The variation in sentences handed down to rioters highlights the broader problem of the failure of self-regulation of the judiciaryby Matt Cavanagh / August 18, 2011 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2011 issue of Prospect Magazine
As with the wider debate over the riots, the debate over the sentences being handed down to individual rioters has quickly polarised. The right continues to defend even the harshest sentences as either deserved, or salutary, or both. Most on the left disagree, seeing too many cases which seem unfair, and fearing that longer sentences will generally be counter-productive.
Forced to choose, I would be in the latter camp. I agree that crimes committed during the riots should receive tougher sentences than similar crimes at other times; and agree too that there was value in some swift and exemplary sentences being handed down—provided the right cases were chosen. But there is a sense, as former Director of Public Prosecutions Ken Macdonald said on the Today programme this morning, that judges and magistrates are being “swept up in a moral panic.” Macdonald also raised a second, separate concern: the variation between sentences. While careful to say he was not aware of all the facts, he said that “wildly different sentences” for relatively similar offences is simply “not justice.”