Riot sentencing – Appeal Judgement
The Court of Appeal has now given its (first?) judgement on “riot” cases, including on two cases dealing with the use of social media for incitement. It is, in a number of respects, a disappointing judgement, but the blame for this does not lie solely at the feet of the Court.
The cases before the court were serious. They involved incitement, burglary, or handling stolen property. The stolen property involved was of significant value. Several of the offenders had prior criminal records, including convictions for robbery and violent crime. In that context, it’s unsurprising that the Court upheld the sentences in the burglary cases, and made only modest reductions in the sentencings in the handling cases.
It is disappointing that the Court failed to reduce the sentences in the incitement cases (the “Facebook” cases, involving the use of Facebook to incite violent disorder). The 4 year sentences imposed, even allowing for the deterrent effect repeatedly emphasised, are substantially higher than those the Court of Appeal imposed or upheld on individuals who actually committed violent disorder. That said, both cases involved individuals who created Facebook events (in one case, inviting 400 people), and in both cases other people had indicated they would attend (9 in one, and 47 in the other).
Crucially, none of these cases allowed the Court a substantive opportunity to consider whether the custody threshold (s.152(2) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003) was passed merely as a result of these offences being committed during widespread violent disorder/riot. In most of them, it was accepted that it had been, and in only one (Hassan Koyuncu) does it appear that it was specifically argued that it had not been. That case involved the ransacking of a Comet store; the defendant fled the scene, was chased by police, and arrested in possesion of a variety of electrical goods.
The key question posed by the Nicholas Robinson case – does a context of violent disorder cause otherwise trivial offences to pass the custody threshold? – has not been answered or even considered. Nor does the present guideline substantively do any more than confirm that a context of violent disorder can be an aggravating factor – not, as far as I can see, ever questioned.
It must be hoped that the Sentencing Council will shortly do what they should have done some years ago, and write a sentencing guideline for widespread violent disorder. Based on past experience, they have about three years before the next time it will be wanted.