Martin Wasik

Martin Wasik photo In his research, Professor Wasik has urged the development of sentencing guidelines, the adoption of proportionality as its anchoring principle, and the rejection of the numerical sentencing ‘grids’ in the USA in favour of the evolutionary development of narrative guidelines. Despite initial judicial resistance to develop sentencing guidelines, the Labour Government set up the Sentencing Advisory Panel, which was chaired by Wasik from 1999 to 2007. It developed 23 sentencing guidelines over that time. These were described by Lord Chief Justice Woolf as ‘always thoroughly researched, carefully considered, and of the highest quality’, and they were substantially adopted and issued to guide the day-to-day work of the criminal courts. The work of the Panel attracted international attention, informed policy debate, and served as a model of democratic involvement in the area of sentencing. Wasik also provides national Judicial College training on sentencing, and publishes extensively for practitioners, including joint authorship of a monthly e-letter mailed by the College to all judges who sit in criminal cases.

Some sentencing guidelines set out general principles, based on proportionality. These include guidelines on offence seriousness, sentencing of young offenders, domestic violence, and allocation of offences. Others provide clear and detailed advice for judges dealing with difficult and emotive areas, such as sentencing for rape, burglary, driving offences causing death, child abuse offences, fraud, robbery, minimum terms in murder, and the reduction in sentence for a guilty plea. This last guideline is ‘the reference point’ for judges dealing with the 90 per cent of defendants who plead guilty. This guideline was referred to in appellate cases on 445 occasions in 2013 alone. Other guidelines developed by the Panel, such as those on handling stolen goods in Webbe [2001] EWCA Crim 1217, remain the standard for any judge or magistrate sentencing for that offence. This guideline has been followed and endorsed by the Court of Appeal in 129 cases (63 since 2008).

Many changes to sentencing practice have resulted from the Panel’s advice and adoption of the resulting guidelines, including the principle that the starting point in sentencing for rape should be the same in ‘stranger rape’ and ‘acquaintance rape’ cases, and the development of a scale of seriousness within child abuse images as a means of achieving consistent sentencing for the offence of downloading child abuse images from the internet. That guideline was referred to and endorsed in 268 appellate cases (54 since 2008). The guidelines for sentencing in rape and child abuse image cases were subsumed within the compendious guidance on sentencing for all sexual offences issued in 2005 and substantially revised in 2014.

The proper understanding and application of sentencing guidelines is now a key feature of training for all judges and magistrates who sit in criminal cases. Wasik, following on from his role on the Sentencing Advisory Panel, is one of two keynote speakers (with Professor Ormerod QC) invited to deliver the compulsory judicial training organised by the Judicial College.

In 2012 Wasik addressed 90 full-time and part-time Crown Court judges over two days in September. He ran two training sessions for High Court and Court of Appeal judges at the Royal Courts of Justice in October and November 2012.

He was the keynote speaker on sentencing in Judicial College courses in April and September 2013 (a total audience of 200 judges). He has been retained for similar presentations through 2014 and 2015.

The published sentencing guidelines are reproduced in full in the relevant practitioner works: Blackstone (where Wasik writes the sentencing material) and Archbold. Blackstone is a leading practitioner work, with copies available on the bench in every criminal court andis regularly cited by the Court of Appeal.

Wasik’s continuing impact on judicial education is strengthened by his appointment in 2005 (to present) as a part-time Crown Court judge, and he sits for up to 30 days each year on the Midland Circuit.