Stuart Hall: why politicians should leave sentencing to the Judges.

by Ray_North on June 18, 2013

images-3Stuart Hall is an elderly paedophile who has been, rightly, charged, convicted and sentenced for offences against little girls over a twenty year period. I know that, you know that, we all know that – but, that is all we know, because none of us, unless we were directly involved in the case know the details of the allegations, the details of the mitigation, the contents of the pre-sentence report and the victim impact statements that accompany cases like this – nothing.

Some of us know, because we have to, that the maximum sentence for the offences that were committed by Mr Hall, at the time when he committed these offences (which is the pertinent date) was two years imprisonment in relation to children over the age of thirteen and five years for children aged under 13. Some of us also know, because we have to, that the Judge must take into account various other factors such as totality of sentence, the age and previous character of the defendant and, of course, the timing of his plea.

The Judge, who I assume is no slouch, will have taken all of these factors into consideration when passing the sentence. And, when I heard that the sentence for Mr Hall was fifteen months immediate imprisonment, I have to say, that having (sadly) done many cases such as this, it was a sentence that was in line with what I would have expected – perhaps a few months better than you might have feared, but nothing that can be said to be unduly lenient. Of course, if I knew all the facts of the case, I might think differently, but I don’t, and therefore, I’m happy to leave it to the Judge – after all, they are the people who uphold our laws and, as such, as citizens of England and Wales (Scotland have a slightly different system, but the principle is the same), we have to trust them to get it right.

Emily Thornberry is a barrister, she is also the Shadow Attorney General. But, I doubt that she knows a great deal more about the details of the Stuart Hall case than me or you. She wasn’t in Court when the facts were opened to the Judge, she wasn’t in Court when the mitigation was proffered by Mr Hall’s Counsel. But yesterday, when the news of Mr Hall’s sentence filtered into the media – she decided that she would intervene by calling the sentence unduly lenient and asking for it to be referred to the Attorney General. Now if a prosecutor believes that a sentence for a certain type of serious crime is ‘unduly lenient’ he or she can make a recommendation to the Attorney General that they refer it to the Court of Appeal for further consideration. It is a big call by the prosecutor and it doesn’t happen very often (as opposed to manifestly excessive sentences, which happen far more frequently). A prosecutor will only make such an recommendation, if they have seen all the papers, heard all the facts, listened to the Judge pass sentence and concluded that the sentence was wrong. One of the factors that will not come into their contemplation (or at least it shouldn’t) is the notoriety of the defendant. Celebrity defendants do not get treated differently in the eyes of the law than the rest of us, and quite bloody right too.

Now, I don’t know, perhaps the prosecutor in the Stuart Hall case, has reached the conclusion that the sentence was too lenient and has advised that the case should be referred to the Attorney General, if so, then greater minds than mine will decide it in due course. But, again, they will not decide it because the defendant happened to once upon a time be the presenter of It’s A Knockout.

I groaned when I heard Emily Thornberry on the radio putting her two penny worth in – not because I am in any way an apologist for Mr Hall, I am most certainly not, but because it was once again an incident of a politician trying to interfere with the judiciary and the due process of law, and that is not what our politicians are there to do. It would be different if Emily Thornberry was making a point about paedophiles in general, or the need vigilance, she could even (though this wouldn’t have been particularly politically astute) pointed to the fact that the last Labour Government, rightly, made sentencing for offences against children much more onerous with the Sexual Offecnces Act 2003 (Hall could have got the stiff end of ten years today), but to make such a trite point that was such an obvious attempt to endear herself to the populist tabloid string ‘em up brigade was just another example of piss poor politicians saying just about anything to get a bit of cheap applause from the tabloids. We expect better.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Jackie_South June 18, 2013 at 8:59 pm

He admitted to 14 counts, at least two with under-13 year olds. So the maximum permissible sentence was 20 years, I think given the tarriffs at the time of the offences (clearly, it would be far more if committed now). 15 months does seem lenient given that.

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Jackie_South June 18, 2013 at 9:01 pm

Sorry, bad maths. That should have read a maximum of 40 years.

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George_East June 18, 2013 at 9:11 pm

Even if that’s right it would never have been consecutive. I’m with Ray on this, leave sentencing to the judges. Politicians should stay well clear. They set the laws, it is for the judiciary to enforce them.

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Ray_North June 18, 2013 at 9:41 pm

Jackie, all judges have to take into account the principle of totality in sentencing – so even though the theoretical maximum is 40 years no judge would give a sentence which effectively is life for a case like this – it would be immediately and successfully appealed.
The point I make isn’t the sentence though its the right of judges to get on with it without interference from the legislature.

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Jackie_South June 19, 2013 at 4:36 pm

Of course 40 years wouldbe ridiculous, but it does demonstrate how lenient the judgement in this case.

Whilst I accept that 14 consecutive sentences were not ever going to be applied, I do think the number of offences should have led to a sentence that was greater. 15 months, after all, is only a quarter of the maximum tariff for an offence (back then) with an under-13 year old. I’m not a legal expert like you or George, but I would have thought that 30 months was the absolute minimum appropriate here.

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George_East June 20, 2013 at 9:47 am

‘does demonstrate how lenient the judgment in this case’ is..

Not really. There are plenty of offences which have very long maximum sentences, but in respect of which such sentences are hardly ever imposed. The question for the Judge is where does the seriousness of the offence fit in against the guidelines, and then adjusting for mitigating and aggravating factors.

Its not my area but I would be surprised if it was appealable (or even if the Attorney General would try).

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Doug Green September 1, 2013 at 8:02 am

Would be interested in your further observations now that the judgment has been released along with further details of the offences

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Ray_North September 1, 2013 at 8:06 am

Hi Doug,
The CPS referred the matter the AG who referred it to the Court of Appeal who then doubled the sentence. I’m not sure that this would have happened if it hadn’t involved a celebrity and media uproar. But, the proper judicial process has been followed and the sentence is within the guidelines for the offences – I have no complaints.

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