangerous driving causing death
  • Rape and certain other sexual offences
  • Child cruelty
  • Threats to kill or cause damage
  • Human trafficking
  • Certain drugs offences
  • Certain fraud and money laundering offences
  • Certain further offences linked to terrorism, paramilitarism and organised crime

An application to review a sentence can only proceed if it is brought within 28 days from the day the sentence was imposed. It is therefore vital that concerns about a sentence are brought to the Director’s attention as quickly as possible.

Who can make a request to review a sentence?

Victims, their families, and members of the public who are concerned about a sentence can contact the Director directly or through a public or legal representative about a sentence and their concerns.

The request should be made to the Director of Public Prosecutions at PPS Headquarters in Belfast, either in writing or by email - contact details