17 August 2011 Last updated at 05:58
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John Cooper QC told Newsnight's Kirsty Wark: "This sentence in my view is over the top"Continue reading the main story
MPs and justice campaigners say some of the sentences given to those involved in the riots in England are too harsh.
On Tuesday two men were jailed for four years for using Facebook to incite riots and another was given 18 months for having a stolen TV in his car.
Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake said sentences "should be about restorative justice" not retribution.
But Conservative MP Gavin Barwell said tougher sentences sent a clear message that disorder would not be tolerated.
More than 2,770 people have been arrested in connection with last week's riots in a number of English cities.
By Tuesday afternoon, 1,277 suspects had appeared in court and 64% had been remanded in custody. In 2010 the remand rate at magistrates for serious offences was 10%.
The courts and tribunals service says legal advisers in court have been advising magistrates to "consider whether their powers of punishment are sufficient in dealing with some cases arising from the recent disorder". Magistrates are able to refer cases to crown courts which have tougher sentencing powers.'Lack of proportionality'Continue reading the main story
“Start QuoteEnd Quote John Cooper QC
What we can't do, in my view, in situations like this, is suddenly throw the rule book away simply because there's a groundswell of opinion”
Mr Brake told the BBC's Newsnight that some of those convicted had received sentences which would have been different if they had committed the same crime the day before the riots.
"This should be about restorative justice - in other words making people acknowledge the offences they have committed - and preferably, if the victims want it, [to] actually sit down face to face with the victims so that they can hear from the victims the impact they have had. But it should not be about retribution," he said.
The Howard League for Penal Reform's Andrew Neilson told the Times that it was "fair enough" to see public disturbances as an aggravating factor when sentencing but added there seemed to be "a complete lack of proportionality to some of the sentences".Croydon MP Gavin Barwell said his constituents wanted to see the courts get tough on rioters
Prison Reform Trust director Juliet Lyon also told the newspaper: "There is a real risk that in a justice system operating under exceptional pressure that due process, proportionality and fairness could be sacrificed in a rush to deterrent sentencing."
Meanwhile, in the Guardian, Justice policy director Sally Ireland also expressed the view that some sentences were out of all proportion with the crimes committed.
She said there would be a flurry of appeals "although by the time they have been heard, those sentences may already have been served".
However, Mr Barwell, whose constituency in Croydon, London, saw some of the worst rioting last Monday night, said the type of sentences being handed down would be welcomed by many.'Restore confidence'
He said there was "a virtual unanimity" among his constituents that people wanted to see the courts get tough with the people that "caused the terrible criminality" in Croydon.
Tougher sentences would help restore confidence in the justice system and send out "a very clear message to people that this kind of disorder is not going to be tolerated", he said.
Cheshire men Jordan Blackshaw, 21, of Marston, and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, of Warrington, were jailed for four years each after admitting using Facebook to incite disorder, although none actually resulted.Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan and Jordan Blackshaw were jailed at Chester Crown Court
The Recorder of Chester, Judge Elgan Edwards, said he hoped the sentences would act as a deterrent to others.
Assistant Chief Constable of Cheshire Police Phil Thompson said: "If we cast our minds back just a few days to last week and recall the way in which technology was used to spread incitement and bring people together to commit acts of criminality, it is easy to understand the four-year sentences that were handed down in court today."
The Crown Prosecution Service said the offences committed carried maximum sentences of 10 years, but the four-year sentences were the lengthiest related to rioting so far.
Conservative MP for Stourbridge Margot James said she thought the sentence was reasonable.
"I think the young men involved were inciting a riot, trying to organise the sort of mayhem that we saw on the streets eight nights ago in Salford, which would have put lives at risk and at the very least they distracted the police from trying to deal with that crisis and put a lot of fear into people."Rule book
Leading criminal barrister John Cooper QC said he believed the sentences were "over the top" and were likely to be overturned by the Court of Appeal.
"What we need to remember here is that there's a protocol for sentencing, and there are rules and procedures in sentencing which make them effective and make them fair. What we can't do, in my view, in situations like this, is suddenly throw the rule book away simply because there's a groundswell of opinion."
In another case, three men were jailed for up to two years in relation to the disorder in Manchester and Salford on 9 August. David Beswick, 31, Stephen Carter, 26, both from Salford, and Michael Gillespie-Doyle, 18, from Tameside, all pleaded guilty at earlier hearings.
Sitting at Manchester Crown Court, sentencing Judge Andrew Gilbart QC said: "I have no doubt at all that the principal purpose is that the courts should show that outbursts of criminal behaviour like this will be and must be met with sentences longer than they would be if the offences had been committed in isolation.
"For those reasons I consider that the sentencing guidelines for specific offences are of much less weight in the context of the current case, and can properly be departed from."
Beswick was 18 months in prison for handling stolen goods. His friend Tony Whitaker said the punishment was disproportionate, given that he had pleaded guilty straight away.
Wednesday, 17 August 2011
BBC News - Some England riot sentences 'too severe'