Law Report: Suspended sentence inappropriate: Regina v Okinikan. Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) (Lord Taylor of Gosforth, Lord Chief Justice, Mr Justice Potts and Mr Justice Judge), 27 November 1992

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Features such as good character, youth and an early plea were not exceptional circumstances justifying a suspended sentence under section 5(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 1991.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the appellant's appeal against sentence.

The appellant pleaded guilty to handling stolen goods, forgery, obtaining property by deception and thefts of cars. He was sentenced to a total of nine months' imprisonment and a disqualification from driving for six months.

Roger Belle-Fortune (Registrar of Criminal Appeals) for the appellant; David Calvert-Smith and David Thomas (CPS) as amicus curiae.

LORD TAYLOR CJ, giving the judgment of the court, said that it was submitted that the pre-sentence report was out of date by the time of the hearing and therefore did not comply with section 3(5) of the Criminal Justice Act 1991.

Without in any way minimising the importance courts should attach to the proper performance of the obligations imposed by the statutory provisions relating to pre-sentence reports, it was for the trial judge to decide whether the report actually available to the court was adequate for sentencing purposes and constituted proper compliance with the statute.

Provided the report was in writing and was made or submitted by a probation officer or social worker and gave appropriate information about the offender in relation to the offences, the judge was not obliged to ensure that every detail of information put before him by counsel was checked and confirmed in a further pre-sentence report.

If he considered that a further written report was required to confirm further information, he might adjourn the case, but he was not obliged to do so.

The single judge had ordered an up to date report for the assistance of the Court of Appeal and it revealed hardly anything not already contained in the report before the trial judge.

There was no failure to comply with section 3 here.

It was also submitted that if a custodial sentence was appropriate, it should have been suspended. The significant amendment in section 5(1) of the 1991 Act to the previous power to order a suspended sentence was the new emphasis on the exceptional nature of a suspended sentence.

Parliament had given statutory force to the principle that a suspended sentence should not be regarded as a soft option, but should only be imposed in exceptional circumstances.

The court could not lay down a definition of 'exceptional circumstances'. However, taken on their own, or in combination, good character, youth, and an early plea were not exceptional circumstances justifying a suspended sentence.

They were common features in many cases. They might amount to mitigation sufficient to persuade the court that a custodial sentence should not be passed or to reduce its length. The statutory language was clear and unequivocal.

In the present case exceptional circumstances were not shown.