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Criminal law: Sentences for rioters were harsh but fair says Leveson

The Chairman of the Sentencing Council for England and Wales has spoken out about the sentences that were handed down to those who participated in the riots in cities across the country this summer. The severity of some of the sentences were criticised as being 'too harsh' by some, who thought that judges had acted beyond their sentencing guidance in some cases.

Defending the decision by many judges to go beyond that contained in the sentencing guidelines, Lord Justice Leveson said, "The interests of justice permit a judge to go outside guidelines if they feel it is appropriate... We are trying to capture the middle ground (with guidelines) and I think most people would probably say that the riots we saw in August don't fall within the middle ground at all".

Many of the sentences that were handed down to rioters for looting, vandalism and inciting public disorder were far more severe than is recommended in the guidance given to judges by the Sentencing Council. There was surprise when two men were convicted of using social media site Facebook to incite riots and were handed down four-year jail terms. Only a handful of sentences were reduced on appeal.

Leveson went on to say that guidelines had now been amended: "We identified wider public disorder as a potentially aggravating feature, but that isn't in any sense to prevent the courts from taking the view that the range of ordinary crime doesn't fit the events which have actually taken place".

He added that he believed that judges did not ramp up sentences in response to political pressure. "Political and other pronouncements about sentencing didn't, as far as I understand it, drive a single sentence".

In criminal trials, judges pass on sentences according to guidance provided by the Sentencing Council. The severity of punishment will be influenced by the range of aggravating and mitigating factors presented in court, which the judge must take into account.

Related links

Read more on the story (The Guardian)

How sentencing is worked out (FindLaw)

Find local criminal solicitors throughout the UK (FindLaw)