Lord Judge, LCJ, handed down the judgment of the Court of Appeal in the riot cases this morning. In his 29-page judgment, the message was clear: deterrent sentences were the order of the day.
The Court began by citing remarks from a riot cases some 40 years ago in Cambridge, and by doing so, set out the manner in which the appeals would be heard. Judge quoted: ‘In the view of this Court, it is a wholly wrong approach to take the acts of any individual participator in isolation.’ He stated that it was not newfound sentencing policy to treat as aggravating factors the fact that the offences were committed in the context of riots. He stated that the sentences imposed should be designed to deter others from similar activity.
Judge Gilbart QC, who was criticised by Leveson LJ, Sir John Thomas (PQBD) and Lord Judge, LCJ, made reference to the need for deterrent sentences when imposing the sentences which were today dealt with by the Court of Appeal. That is of course a factor which the court must have regard to when sentencing, as per the Criminal Justice Act 2003 s 142(b).
The primary submissions were that the sentences were disprportionately severe. Lord Judge acknowledged that that submission would have considerable force were these appeals related to isolated incidents. The Court swiftly dismissed the suggestion that these crimes were ‘mindless’, noting that the actions were deliberate actions by adults.
The Court endorsed Judge Gilbart QC’s observations when he stated that he viewed the Sentencing Guidelines Council’s guidelines as ‘of much less weight’ and could ‘properly be departed from’. However, the Court noted that when Judge Gilbart QC laid down the sentencing ranges he would be using (which they acknowledged was in a bid to be transparent), judges at other Crown Courts would follow them and therefore the Judge was effectively a) creating an unofficial guideline and b) the sentencing ranges were laid down for offences which were not before Judge Gilbart QC, or were for offences which were not necessarily contemplated by the Judge when he set them out.
The Court concluded its general remarks by once more endorsing Judge Gilbart’s approach in departing from the guidelines and taking into account the context of the offending, however they firmly and unsurprisingly stated that Crown Court judges are not to issue, or act in a manner in which it appears they are issuing, sentencing guidance. The proper procedure was of course to impose what the Judge considered to be the appropriate sentence, and then the offender could seek leave to appeal if he or she so wished. The Court of Appeal would then examine the sentence and make adjustments where necessary.
The Court set out the factual background to the riots. The results were as follows.[slider crop=”yes” slide1=”http://thestudentlawyer.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/burglarytable.png” slide2=”http://thestudentlawyer.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/HandlingTable.png” slide3=”http://thestudentlawyer.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/SentencingTable.png”][/slider]
Image 1: Burglary Offences, Image 2: Handling Offences, Image 3: General Appeals
The Court stated that ‘in cases like these, a line needs to be drawn between the offences which arose from and were directly connected with the disorder, and those which were intrinsic to the disorder.’
The three handling cases were not cases where the offences had encouraged burglary or theft as part of the disorder. Although in close proximity to those offences, the appellants did not participate. The connection between the offences of handling and the offences of disorder, burglary and theft, took them outside of the guidelines. The sentences must recognise the link to public disorder.
As can be seen from the short summaries above, it appears the Court were not swayed by the personal mitigation of some of the defendants, for example, one had learning difficulties, some were of good character, some were lightly convicted and some had previous convictions for dishonesty and violence.
The Court was concerned with the individual offences but more importantly the context in which they were committed. The wide scale public disorder, violence, fear caused to many communities, damage to property and loss of business were all serious aggravating factors.
On the whole, the Crown Court judges, most notably Judge Gilbart QC, had got what was a very difficult sentencing exercise right. The exception to that was the distinction between the offences of handing, which were connected to, but not intrinsic to, the public disorder. Those offences properly were reduced to reflect the culpability of the offenders. Those sentenced for burglary and the Facebook offences were not as fortunate. The Court considered that the seemingly harsh sentences imposed for those offences were properly justified, having regard to the widespread nature an effect of the offences.
Lengthy and deterrent sentences were the order of the day – an unsurprising result given the damage and cost caused by the offenders’ actions. Many practitioners will not be surprised to see the handling sentences reduced, as Judge Gilbart QC’s range seemed even at the time, with the riots fresh in the minds of the affected communities, too long.