Law report: Court may order sentence to be consecutive

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The Independent Online
Regina v Anomo; Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) (Lord Justice Swinton Thomas, Mr Justice Harrison and Judge Dyer) 2 February 1998.

A CROWN COURT has power to order that a custodial sentence in respect of a criminal conviction should run consecutively to a sentence for contempt imposed by a county court.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal of Taiye Olokun Anomo against a sentence of four years' imprisonment for offences of dishonesty, which was expressed to be consecutive to a term he was already serving for contempt of court.

In December 1996 the appellant was committed to prison by the county court for 18 months for contempt of court. He had been in breach of an undertaking to that court not to assault, molest, threaten or otherwise interfere with his wife. Thereafter, on a number of occasions he had assaulted his wife, and had been guilty of other breaches of the undertaking.

In April 1997 he was sentence to 12 months' imprisonment by the Crown Court for offences of obtaining property by deception. The judge ordered that that sentence should be consecutive to the term imposed by the county court, taking effect immediately he became due for release. He appealed against his sentence.

Grant Van Stone (Registrar of Criminal Appeals) for the appellant; Mark Ellison as amicus curiae.

Lord Justice Swinton Thomas said that the appeal raised an issue of principle, namely whether the Crown Court had the power to order that a sentence of imprisonment imposed in respect of a criminal conviction be served consecutively to a sentence of imprisonment imposed at an earlier date by the county court for contempt of court.

It was submitted for the appellant that a civil committal to prison was not necessarily for a fixed period and that, in consequence, it was wrong in principle and contrary to public policy to impose a sentence which was uncertain as to its commencement date. At common law a court exercising its criminal jurisdiction had power to impose consecutive terms in respect of misdemeanours, and a civil contempt was not a misdemeanour.

Counsel acting as amicus had submitted that by statute and under the common law the Crown Court had power to impose a sentence to run consecutively to a term imposed for a civil contempt of court, and that there was clear authority to support both that proposition, and the proposition that a civil contempt was a misdemeanour. The principle in R v Wilkes [1770] 19 ST TR 1075, that consecutive sentences could be passed at common law in respect of misdemeanours, had been approved in R v Cutbush [1867] LR 2QB 379 and R v Greenberg (No 2) (1943) 29 Cr App R 51.

In Lee v Walker [1985] 1 All ER 781 it was held that under the provisions of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 the county court had the same powers as the High Court, and the High Court had an inherent jurisdiction to impose consecutive sentences in appropriate cases where it had the power to imprison. The Crown Court had always had power to impose a sentence of imprisonment for contempt to take effect consecutively to other sentences (see R v Stredder (1997) 1 Cr App R (S) 209).

On the basis of principle and on the basis of the authorities there was, therefore, no doubt that the Crown Court had the power when passing a sentence of imprisonment in respect of a criminal conviction to order that that sentence should run consecutively to a sentence imposed in the county court for contempt. A court should have the power, if it was just and right, to impose an appropriate and effective sentence. If it were the law that the court could not impose a consecutive sentence, and the appropriate sentence in respect of the criminal offences was a short one, then the offender would suffer no punishment at all.