Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Sentence Construction

If you ever doubted that sentencing is as much an art as it is a science, just run your mind over two recent sentences that have hit the news. A teenage schoolboy protester, high on adrenalin and low on common sense, dropped an empty fire extinguisher from a tall building. Reckless, stupid, dangerous; the act was rightly described as a moment of madness, conceived and executed in a brief few seconds.

A member of Parliament systematically and cynically cheated the taxpayer out of £20,000 or so, taking months if not years to do it.

Both were of previous good character, both pleaded guilty. The student handed himself in, the MP was exposed by a newspaper.

The former was jailed for 32 months, the latter for 18 months.

Judges are no fools and construct sentences with great care. There are arguments in both cases for a sentence to deter others, just as it could be argued that custody is useless and, in the case of the young man, damaging.

18 months or 32 months; if it had been the other way round, would it have been fairer? Or should both have had 18, or both 32?

Not easy, is it?

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