David Thomas QC: Judges have clear rules for riot-related sentencing

Share
Related Topics

Commentators on sentencing for offences committed in the course of the recent disturbances will doubtless have many criticisms to make. For some, the judges will undoubtedly be too soft; others will argue that the judges are being driven by some kind of media-inspired panic to impose disproportionate sentences. Whatever the nature of the offence, judges have sentenced within the framework established by Parliament in legislation.

The first principle is that a custodial sentence of any kind must not be passed unless the offence or offences were "so serious that neither a fine alone nor a community sentence can be justified". Parliament has firmly stated that a custodial sentence is the last resort, to be applied only where other measures are inadequate. When a custodial sentence is passed, the sentence must be "commensurate with the seriousness of the offence". The recent disorders, although unique in that they were widespread throughout the country, are by no means the first occasion on which courts have had to deal with offences of this kind. No one familiar with the guidance given by the Court of Appeal on earlier occasions will find any of the sentences so far passed at all surprising.

One key principle stated many times is that an offender who takes part in a large-scale public disturbance cannot expect to be sentenced as if his actions had been committed in isolation. The acts of the individual must be viewed in the context of the disorder to which he has contributed. Second, in cases of public disorder as much in any other kind of case, there is no room for distinction between offenders on the basis of their social origins. Young offenders from comfortable backgrounds with bright prospects which they have jeopardised cannot expect to be treated more leniently than less fortunate defendants from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The legal restrictions on the sentencing powers of judges will influence the outcome of many cases and produce many anomalies and disparities. Burglary of a shop is punishable in the case of an offender over 18 with 10 years' imprisonment or detention, as is riot. The maximum sentence for violent disorder is five years and for affray, three years. In the case of an offender under 18, the maximum for any of these offences is a two-year detention and training order, which must be reduced to 18 months if the defendant pleads guilty. A youth under 15 who is not a "persistent offender" cannot be given a custodial sentence for any of these offences and must be dealt with by a referral order.

Politicians might be advised to spend their efforts not in criticising judges but in examining the complexities of the legislative structure they have created, within which judges must work.

D A Thomas is the editor of 'Current Sentencing Practice' and author of 'The Sentencing Referencer'

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Research and Insight Analyst (Mathematics Graduate)

£25000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are cur...

Nursery assistants required in Cambridgeshire

£10000 - £15000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Nursery assistants re...

IT Support Manager - Staffordshire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Manager - Near...

Nursery assistants required for day to day roles in Cambridge

£10000 - £15000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Nursery assistants re...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The No campaign has a classic advertising problem: they need to turn a negative into a positive

John Hegarty
 

August catch-up: genius of Apple, fools and commercial enterprises, and the Queen

John Rentoul
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone