16 Aug 2011

Courts get tough on rioters

As reports suggest courts are being told to disregard normal guidelines when sentencing rioters, sending more to prison, Nick Clegg outlines other “punishments that stick”.

Courts get tough on rioters (Getty)

Newspaper reports have suggested that magistrates are being advised to disregard normal sentencing guidelines when dealing with people convicted of offences committed during last week’s riots – meaning they could face more severe punishments.

Magistrates courts can only sentence people for up to six months in prison but can refer cases to the crown courts.

Chair of the bench at Camberwell Magistrates Court, Novello Noades, suggested that magistrates had received instructions to give all of those convicted of rioting or looting a custodial sentence as a “directive”, although she later retracted her statement, saying she was “mortified” she had used that word.

Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service told The Guardian newspaper that a senior clerk had circulated instructions to court clerks that they should advise magistrates to consider disregarding normal guidelines.

When passing sentences judges consider many factors, including the punishment of offenders, the reduction of crime by deterrence, and the need to protect the public. Judicial Office spokeswoman

“Accordingly magistrates in London are being advised by their legal advisers to consider whether their powers of punishment are sufficient in dealing with some cases arising from the recent disorder. Magistrates are independent and not subject to direction from their legal advisers,” it said.

Prime Minister David Cameron said last week that those convicted of rioting would go to jail, but the Ministry of Justice denied it had given any formal guidance to this effect.

A spokeswoman for the Judicial Office also denied the existence of a “directive”. She said: “The senior judiciary has given no directive in relation to sentencing for offences committed during the recent widespread public disorder.

“When passing sentences judges consider many factors, including the punishment of offenders, the reduction of crime by deterrence, and the need to protect the public.”

Rioters to clean up what they damaged

Separately, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has outlined plans to make rioters clean up the streets they damaged and “look their victims in the eye”.

People who are not sent to jail for their role in last week’s violence will have to work in the streets affected, Mr Clegg said. The Ministry of Justice will instruct probation officers to recommend “Community Payback” sentences, to be served in riot-hit areas, in non-custodial cases.

Mr Clegg said: “Those people who behaved so despicably last week should have to look their victims in the eye…We want people to be punished for their wrongdoing. We also want them to stop doing wrong. We want their future behaviour to change.

“We need punishment that sticks.”

Mr Clegg also announced that the Government is to establish an independent panel to give victims of the riots a chance to “have their voice heard”.

Mr Clegg told a Whitehall news conference that the communities and victims panel, chaired by an independent figure, would produce a report within six to nine months to be presented to the leaders of all three main political parties.

“It won’t be a public inquiry, it won’t be established under the Inquiries Act, but it will serve as a way in which victims and communities can have their voice heard,” he said.

Home Secretary Theresa May is also set to say today that police forces need “clearer guidance” on tackling riots. She is writing to Sir Denis O’Connor, the chief inspector of constabulary, saying that forces should be given clearer guidance on issues including tactics, pre-emptive action and arrest policy.

Ealing death

Separately, a 16-year-old boy has been charged with the murder of a man attacked during the riots.

Richard Bowes, 68, died on Thursday after being assaulted during the disturbances in Ealing, west London, last Monday. The Crown Prosecution Service announced last night it had authorised the Metropolitan Police to charge a 16-year-old boy with murder.

The teenager, who will appear at Croydon Youth Court today, is also charged with violent disorder and four separate burglaries of commercial premises.