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I'm currently reading Tom Bingham's The Rule of Law, it says:

Thirdly, the Attorney General can seek leave to refer a sentence to the Court of Appeal as unduly lenient. Occasional cases had arisen in which public opinion was, rightly, outraged by the inadequacy of sentences passed on convicted defendants, against which the prosecution could not appeal

So I'm confused about this statement. When can't the prosecution appeal?

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  • Are you conflating the prosecution with the attorney general? Cases are prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service, which the AG oversees but does not direct (the Director of Public Prosecutions does that, but they are appointed by the AG). The CPS cannot themselves appeal a lenient sentence, but the AG can and indeed is one of their direct roles. There is a distinct separation between the prosecution and the AG.
    – Moo
    Oct 30 '20 at 8:26
  • @moo this looks like an answer
    – Dale M
    Oct 30 '20 at 8:35
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Turning a comment into an answer (on mobile at the moment, so citations will be added later).

Are you conflating the prosecution with the attorney general? Cases are prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service, which the AG oversees but does not direct (the Director of Public Prosecutions does that, but they are appointed by the AG).

The CPS cannot themselves appeal a lenient sentence, but the AG can and indeed this is one of their direct roles. There is a distinct separation between the prosecution and the AG that I think you are missing here.

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Being able to appeal against unduly lenient sentences is a relatively recent development in English law, dating from the 1988 Criminal Justice Act. Before then there was no possibility of an appeal.

As the passage you quoted said, on occasion unduly lenient sentences were given and had to stand. The introduction of the ability to appeal an unduly lenient sentence was still rather contraversial, as another reform tipping the balance in favour of the prosecution. It is intended to be used in exceptional cases, and requires the AG to consider the case personally and the Court of Appeal to grant leave.

https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal-guidance/unduly-lenient-sentences

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