Who is Jill Saward? – The Unduly Lenient Sentence Scheme Explained

The 1st February 2020 marked 31 years since the introduction of the Unduly Lenient Sentence Scheme (ULS). It was recently brought to the public attention with the media highlighting the case of Mr J Dalgarno. This can be read here.

In this case of horrid domestic abuse, in December 2019, the defendant (Mr Joshua Dalgarno) was initially sentenced to a 24-month community order for violent domestic abuse committed on his girlfriend (victim).  The sentence was reconsidered under ULS and deemed too lenient. On the 25th of February 2020 the defendant’s sentence was increased to three years.

The Attorney General seeking for the sentence to be increased stated:

“…Dalgarno is an extremely dangerous individual. His actions caused severe harm to his former partner and those around her. I wanted to present this case to the Court of Appeal Judges personally today because of the abhorrent nature of the crimes committed by this man and to send a message that cases of domestic abuse are treated seriously….”

What is the Unduly Lenient Sentence Scheme (ULS)?

There will be many forgiven for questioning, what is the ULS?

This scheme allows anyone to ask the Attorney General to consider referring a sentence for reconsideration at the Court of Appeal. This could then lead to the sentence increasing.

These types of matters are referred to under the s.35 & s.36 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.  This legislation states that law officers can apply to the Court of Appeal to review a sentence which was:

  • Passed in respect of an offence to which Part IV of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.
  • Passed in the Crown Court; and
  • Appears unduly lenient.

History of the Unduly Lenient Sentence Scheme?

The ULS was introduced in 1989.

This fundamental change came about due to cases such as the ‘Ealing vicarage rape’ case.

The result of this horrible case saw the victim Ms Jill Saward raise awareness of unduly lenient sentences and helped to lead to this new system. Ms Jill Saward should be commended for all of her efforts at the time thereafter for victims of sexual violence.

This praise was also forwarded by Jeremy wright QC who in part stated:

“It was only after the attack on Jill Saward that victims were permitted to challenge unreasonably low sentences; the unduly lenient sentence scheme has enabled victims, their family members and the general public to request that sentences are reviewed and, where necessary, increased.”

In July 1989, the first-ever ULS hearing took place and the accused had his sentence doubled in respect of a charge of incest in respect to his daughter.

The scheme was initially limited and over time it has expanded to cover more and more offences. In September 2019, the scheme was extended to include 14 new offences relating to child abuse and domestic abuse.

Concluding Thoughts

It is said those in the legal profession love a good argument. I think a great deal of us know when to turn it on and off. Surely, it is a case of appropriateness, logic, and value.

I appreciate there are some that maybe are not so good at this. I mean I have viewed with much confusion (tinged with a feeling of sorrow) at individuals who will take a wholeheartedly negative approach fuelled by their own entrenched views.  Oh, by the way, this is me trying very hard to put this politely.

They then seek to engage others in debates that carry no value. Please do feel free to see the pointless debates – often held on social media.

I then notice, whilst on side-lines (as I do not engage in pointless debates), thankfully on most occasions, the other more level-headed individual will tend to overlook this ‘bait’ and not provide the attention – so clearly sought.

Sigh. It should be obvious, that this is not a commentary on appropriate debate, which is both necessary for the progress of our legal profession, as well as the wider society.  Please let us not lose my point in translation.

Now to the point.

It is this same debate in a society that thankfully led to these fundamental changes. The fundamental aspects of these evolving changes are sometimes overlooked and only highlighted by ‘media-worth’ headlines. It seems society (not all of it) will not be aware of the fundamental changes driven by individuals such as Ms Jill Saward (now deceased).

It is individuals such as her who reassure me as to the wonderful individuals in our society. Often at dark times of difficult reflection, such individuals, bring a heartfelt smile, allowing me to give a faithful nod to humanity.

The very same humanity that at times in society (and within this profession) can easily be questioned and challenged. The humanity is certainly not lost, it is just under the cloud of ignorance seemingly ever-present.  This being said, thank you to all those that have progressed a huge drive for change with little if any benefit for themselves.

The Negative Perception of the Unduly Lenient Sentence Scheme

Further, I should point out that figures obtained by the BBC under a Freedom of Information Act show that there were 3,499 requests between 2015-2018. There were negative headlines that only 643 of these ended in the Court of Appeal with 478 (14%) resulting in harsher punishment. It included about a third of the requests being dismissed (1,148 in total).

This has led to some stating the system is inadequate. I would not suggest that it is inadequate. I respectfully feel that it is an evolving system and although it was some 30 years ago – the changes in law can, unfortunately, be very slow at times!

I think the consistent expansion of the scheme is something that should be a forthright consideration within our minds and the legal sector should push, where relevant, for the scheme to be expanded to applicable offences.

In the meantime, I much prefer to have a positive outlook and note that because of the fundamental changes over 31 years, we have ensured that unduly lenient sentences are challenged, and they have led to further justice.

As to whether, there are questions in respect of sentencing, the current system or if in fact, it is ‘fair’ to reopen maters in ULS – well the debate will continue, and I would need to write a whole separate article.

For the time being, I prefer to enjoy the positivity brought by these changes whilst championing the impact this can have on the progressions made by our society in respect of dealing with domestic abuse and other offences.


“…The unduly lenient sentence scheme is a necessary aspect of criminal law. It has afforded justice where justice may have fallen short previously. It helps to deal with those matters, that for various reasons, have not received an appropriate sentence. It, like many aspects of our law, is a ‘work in progress’ – trying to deal with societal issues. The expansion of the scheme to cover appropriate offences has been very helpful in achieving further progress….” 

Azhar Hussain (Solicitor-Advocate) – Azhar Hussain Law Blog