Those August riots again – sentencing

Is the judiciary really independent and in touch with public opinion or are they constrained by sentencing guidelines which do not enable them to reflect the individual circumstances of the offence and all the surrounding facts?

For an informed and interesting discussion about the sentencing of rioters and looters in the context of the criminal justice system and sentencing guidelines, you may find the article “I predict a riot – about sentencing” by Felicity Gerry, Halsbury's Law Exchange 12 August 2011, of interest. Apart from the obvious references to demands for tougher sentences, the article also raises the problem of how to differentiate between rioters who are participating and those who may have organised crimes of violence and public disorder, as well as the matter of when it might be appropriate for some offenders to be dealt with by summary proceedings in the Magistrates Court and more serious offences to be sent by way of committal to the Crown Court for sentencing.

The practicality of sentencing guidelines is also raised along with issues of consistency and comparisons with sentences handed out for criminal offences which are not committed during public disorder.

Our attention is also drawn to the work of the Sentencing Council.


The Sentencing Council  was set up under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 in order to promote greater transparency and consistency in sentencing, but at the same time respecting the independence of the judiciary. The council is associated with the Ministry of Justice and replaced its predecessors, the Sentencing Guidelines Council and the Sentencing Advisory Panel. A major part of the organisation's work is to prepare sentencing guidelines.

Once the dust has settled it remains to be seen whether the Sentencing Council will come under any political scrutiny as politicians wish to be seen to be tough on crime.

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