PM defends 'tough' riot sentences handed out by courts


David Cameron: "We should allow courts to make decisions about sentencing"

Prime Minister David Cameron has defended courts for handing out "tough" sentences for those involved in the riots across England.

Some MPs and campaigners say there were examples of terms being too harsh.

On Tuesday, two men were jailed for four years at Chester Crown Court for using Facebook to incite riots. One is to appeal against the sentence.

Lord Carlile, Lib Dem peer and Howard League for Penal Reform president, said some decisions were "questionable".

The barrister told the BBC "ringleaders should receive very long sentences" but warned "there was an issue of proportionality" over the way people already before the courts had been treated.

The PM said it was good that the courts were sending a "tough message".

Speaking in Warrington, he said: "It's up to the courts to make decisions about sentencing, but they've decided to send a tough message and it's very good that the courts feel able to do that."

In other developments:

From the court

The Metropolitan Police have now charged more than 1,000 people in connection with the rioting and looting - and 21 of them appeared at Highbury Corner Magistrates' Court on Wednesday.

Chelsea Ives, denied burglary, violent disorder and attacking a police car, and held her head in her hands as she entered the dock. She was remanded in custody until 7 September. She had contacted police herself after a call to detectives by her mother. Her mother left the court in tears.

Almost all of the defendants dealt with by lunchtime were refused bail.

District Judge Nina Tempia said the circumstances of the rioting meant many defendants claiming previous good character could not be bailed.

One defendant denied bail was supported by his family in court, offering bail sureties and guarantees he would be monitored at home. But he went back to jail, shaking his head as he was escorted away.

So far, more than 2,770 people have been arrested in connection with last week's riots.

Some 1,297 people have now appeared before the courts, with the majority of charges relating to burglary, theft and handling, and violence and violent disorder offences.

In a statement, the Ministry of Justice stressed that the magistrates and judges were independent of government.

A spokesman added: "Their sentencing decisions are based on the individual circumstances of each case and offender.

"That is why different offenders may be given different sentences for what might appear to be similar crimes. To provide a consistent base for these decisions an independent body of experts, the Sentencing Council, set guidelines for them to use."

Meanwhile, the Courts and Tribunals Service says legal clerks 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.

'Beyond the ordinary'

BBC legal correspondent Clive Coleman said the sentences being handed out across the country for offences of dishonesty such as theft, burglary and receiving stolen goods, suggested there were disparities between courts.

Duchess of Cornwall and Prince of Wales speak to worker at Tottenham Leisure Centre on 17 August 2011 The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall have visited areas of London hit by the riots

What the public was seeing may just be a "distorted version of the normal system", our correspondent said.

In another case, David Beswick, 31 from Salford was sentenced to 18 months in prison for handling stolen goods.

Our legal correspondent said under normal circumstances Beswick would have been given a mid-range community sentence.

Max Hill QC, vice-chairman of the Criminal Bar Association said it was not the job of judges "to deliver a political message on behalf of the government" when passing sentence but part of their role was to identify "serious aggravating features that elevate the crime beyond the ordinary".

He added: "In the case of the two in Chester, it seems that is exactly what the judge has done."

One serving judge, Charles Harris QC, told the BBC it was not possible for the courts to achieve absolute consistency in sentencing as "no two offences are the same".

Riot sentences

  • Anderson Fernandes, 22, was warned by a judge at Manchester Magistrates' Court he may face jail for stealing two scoops of ice cream. He will be sentenced next week after admitting burglary.
  • Nicolas Robinson, 23, of Borough, south-east London, was jailed for six months for burglary. He took a £3.50 case of water from Lidl supermarket
  • Mother-of-two Ursula Nevin, from Manchester, was jailed for five months for receiving a pair of shorts given to her after they had been looted from a city centre store.

"Judge and magistrates do look in the best way they can at the circumstances of the offence and the offender in front of them. In some cases, they might legitimately say, this goes beyond any existing guideline," he added.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We need to understand that people for a while thought that this was a crime without consequence - we cannot have people being frightened in their beds, frightened in their own homes for their public safety.

"That is why these kind of exemplary sentences are necessary. I think people would be rightly alarmed if that incitement to riot got off with just a slap on the wrist."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 689.

    If anything the sentences still arn't tough enough. Four years in prison? Thats actually less than two by the time our misleading justice system has finished and most of that time will be spent playing pool or call of duty....mmmm very tough. What a joke.

  • rate this

    Comment number 688.

    @573. phreakhog.. Thats not fair! I'm a liberal. I'm no bleeding heart either. Freedom for everyone, but come down hard and fast on people that break the law of the land. Not ALL liberals are wishy washy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 687.

    As they sit in prison years from now they will rue the day they acted (this is western punishment)… of course another quick (and MUCH cheaper) alternative would be to adopt the Middle East’s judicial punishment of a public flogging…

  • rate this

    Comment number 686.

    These sentences are typical knee jerk reactions, those who may have nabbed a bottle of water should`nt be jailed. What the courts need to do is identify the worst offenders that committed violence upon communities and individuals. The wrong message is being sent to those who were the main cause of the rioting. Those that didn`t get caught will be sitting at home laughing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 685.

    For the loved ones of the people who died or, or the people who got beaten up, or the many small business owners who will now be made bankrupt (with all the private consequence that entails) they will still remember the riots in 4 years time. People are commenting from an unaffected philosophical stance – which a judge does and must not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 684.

    A disconnect is being described here that doesn't apply. In law (mens rea) intent to commit is the key. They “acted” on that intent by deliberately and DIRECTLY inciting the violence. Note: they are not being convicted as an accomplice to murder, man slaughter, GBH or larceny etcetera which would carry a heavier penalty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 683.

    Considering that the maximum sentence for inciting violence is 10 years then the Facebook Pair in Chester should consider themselves extremely lucky that the learned Judge only imposed a 4 year sentence and I am absolutely certain that a Court of Appeal will bear all this in mind when considering their case.

  • rate this

    Comment number 682.

    Do i bay for blood - no.
    Do we need to change things so it doesn't happen again - yes.
    Is being liberal once the cat is out of the bag helpful - probably not.
    We need to address the underlying problem but also demonstrate we won't tolerate lawlessness to express dissent
    tough sentences reflect the crimes - if you want to express dissent, do so - legally.

  • rate this

    Comment number 681.

    I think that the courts have gone mad.Whilst i agree that the rioters/looters should be punished it should be done fairly & in accordance with the guidelines for the crimes that they have committed.Whats happened to impartial judges & fair sentences?How can the non-violent criminals involved (and there were some!) receive greater sentences than some others are currently serving for violent crimes?

  • rate this

    Comment number 680.

    @551 Rebecca Riot.... How can you compare social security dependents to victorian desperation. Clutching at straws... and perhaps an Xbox.

  • rate this

    Comment number 679.

    corrupt bankers
    corrupt police
    corrupt mps
    corrupt media
    corrupt judges
    corrupt royals
    corrupt clergy

    Lets start at the top of the ladder when it comes to name calling and sentencing

  • rate this

    Comment number 678.

    These people have no fear of meaningful consequence. They directly incited people to be beat up, rob and cause mayhem - things that really hurt innocent people. My fear is that this sort of sentiment posted against the term will elevate a mindset within the perpetrators that they themselves are the victims – thus perpetuating the notion of entitlement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 677.

    Challenge it - Change it! Evolution of the law has been key to our peaceful democratic society, when cracks appear in existing legislation leading to unrest of any kind, it is important that we adapt. I am all for tougher sentencing for acts of mindless vandalism, opportunism and general destructive behaviour. In these tough times society needs to pull together not self destruct.

  • rate this

    Comment number 676.

    #533 'sentences reflect the damage cause(d) to the rest of the population' How much damage can stealing £3.50 of water cause a population? The lads sentenced to 4 years caused no damage.
    'parents held responsible for their children' 'about facing up to your responsibilities' - conflict there. Are people responsible for their actions or somebody else? 'get out what you putin' - bankers? Cliched

  • rate this

    Comment number 675.

    Sentances being passed right now are warped. Why are the baying mobs of the public being played to? What about stricter sentances for crimes against individuals? People are raped, murdered, abused and beated every day. Don't they deserve justice befitting their ordeals? In a country where crimes against property matter more than assault, is it a wonder our youths are so materialistic?

  • rate this

    Comment number 674.

    These sentences make a mockery of the British justice system. To allow public opinion to affect a judgement in court is not justice. These sentences are likely to all be appealed, wasting the taxpayers money yet again!

  • rate this

    Comment number 673.

    I think that we should deport every last single Rioter & Looter to Somalia - if they wish to live in an entirely law-free environment where the strong regularly prey on the weak and want to try their luck surviving in a violent sectarian tyranny where the local Warlords rule then that's exactly what we should give them.

    This is what they want in the UK, so who could have any possible objections?

  • rate this

    Comment number 672.

    if judges are going to throw the book at people who plead guilty, then where is the incentive to do so? All this is going to do is ensure that when the next riot rolls around (this is not a historically unique event) rioters will opt for full trial since they may as well take take their chances.Well done on both disproportionate retribution, costing the country money, and making us look like China

  • rate this

    Comment number 671.

    548. apc - what millions are you reporting on?

    547. VictoriaWood - "Anyone committing crimes, either directly or indirectly that ruin peoples lives need to be punished, and properly." - "crimes" is such a loosely thrown around word these days; apparently it can even be stretched to include those living on subsistence level who are forced to take last measures.

  • rate this

    Comment number 670.

    With the country still sinking there is going to be a lot more to come!! There is nothing left to steal in the economy, bankers and spivs in a quandry of where to steal next. They do no useful work, imagining that manouvering money around is an industry. It is not so. Industry is making useful things not trousering at every opportunity. There will be plenty of men in suits jumping out of windows!!


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