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 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".
Lord Carlile, the Liberal Democrat peer, said the judge was reflecting the public horror in the two communities targeted by the men. But he continued: "I think we will see the cases go to the Court of Appeal so that the Court of Appeal can issue some guidelines. The trouble is there are no guidelines because this is a new situation."
He added an implied rebuke to David Cameron and other politicians who havecalled for stiff sentences: "Politicians are perfectly entitled to talk about policy, but anything that gives the appearance of pressure on the judges it to be avoided."Simon Hughes, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, admitted there is tension within the Coalition about how courts should deal with rioters. "I hope the courts will look more sympathetically on a youngster who has never had a criminal offence and may have been swept up into the system," he said.
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."
Geoff Dobson, deputy director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "There is concern that many first-time offenders are going into local prisons either on remand or under sentence and with little employment or other purposeful activity, that the expression 'colleges of crime' be given renewed validity."
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.
A 17-year-old who posted a Facebook message saying "come on rioters – get some. LOL" was banned by Bury St Edmunds magistrates from social networking sites for a year and told to do 120 hours of community service.
The current rules
Judges usually adhere to strict guidelines when sentencing those convicted of a crime. But in the light of recent rioting, they have meted out hefty punishments for offences that might otherwise be considered relatively minor.
Sentencing guidelines can be departed from if a judge feels the need to deter others from participating in collective criminality. Recorder of Manchester Andrew Gilbart, QC has issued emergency guidance that says normal rules on sentencing "carry much less weight" in the context of the recent riots.
Michael Wolkind, QC added: "[Judges] are concentrating less on what an individual has done and more on deterring others from following."
How politicians had their say
David Cameron "You will feel the full force of the law and if you are old enough to commit these crimes, you are old enough to face the punishment."
David Cameron "Of course, it is for courts to sentence, but the Sentencing Council says that those people found guilty of violence on our streets should expect to have a custodial sentence."
David Cameron "When events such as these take place, it is perfectly possible for courts to set some exemplary sentences to send out a clear message, and I for one hope they will do just that."
Theresa May, Home Secretary "CPS guidance should go to prosecutors to say that where possible, they should be asking for the anonymity of juveniles who are found guilty of criminal activity to be lifted."
Iain Duncan Smith, Work & Pensions Secretary "They should know the difference between right and wrong, they shouldn't have done it, but that's the reason why many of them were caught up and they will face now the full penalties of the law."
Eric Pickles, Communities Secretary "These kind [sic] of exemplary sentences are necessary and I think the public would be rightly alarmed if that incitement to riot got off with just a slap on the wrist."
Michael Howard, former Home Secretary and Tory leader "The courts don't operate in a vacuum and shouldn't operate in a vacuum. One of the most important objectives of criminal justice policy is that there should be public confidence in our criminal justice system."
Ken Clarke, Justice Secretary "It's no good reacting with understandable shock and horror to events of this kind. That's how we had 21 ridiculous criminal justice bills in 13 years in the last government."
Rough justice? The treament of rioters – and non-rioters
Jordan Blackshaw, 21, from Marston, and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, from Warrington, were each jailed for four years at Chester Crown Court on Tuesday after setting up Facebook pages encouraging a riot in Northwich. Although the police were the only ones who arrived at the proposed rendezvous, the pair were both arrested.
Tesfaye Bramble, the brother of footballer Titus, was jailed for four and a half years on 5 August for the rape of a 19-year-old who told the court: "I cried like I've never cried in my life."
Rajinder Dutt, 31, was jailed for four years for supplying heroin in November 2008. Dutt, from Leicester, was part of a £10m operation which brought Class-A drugs with a value of £1.3m into Gloucestershire.
Michael Gillespie-Doyle, 18, was jailed for two years after being arrested before he could swipe cigarettes from a ransacked Sainsbury's supermarket on Deansgate during riots in central Manchester.
Coach driver David Beswick was jailed for 18 months for accepting £20 from a looter to "look after" a 37-inch flat-screen TV in the boot of his car. It had been stolen from the Cash Generator shop in Salford, Manchester.
Tax office worker Emily Barrass was jailed for two years on 26 July after she stole another woman's identity and invented four children to fraudulently claim more than £90,000 in benefits.
Michael Saunders, 22, from Alnwick, Northumberland, was jailed for two years in February after grooming a 14-year-old girl over the internet and persuading her to meet him for sexual liaisons.
Model Shanola Smith was jailed for six months after she was caught with 10 packets of chewing gum that she stole during unrest in Croydon. She also admitted storming an Argos store in the same area.
Ursula Nevin, 24, who slept through the riots in Manchester, was jailed for five months on 13 August because she accepted a pair of shorts looted by her flatmate Gemma Corbet.
Karl Gill, 45, who dishonestly claimed his dead mother's NHS pension, was jailed for six months on Monday. He pocketed nearly £11,000 after failing to tell the authorities she had died in 2005.
Kenneth Ross, who tried to disrupt the Pope's visit to Scotland with a bomb hoax, was jailed for five months on 1 August. His threat – made because he was angry about the cost of the visit – saw Edinburgh airport evacuated.
Jason Ullett, 38, of Ancoats in Manchester, was jailed for 10 weeks for a public order offence after struggling with police outside a Sainsbury's store that had been vandalised by rioters.
Paul Ruane, 47, from Newton Heath, was jailed for eight weeks for handling stolen goods during riots in Manchester which left hundreds of shops across the city ransacked.
Susanne Ibru was jailed for 10 weeks in May for stalking footballer Rio Ferdinand. The 38-year-old repeatedly turned up at his home, and told him "I'll see you soon" when she was convicted of harassment.
Stoke City's Jermaine Pennant was jailed for three months for drink driving while banned. He pleaded guilty to drink driving, driving while disqualified and using a vehicle without insurance.