Categorized | Criminal Justice

Rush to justice

Rush to justice

Yesterday’s statistics show that over 3000 people have been arrested following the urban riots. Of these, 1406 have been brought before a court and 157 convicted.

Justice minister Jonathan Djanogly praised staff across the justice system who are working around the clock. He said: “I congratulate courts, prisons, probation, youth and emergency services for the difficult work they are doing. Today I met court staff and Judges who had worked 30 hours straight. I am very grateful for all their hard work.”

But there are concerns about some methods being used. The ‘Guardian’ published a leaked document, called ‘Operation Withern: Prisoner Processing Strategy’, which was circulated among Met officers investigating the disturbances at their height. The document suggests the strategy had been to ask for bail to be refused in all riot cases resulting in charges in order to prevent further disorder. It is therefore no surprise that, of those brought before a court, 62% were remanded in custody, 6 times more than usual. It is certainly putting the already over stretched prison system under intolerable pressure. Cabinet minister Ian Duncan Smith broke ranks when he wrote in the ‘Guardian’: “As senior police officers on both sides of the Atlantic have said, you cannot just arrest your way out of this problem.” The BBC reports that lawyers are planning to challenge the Met’s custody procedures in a judicial review.

Criticism has also been levelled at the severity of sentencing. Director of Campaigns for the Howard League for Penal Reform, Andrew Neilson, said: “While it is understandable that the courts have been asked to treat the public disturbances as an aggravating factor, this should be balanced against a key principle of criminal justice, that of proportionality. The danger is that some of these sentences are disproportionate and indeed devalue our response to more serious crimes. We know the courts are swamped with cases, and handing down hurried and overly punitive sentences will only result in many criminal appeals, which will act as a further drag on the system.”
 
Last week MoJ saw fit to publish a statement explaining how our sentencing system works, stressing that magistrates and judges are independent of government. Senior figures such as Lord McDonald, former head of the CPS, and Lord Carlile, former independent advisor on terrorism strategy, are not alone in voicing the fear that this separation of powers between the government and the judiciary is being put at risk by ministerial comments appearing to give a steer to the courts.

It is probably inevitable that consistency of sentencing is a casualty of this rush to justice. Two men in Chester were jailed for four years for posting messages on Facebook inciting people to create disorder in their home towns despite the fact that the riots didn’t take place. A 19 year old in Gloucester posted messages on Facebook inciting the vandalising of a Spar shop. He was not brought to court but ordered to write a letter of apology. In a third similar case a 21 year old from Bangor received a four month sentence. An 18 year old pleaded guilty to the theft of two T-shirts, worth £60. He pleaded guilty, had no relevant previous convictions, and was sentenced to a day in custody. But a 23 year old Londoner, who also pleaded guilty and had no relevant previous convictions, was jailed for six months for stealing a £3.50 case of water from Lidl supermarket.

And recently, on another planet, David Laws, briefly a cabinet minister in the coalition government, admitted falsely claiming £40,000 of public funds in the MPs expenses scandal. He was suspended from the House of Commons for seven days.

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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