Monday, August 26, 2013

Straight In Or A Bender?

Constrained as we are by ever-more-detailed  guidelines, we nevertheless still come across clear yes-no decisions that we have to take.
A recent example was a man whose offence clearly crossed the custody threshold, and the question was whether we should suspend it. The guidelines say that we must always consider suspending a custodial sentence, so consider is what we did. On the one hand it was tempting to impose a salutary immediate prison sentence and send him down the steel stairs to the Serco guards. The alternative was to suspend the sentence and impose conditions such as a curfew or unpaid work as well as probation supervision. But the real choice was between a four-month sentence (i.e. six months less a third off for the early plea) of which he would serve half. As his offence was not violent or sexual he would probably be released on a tag after a few weeks. A suspended sentence order with 200 hours of unpaid work would not attract any reduction, and would dispose of his spare time for a good few months, and allow him to continue his not-too-special job.
So an SSO it was. We had to balance the reality of either choice of sentence, and in the end the SSO seemed the best solution for him.


  1. It's not often that I disagree with the Bystander Team, but in this case my interpretation of Suspended Sentence Orders differs from theirs. An SSO is punishment in itself, the Sentencing Council Guidelines tell us, "and any requirements imposed should generally be less onerous than if a community order had been imposed."
    BT gave him 200 hours of unpaid work, which is the maximum he could have been given after credit under a community order (BT mentions a reduction, so I presume he pleaded guilty), so BT ignored the guidelines and made it even more onerous, not less. An all-the-ball legal adviser would have spotted this immediately. Can you clarify?

    1. I have the same worries.

      In addition, I worry about factoring in when the prison authorities will release someone in the consideration of a custodial sentence.

      I suspect there was a lot more to it than that of course : BS is not known for a lack of judiciousness. (Is there a noun for 'judicial'?)

    2. Judicious and judicial are different, and both related to judgement (from Latin iudex). Justice is different and not (directly, etymologically) related to either.

  2. It would be interesting to know the difference in probable outcome between an immediate custodial sentence, where the offender will lose his job and suffer the stigma of having been imprisoned (even if only for a few weeks) and the alternative of a suspended sentence with unpaid work.

    I suspect that the latter sentence may be more effective at deterring the offender from committing future offences than the immediate custodial sentence, so may actually be more effective.

  3. I don't agree that an SSO is in itself a punishment, any more than a CD is a punishment. It is simply saying, keep out of further trouble and that's the end of the matter, although it is a criminal record. The punishment element is the unpaid work, curfew, etc. given as well.

    The latter looks right to me and it means the offender will be paying something back to the community rather than being the large cost that he would be if inside.

    The sad thing is that any press headline would almost certainly have been about the offender being let off, rather than having to do something that the bench clearly hoped would be useful to society.

  4. As it is no longer necessary to impose requirements and even when imposed, they seem to be not very onerous (particularly when CC impose them)the press headlines are often fair.

  5. Rule 1: What the press would say if they reported this case is irrelevant.

    Rule 2: Where Rule 1 does not apply, Rule 1 shall be applied as if it did apply.


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