MANDATORY MADNESS

Written by Sian Hall
October 29th, 2017

As the Government chases new headlines for planning to impose mandatory six month terms of imprisonment for those carrying acid in a public place, for the second time we have to reflect on the real worth of this kind of sentence.

 

Mandatory sentencing is often not what it seems. Three years for a third strike burglar often means three years less 20% for those who admit the offences in early stage and can mean a lot less if there are special circumstances relating to there more to the offence.  The same is true for third strike Class A drug dealers.  Those found carrying knives in public for the second time should face a mandatory sentence of six months, but in reality this is a sentence that can be reduced to meet the justice of the case, depending on the circumstances of the offence or the client.   Presumably, acid carriers are likely to find themselves in the same position as their knife-wielding brethren.

 

Does the mandatory sentence then serve any real purpose? Are there any mandatory sentences that are not regularly devalued?   The argument must of course run that it is hard for governments to send out a message to members of the public who are likely to offend.  The announcement of six months in a prison for anybody committing a certain offence is an easy message that may well get across to more than most.  Of course,  the mandatory term also provides a thinking point for sentencing courts who might otherwise find themselves in a sea of inconsistency.  Nevertheless, the same sort of thinking point has been established for many offences by the Sentencing Guidelines Council, whose guidelines can be varied dependant on the social and legal landscape, without recourse to legislation.

 

It is worth reflecting that over the years the only two sentences that have remained largely unadulterated are life imprisonment for murderers and the mandatory driving ban for drink drivers. Odd bookends for a growing shelf of non-discretionary sentencing decisions.

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Categories: Criminal Law ,Youth crime

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