Tuesday, November 15, 2011

divide by four

In July, Charlie Gilmour, the adopted son of a member of Pink Floyd, pleaded guilty to a charge of violent disorder at a protest about student fees a year or so ago. Fuelled by drink and drugs, he kicked hard at a shop window and helped break it. He stole the leg of a mannequin (as you do) and chanted some anarchistic slogans that threatened further serious crime (as you don’t). He was part of a mob that caused a lot of damage to a convoy of royal cars, one of them carrying another Charlie and his wife Camilla who were clearly alarmed and distressed by what was going on. Charlie G denied throwing a bin at one of the cars, smashing its window, but the judge found that he did so and imposed a 16 month custodial sentence. Harsh perhaps, and a shock to Charlie who may well have thought that his wealth and privilege would protect him. Everyone knows that you divide most prison sentences by two, and he would be out in 8 months at the very latest.

Even so, compared to many crimes that receive far less, it was a heavy sentence and Charlie rightly appealed. The hearing was expedited and went to court in October, three months after the start of the prison sentence. The appeal judges backed the sentencing judge and refused the appeal on the 28th October. So Charlie had another four and a half months to serve inside.

Ah no. Just 18 days after the appeal court judgement Charlie is released, on a tagged curfew. It is good that he is out of prison after just 4 months because his crimes did not warrant more, but why doesn’t the right hand of the criminal justice system know what the left hand is doing. What was the point of the time, trouble and cost of the appeal if its outcome was to be of such little significance. Yes, it contributes to the case law library but offers little to add to what is already there for this offence. In fact, the appeal judgement was delayed to see whether the Appeal Court rulings for the August rioters had any influence on Charlie’s case. He might as well have been released on the 28th October.

It was pretty much known at the time of sentencing that Charlie would be out in 4 months so that is the sentence that should have been given. If the judge wanted to tack a curfew on to the end of it, for specific reasons, then fine. But the public would know exactly how long the offender will stay in prison and, importantly, so would anyone thinking about committing that offence. The courts should dictate how long a prison term should be, not the prison authorities. Prison terms would probably shorten and the use of expensive appeal courts might diminish.