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The Law Commission describes sentencing legislation as “inefficient” and lacking in transparency. This is partly due to existing sentencing law being spread across multiple pieces of legislation. In 2012, an analysis of 262 randomly selected cases in the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) found that 36 percent had received unlawful sentences. The commission attributed these results to the level of complexity in the existing legislation.

To mitigate this, the Law Commission initiated the sentencing code project in January 2015. This project aimed to streamline the existing framework for sentencing law into a single statute. This statute would be known as the ‘sentencing code’. The sentencing code would provide a clear and comprehensive source of sentencing procedure legislation for the public, the judiciary and practitioners. It would also update the language within the legislation to make it easier to understand.

The Law Commission also recommended the introduction of a new technical device known as a “clean sweep”. The clean sweep would allow anyone convicted once the code is in force to be automatically sentenced under current legislation. There are exceptions to the clean sweep to ensure that an offender’s fundamental rights are protected.

The Sentencing Bill is a consolidation bill that will introduce the sentencing code. Before consolidation bills are enacted, pre-consolidation amendments are made to legislation to streamline the law in the area being consolidated. The Government introduced the Sentencing (Pre-consolidation Amendments) Bill in the House of Lords on 21 January 2020. This paves the way for the sentencing code and gives effect to the clean sweep. The pre-consolidation bill received royal assent on 8 June 2020.

The Sentencing Bill has 420 clauses, which is printed in two volumes, together with a table of origins. The bill has not been accompanied by explanatory notes. The Law Commission cited stakeholders’ “strong support” for the sentencing code, stating there was a “near-universal endorsement of every proposed reform”.

The Sentencing Bill [HL] (HL Bill 105 of session 2019–21) was introduced in the House of Lords on 5 March 2020. The bill is scheduled to have its second reading in the House of Lords on 25 June 2020.

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