The Lord Chief Justice believes that the key principles by which to judge the mechanisms of providing sentencing guidance to the judiciary in Northern Ireland are transparency, consistency and community engagement. For that reason, in October 2009 the Lord Chief Justice asked the Right Honourable Lord Justice Girvan to convene a Judicial Sentencing Working Group of judges from across the sentencing tiers to consider Northern Ireland’s system of providing sentencing guidelines. The purpose was to assess what, if any, improvements could be made to the sentencing guideline arrangements in Northern Ireland. The Working Group reported to the Lord Chief Justice in June 2010 and made a number of recommendations, building on existing practice, which the Lord Chief Justice welcomed and accepted.
One of the proposals in the Report was that there should be a Sentencing Group comprised of representatives from each tier of the criminal courts judiciary and chaired by a Lord Justice of Appeal. The Lord Chief Justice established such a Sentencing Group with the function to:
- advise the Lord Chief Justice as to topics for his ‘Programme of Action on Sentencing’;
- consider and advise sentencing guidelines for the Magistrates’ Courts in Northern Ireland;
- consider judgments of the Court of Appeal and advise the Judicial Studies Board as to their suitability for inclusion on the Judicial Studies Board Sentencing Guidelines and Guidance website;
- consider first instance judgments of the Crown Court and advise the Judicial Studies Board as to their suitability for inclusion on the Judicial Studies Board Sentencing Guidelines and Guidance website;
- liaise with the Judicial Studies Board as to the training of the judiciary on sentencing practice and the dissemination of sentencing guidelines;
- make such other proposals and carry forward such other programmes of action relating to sentencing guidelines and practice as may seem fit to them after consultation of the Lord Chief Justice.