Bid for more consistent sentencing as worries grow over custody rates

New guidance on sentencing young people for robbery convictions will shortly be issued to improve consistency in courts across England and Wales.

The move comes as concerns grow over the number of young people being remanded or sentenced to custody, which is placing the secure estate for juveniles under great strain.

Robbery offences account for the highest proportion of under-18s in prison. A quarter of those handed immediate custodial sentences have been convicted of robbery, while the number on remand for robbery has risen by 30 per cent in a year.

The guidance will be issued for consultation by the Sentencing Guidelines Council (SGC) with guidelines for sentencing adults. It will apply to all courts across England and Wales.

The Magistrates’ Association and the Youth Justice Board, which has long been concerned about inconsistencies in sentencing across the country, has welcomed the guidance.

It will be followed at some point in the next year by comprehensive guidance for courts on sentencing young people for the full range of criminal offences.

The SGC is also poised to take over from the YJB in sending regular information to courts on sentencing patterns across England and Wales.

The practice was initiated by the former chair of the YJB, Lord Warner, and has been continued by his successor, Rod Morgan.

The YJB has been writing every six months to every court in the land, highlighting their sentencing trends by type and gravity of offence compared with those of other courts, but Morgan told Community Care that the information would have “greater legitimacy” if it came from the SGC.

The percentage of young people handed custodial sentences compared with those given community sentences has varied widely across England and Wales. YJB figures last year showed young people in London were more than twice as likely as those in the North East to be sentenced to custody.

Joanne Savage, secretary to the SGC, said the body’s comprehensive guidance for sentencing young people would build on the contents of the government’s forthcoming Sentencing and Youth Justice Bill.

See news analysis.

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