CRIMINALS must be allowed to appeal against their sentence or justice will suffer, according to York solicitor Julian Tanikal.

The Evening Press reported earlier this month that criminals in York had succeeded in having a total of 200 months slashed from their prison terms in the past year - angering victims of their crimes and prompting local MPs to question the effectiveness of sentencing guidelines.

Those whose sentences were slashed included sex offenders, thugs and drug dealers.

But Mr Tanikal, head of the criminal department at Harland & Co Solicitors, in St Saviourgate, said the appeals process was vital to ensure that every decision handed down by magistrates and judges was open to scrutiny.

He said: "We have to have a process in place for people to appeal against their sentence otherwise we run the risk of a judge just doing whatever he feels is his wont.

"We could get someone giving someone a sentence that is unreasonable or wrong in law, and if there's no way of that person appealing, he could be sitting in prison with no options."

Mr Tanikal said that, despite the public's perception, offenders did not appeal against their sentences just for the sake of it, due to the risks involved.

He said: "It's a risky process. Not only can judges restart your sentence (so any time served waiting for the appeal to be heard would not be counted), they can also increase your sentence. So it is not something that people take lightly.

"They are given advice at the time of sentencing, but it is not a quick decision."

Mr Tanikal said appeals were usually heard because some evidence had come to light or there was an indication in case law that the sentence was excessive. He said sentences were rarely wrong in law.

When sentencing, judges must take into account sentencing guidelines, together with the individual circumstances of the case and of the defendant, such as whether he pleaded guilty or had offended before.

Mr Tanikal said appeals were relatively rare, considering the number of cases heard.

He said: "The majority of people take their sentence. They are advised at the time they are sentenced that they have 28 days to lodge an appeal.

"It is unusual to have an appeal and it isn't a decision taken lightly. They are made aware of the risk that the sentence could be increased or restarted."

Updated: 10:46 Friday, March 25, 2005