BUSINESS QUESTION – SENTENCING POLICY – 22 January 2009

Dr Julian Lewis: May we have an in-depth statement from the Secretary of State for Justice on sentencing policy in the light of the horrific case of the multiple rape of a 15-year-old girl with the mental age of eight or nine by up to 10 assailants? Only four of those assailants would probably have been convicted – six had to be let go. One of those who would probably have been convicted was killed in a street brawl because he was out on bail – incredibly – after the multiple rape. The other three were sentenced to between nine and six years each for not only raping the poor young woman but dousing her with caustic soda in an attempt to cover the evidence. There are no mitigating factors, given the total contempt that they showed for their victim even during the court case. The Attorney-General is rightly considering whether the sentences should be increased, but surely we need a statement so that we know whether they are increased and whether such villains would be considered for release halfway through their sentences, which would make nonsense of imposing the sentences in the first place.

[The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): As ever, the hon. Gentleman makes an important set of points. When a sentence causes public outrage or sends out the wrong message about the criminal justice system's attitude to a particular offence, there is provision for the Attorney-General to consider the judgment and the sentence and decide whether to refer the case to the Court of Appeal. As the hon. Gentleman says, we are in that position – the Attorney-General is considering whether to refer the case to the Court of Appeal as an example of an unduly lenient sentence.

On the wider point about sentencing policy, I suggest that the hon. Gentleman take the opportunity on Thursday 5 February to try to catch the Chair's eye in Westminster Hall in the debate on effective sentencing.]