Documents to download

The King’s Speech of 7 November 2023 said the Government would bring forward a bill to “ensure tougher sentences for the most serious offenders and increase the confidence of victims”. This echoed a commitment made in the Government’s 2019 manifesto.

A government press release issued on the day the Bill was introduced said its measures would “better protect the British public from the worst offenders” and would “help low risk offenders escape the merry-go-around of short prison terms and turn their lives away from crime”.

The substantive provisions of the Bill would apply only to England and Wales and would come into force on a day to be set by the Secretary of State in regulations.

What would the Sentencing Bill do?

The Bill would:

  • Make whole life orders mandatory for certain types of murder, except in exceptional circumstances. A whole life order means the offender will spend the rest of their life in prison (subject only to the possibility of compassionate release in exceptional cases).
  • Allow for the special sentence for offenders of particular concern to be imposed for rape and certain other serious sexual offences. Currently these sentences are only available for certain serious child sex offences and certain terrorism offences.
  • Require prisoners sentenced for rape and certain other serious sexual offences to serve all of their custodial term in prison, removing the current possibility of release into the community on licence after they have served two thirds of their custodial term.
  • Introduce a presumption that custodial sentences of 12 months or less be suspended. A suspended sentence means the person does not have to go to prison provided they commit no further offences and comply with any requirements imposed for the duration of their sentence. There would be a number of exceptions to the presumption, including where a suspended sentence would put a particular individual at significant risk of harm.
  • Extend the availability of Home Detention Curfew to certain prisoners serving sentences of four years or more. This would allow them to be released, subject to an electronically monitored curfew, up to 180 days before their automatic release date. Prisoners who have previously been recalled to prison having failed to comply with a curfew, where this was more than two years ago, would also become eligible.

Response to the Bill

Organisations that campaign for prison reform have welcomed the presumption against short custodial sentences, something they have long called for. However, some have raised concerns about the additional pressures that will be placed on the probation service and questioned whether it will be able to meet the increased demand.

Commentators have noted that the change would have limited impact on demand for prison places because current demand has not been driven by an increased short-term prison population. Advocates for victims have said they are pleased that there will be an exception to the presumption where a suspended sentence would put a particular individual at risk.

Prison reform campaigners have also welcomed the extension of eligibility for Home Detention Curfew.

Further Reading

The Government has published the following documents relating to the Bill:

  • Explanatory Notes
  • Impact assessments
  • Equality statements
  • Delegated Powers Memorandum
  • European Convention on Human Rights Memorandum.

These can be accessed on the Sentencing Bill page of the Parliament website.

Documents to download

Related posts