Riots: glut of appeals anticipated
Crown courts could face a glut of appeals in response to the speed at which defendants were dealt with last week, when some magistrates’ courts worked through the night to process defendants.
Criminal defence lawyers told the Gazette that the swift dispatch with which cases were heard - and what they claimed was a ‘disproportionate’ approach to sentencing - would prove fertile ground for appeals.
Earlier this week, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) revealed it had advised lay magistrates to consider if cases should be sent to the Crown court, where tougher sentences may be imposed.
Julian Young, senior partner at London firm Julian Young & Co, said: ‘Defence solicitors were given insufficient time to prepare because speed and expediency took precedence over justice, and defendants were bounced into guilty or not-guilty pleas in the middle of the night.
‘The Crown courts will be gummed up with appeals.’
He added that the appeals would add to legal aid costs.
Joseph Wright, criminal defence solicitor at London firm Hodge Jones & Allen, said: ‘Just two out of the eight clients I saw overnight were granted bail. The feeling was that a different sentencing approach had been mandated, with people of previous good character, with jobs and children, being refused bail.
‘The punishments are disproportionate and raise the spectre of appeal after appeal going through the Crown court.’
Ian Kelcey, chair of the Law Society’s criminal law committee, said that there ‘is a distinct feeling that speed of process has been more important than assuring justice’. He said this was ‘fertile ground’ for appeals.
In London, the City of Westminster, Camberwell Green and Highbury Corner magistrates’ courts worked through the night to process defendants, with similar arrangements in Manchester and Solihull. Some newspapers have reported a harsh attitude to sentencing by magistrates, with one student sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for stealing water worth £3.50.
However, other reports have suggested sentences have been too lenient.
The Ministry of Justice said it had not given any guidance on sentencing to magistrates dealing with rioters. However, HMCTS said it had advised magistrates in London to consider whether their powers of punishment, which are limited to six months’ imprisonment, are sufficient in dealing with some cases arising from the recent disorder, or whether cases should be transferred to the Crown court.
The Crown Prosecution Service insisted justice had not been compromised, adding that ‘the public wanted to see order restored and cases coming to court’.
See News Focus.
- The Law Society has launched a telephone helpline to direct small independent shopkeepers and others who were victims of rioting towards pro bono legal advice. Solicitors seeking to take part should contact firstname.lastname@example.org.