Split over sentencing likely to lead to revised guidelines for judiciary

 

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The Independent Online

New guidelines to advise judges and magistrates on handing out exemplary justice to people implicated in major civil disturbances are likely in the wake of the thousands of court hearings arising from last week's riots.

The decision by judge Elgan Edwards, in Chester Crown Court, to hand down four-year prison sentences to Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan – who tried to organise riots on Facebook – is reputed to have alarmed some of the more liberal members of the Sentencing Council.

The council's spokesman yesterday emphasised that they have no official view on the sentences, because they have not met since the riots, but confirmed they will issue new guidelines if requested. The case has also created tension inside the Government.

While Conservative ministers from David Cameron downwards have repeatedly encouraged the courts to feel free to impose harsh sentences, Liberal Democrats believe that four-year sentences for men who pleaded guilty to placing obnoxious messages on Facebook are too harsh.

The Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake, inset above, told the BBC the sentences would have been lighter if they had been committed at a different time. He added that sentences "should be about restorative justice not retribution".

John Cooper QC, a leading criminal barrister, urged the courts "not to be influenced by angry Britain". He said: "What's happening here is they're being unduly increased to appease public anger and, as far as the magistrates are concerned, potentially influenced by the views of politicians." One of the rioters in prison awaiting sentence is Anderson Fernandes, 22, who went into Patisserie Valerie, in Manchester, after it had been looted and helped himself to an ice cream. In Grimsby, magistrates granted bail to Martin Hartson, 21, a father of two accused of posting Facebook messages encouraging rioters, but the Crown Prosecution Service appealed. He will stay in prison until a judge decides whether he can be bailed.

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