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Explanatory notes have not been published because the Bill is a consolidation bill. Drafter’s notes on the Sentencing Bill from the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel were published in July 2020. A European Convention on Human Rights Memorandum for the Bill was published in March 2020 when the Bill was introduced in the House of Lords.

The Law Commission sentencing code project

The Government in 2014 asked the Law Commission to consolidate the law relating to sentencing. This was prompted by concerns that the complexity of the current law contributes to a disproportionate number of errors and unlawful sentences being imposed, resulting in delays and an unnecessary number of appeals. This complexity also makes it difficult for the public to understand the law, which affects public confidence in sentencing.

The Law Commission consulted on the issues and in November 2018 published a report and two draft bills, a Pre-consolidation Amendment Bill and a Sentencing Code Bill, and recommended their enactment. A short summary of the report is available. The Government accepted the Law Commission’s principal recommendations.

The Sentencing Bill would introduce a sentencing code. The sentencing code would consolidate all the existing legislation governing sentencing procedure. It has been designed by the Law Commission to make the law on sentencing procedure comprehensible and accessible. The code will not change the substance of the law, for example by changing maximum sentences; instead it will re-enact the law already in force in a more logical framework.

The code would introduce a new approach to dealing with amendments to sentencing law. The Law Commission have called this approach the “clean sweep”. This would remove historic layers of legislation. All offenders convicted after the code comes into force would be sentenced according to the most up to date law with some limited exceptions. These exceptions would protect the fundamental rights of an offender not to be subject to retroactive punishment.

In the future it is intended that all changes to the law on sentencing procedure will be made by amending the sentencing code itself. It is hoped this will bring clarity to the law.

The code has received widespread support, including from legal practitioners, judges and academics.

The Sentencing (Pre-consolidation Amendments) Act 2020

Before the sentencing code can be enacted as a consolidation bill there was a need for “paving provisions” to be passed in a pre-consolidation bill. The Sentencing (Pre-consolidation Amendments) Act 2020 received Royal Assent on 8 June 2020. It gives effect to the “clean sweep” and makes changes to the existing law of sentencing procedure to enable the consolidation in the code to take place.

Extent and commencement

The substantive provisions of the Sentencing Bill extend only to England and Wales, with two main exceptions which relate to the treatment outside England and Wales of sentences passed by a court in England and Wales and to the application of the code for the purposes of the Armed Forces.

The Bill will come into force on a date to be specified by the Secretary of State in regulations. The sentencing code will apply to any offender who is convicted on or after that date.

[1]    For background see the Library briefing Sentencing (Pre-consolidation Amendments) Bill [HL] 2019-20, 13 March 2020

[2]    For details of the exceptions see the Drafter’s Notes, paragraph 12 and clauses 414 and 415

[3]    Clause 416

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