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 696.

    When you do this much damage to your community and your international reputation there must be serious consequences. How long do you think it will take people who lost everything to rebuild their livelihoods? YEARS folks and it was the thugs on the street who imposed those ‘sentences’.

  • rate this

    Comment number 694.

    Legal Aid will cost an absolute fortune! This is a massive hit for tax payers, after paying for the costs of repairing smashed up streets and buildings. Then there's the policing bills of course. At least with the bankers, the country got shares in possibly profitable future banks. The politicians mostly paid back their expense fiddles.
    This is an unmitigated disaster, other than for lawyers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 579.

    These people deserve all they get. They acted with complete disregard for anyone else other than themselves. They commited a crime they should be punished and 4 years in jail seems very just to me. We need to harden up and be tough with these people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 577.

    Young people who grow up in hopeless, broken families don't care about riot victims or injured police and they don't care about "tough" punishments or prison. You can't hurt these young people with victorian, short-sighted "short-sharp" retribution, it doesn't work, it never has, ask Maggie Thatcher, it only makes things worse. Give young people a reason to be proud of themselves and their country

  • rate this

    Comment number 553.

    its about time sentences reflect the damaged criminals cause to the rest of the population. A tough love approach is needed and parents need to be held responsible for their children. I am fed up of hearing how deprived people are and thats why they do it. Its not an excuse its about facing up to your responsibilities and stop thinking the world owe you a living. You only get out what you putin


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