Cherie Blair criticised for leniency

The barrister wife of former Labour prime minister Tony Blair was criticised by the Court of Appeal today for not sending a cocaine smuggler to jail when sitting as a judge at a Crown Court.

Appeal judge Lord Justice Pitchford suggested that Cherie Blair's decision to impose a 12-month suspended sentence on Lee Williams, following a trial at Isleworth Crown Court earlier this year, was "remarkable".

The appeal court quashed the "unduly lenient" sentence imposed by Mrs Blair - who uses her maiden name Booth when working as a lawyer - and replaced it with a three-and-a-half-year jail term.

Lord Justice Pitchford, who sat in London with Mr Justice Tugendhat and Mr Justice Griffith Williams, ordered Williams, 43, of Hanwell, west London, to surrender to police.

Appeal judges quashed the sentence imposed by Mrs Blair, who had been sitting as a recorder - a part-time judge, after lawyers representing Conservative Attorney General Dominic Grieve asked for a review.

Bill Emlyn Jones, for the Attorney General - the Government's chief legal adviser, argued that the sentence passed by Mrs Blair had been "unduly lenient" and a "startling result".

The appeal court heard that Mrs Blair had imposed the suspended sentence after hearing arguments from barrister Matthew Morgan, who represented Williams.

"I don't know what spell you were casting in the Isleworth Crown Court," Lord Justice Pitchford told Mr Morgan at today's hearing.

"But this is a remarkable sentence is it not?"

Lord Justice Pitchford said cocaine smuggling had a "public dimension" and should normally attract "lengthy" jail terms.

"There is a deficiency, in the respect of the recorder, in her reasoning," said Lord Justice Pitchford.

"We consider the recorder was persuaded against her initial and better judgment and imposed an unduly lenient sentence."

He added: "In the most exceptional circumstances it may be possible for the court to take an exceptionally lenient course. We consider this present case is not in that exceptional category."

Prosecutors said Williams - convicted of conspiracy to supply a class A drug after pleading not guilty at a trial in March - had been involved in trying to smuggle cocaine with a street value of £145,600 into the UK.

In September 2010, American customs officers had intercepted a parcel containing nearly 1,000g of cocaine which was destined for Williams' home, the court heard.

They said Williams was not an "organiser" but argued he must have been "near the top of the food chain".

Mr Morgan disputed that argument, saying Williams lived in a bedsit and showed no "trappings of wealth".

Mrs Blair had taken into account Williams' poor health, and the fact that he had spent 240 days in prison on remand prior to trial, before handing down the suspended sentence, the court heard.

During today's hearing, Mrs Blair was referred to as "Miss Recorder Booth QC".

And the court clerk refused to allow a journalist to see paperwork relating to the trial and sentencing hearing, saying: "We do not give court papers to the press, only to law reporters."

But, after the hearing, lawyers confirmed that "Miss Recorder Booth QC" was Mr Blair's wife, Cherie.

Mrs Blair, 56, is based at Matrix Chambers in London.

A Matrix website says she became a barrister in 1976 and was elevated to Queen's Counsel in 1995.

"A high-profile expert in discrimination, public law, media and information law and employment law, Cherie Booth QC is at the top of her profession," says the website.

"Highly reputed worldwide, she has appeared in the European Court of Justice and in Commonwealth jurisdictions, and also lectures internationally on human rights."

Appeal judges said the cocaine, which had a wholesale value of £52,500, was wrapped inside a package said to contain a "gift".

Customs officers allowed it to be flown into the UK and delivered to Williams's home. Police then arrested Williams at his home.

Williams said the package was intended for a friend but a jury took less than three hours to find him guilty.

Judges heard that Williams was a man of "good character" except for a drink-driving conviction in 2008.

They said he was a long-term alcohol abuser who suffered from cirrhosis of the liver. Williams also suffered a stroke while on remand in prison.

He left school at 16 and held down a number of unskilled jobs.

Lord Justice Pitchford said Mrs Blair referred to the "need for her to perform a public duty" at the sentencing hearing in May and he said she had been entitled to consider "mitigating" factors.

He said the 240 days Williams spend in jail on remand would count as part of the new three-and-a-half-year sentence.


Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor