Barristers warned to monitor judges' sentencing accuracy

Barristers have been warned that they must correct judges if they impose an illegal sentence, following concern from senior figures in the judiciary that many costly appeals are avoidable.

Registrar of Criminal Appeals, Michael McKenzie, has asked the Bar Council to remind its members that it is the duty of both prosecution and defence counsel in every case to be aware of the sentencing powers of the judge.

McKenzie added that barristers must direct the judge's attention to the relevant legis lation if an inappropriate sentence is passed. He said a “significant” number of appeals lodged with the Court of Appeal were due to counsel failing to correct judges' sentences, wasting both time and money.

McKenzie's intervention follows concern from the Lord Chief Justice Lord Bingham about incorrect sentencing.

Bar Council professional standards executive secretary Mark Stobbs said barristers were not deliberately neglecting their duties: “I think it's more by oversight than anything else. The criminal law changes considerably and I think occasionally barristers find themselves caught out.”

Details of cases where sentencing mistakes are likely to occur have been sent to both the Bar Council and the Criminal Bar Association to help them spot errors.

These include cases involving people under 18 years old and where there is more than one indictment which contains one or more summary offences.

In March Lord Bingham, the Lord Chief Justice, chastised barristers for not familiarising themselves with relevant sentencing powers in a Court of Appeal judgment.

However he also blamed the dispersal of sentencing powers through different places in different statutes. “An attempt to consolidate sentencing provisions in one convenient and comprehensive statute would be greatly welcomed. Until then counsel must help in the avoidance of errors.”