Thursday Law Report: Guidelines for false passport offences

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The Independent Culture
12 November 1998

Regina v Singh (Daljit)

Court of Appeal, Criminal Division (Lord Justice Rose, Vice-President, Mr Justice Scott Baker and Mr Justice Maurice Kay) 30 October 1998

THE COURT of Appeal gave guidelines as to the appropriate level of sentencing in cases of using a false passport.

The court refused the application of Daljit Singh for leave to appeal against a sentence of eight months' imprisonment imposed in respect of an offence of using a false instrument. He had pleaded guilty to the offence at the magistrates' court, and had been committed to the Crown Court for sentence under section 38 of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980.

The applicant had attempted to use a false British passport at Gatwick Airport, in an attempt to travel to Canada. He had been stopped at the check-in desk by security staff who suspected that the photograph in the passport had been substituted. He was arrested and admitted the offence in interview.

On further examination of the passport, it was discovered that the original photograph had been removed by lifting the original laminate. A new photograph had then been inserted, the original laminate being re-laid and secured by a second layer of laminate.

In sentencing the applicant, the judge had said that he had given him full credit for having pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity. However, he had deliberately made use of a forged passport, which was a very important document. That offence was so serious that only a custodial sentence could be justified.

Catryn McCann (Registrar of Criminal Appeals) for the applicant.

Lord Justice Rose VP said that the use of false passports appeared to be on the increase. A passport was an important document that conveyed rights upon its lawful holder. It was necessary that the integrity of passports should be maintained. It was therefore a serious offence knowingly to use a false passport.

In the last 18 months there had been a number of decisions by differently constituted divisions of the court which had not been consistent as to the level of sentence which was appropriate in such cases: see R v Hadzic (unreported, 17 June 1997), in which a sentence of 12 months' imprisonment was upheld; R v Takyi (unreported, 3 October 1997) in which a nine-month sentence was reduced to one of three months' imprisonment; R v Osman (unreported, 9 June 1998) in which a nine-month sentence was upheld; R v Opuku (unreported, 28 July 1988) in which a nine-month sentence was reduced to one of three months; and R v Naman (unreported, 18 September 1998) in which nine month's imprisonment was reduced to four.

Although a plea of guilty would always attract an appropriate discount, previous good character and personal circumstances of mitigation were of very limited value in cases of the present kind, which should generally be sentenced on a deterrent basis. Extensive or sophisticated alteration of a passport would always be an aggravating feature.

It was inappropriate for individual Crown Courts to give magistrates mandatory directions as to committal and as to level of sentence: first because the discretion of justices should not be fettered in that way, and secondly because it might lead, as had been demonstrated in R v Okupu to different and inconsistent practices and sentencing levels developing in different parts of the country. Guidelines were better issued nationally rather than locally.

Cases involving the use of false passports would almost always merit a significant period of custody, which, whilst having regard to what the court had said in R v Ollerenshaw (unreported, 23 April 1998) would usually be in the range of six to nine months, even on a guilty plea by a person of good character. That being so, committal to the Crown Court for sentence would often be desirable. There would, however, be cases which could properly be dealt with by a sentence of six months' imprisonment, or less in an exceptional case. In the present case, eight months' imprisonment was entirely appropriate.