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The Attorney General’s power to refer only applies to serious offences, being those that can only be dealt with by the Crown Court and some other offences specified in an order. In recent years the scheme has been extended to more offences.

Anyone can ask the Attorney General to consider whether a sentence should be referred to the Court of Appeal as being unduly lenient, including a victim, a relative of a victim or a member of the public.

The Attorney General will consider whether the sentence is unduly lenient. If the Attorney General considers that it might be, then they refer the sentence to the Court of Appeal for review.

There is a strict 28-day time limit within which the Attorney General is able to refer a sentence to the Court of Appeal.

If the Court of Appeal agrees that the sentence is unduly lenient then it may increase it. The Court of Appeal will only find a sentence to be unduly lenient where it falls outside the range of sentences which the judge, applying their mind to all the relevant factors, could reasonably consider appropriate.

The scheme was established in the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and came into force in 1989. The purpose of the scheme is to correct gross errors.

There have been calls for the scheme to be expanded further to include more offences. The Government has said it has no plans to do so.

This briefing applies to England and Wales.

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