That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to establish a Sentencing Council and to provide for related matters.
Sinn Féin has long called for the introduction of such a Bill. Sentencing councils are not a novel idea. They exist in many jurisdictions across Europe in particular. Such a Bill is timely given that we are seeking to reform how members of the Judiciary are appointed. We would also like to see changes made to regulate the conduct of the Judiciary. As part of a suite of measures, we want to see provision made to ensure there is consistency in sentences that are delivered for criminal offences in the courts. I stress that this is not about telling judges how to do their job. The Bill respects the independence of the Judiciary and would not put any obstacles in the way of judges.
The most recent research is seven years old at this stage but it shows wide variation in sentencing for similar and the same offences. The research found that the length of sentences ranged from 14 days to five months in assault cases, while the sentences for theft ranged from 30 days and nine months, and between two and 12 months for road traffic and burglary cases.
We believe it is essential that there is public confidence in the consistency of sentencing and, in part, that could be achieved through regular collation and publication of sentencing data, which would be the responsibility of the sentencing council. A sentencing council could promote a clear, fair and consistent approach to sentencing. It could engage in consultation and work with external organisations with relevant expertise. For those reasons, we are introducing the Bill.