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Sentencing guidelines can 'properly be departed from', top Manchester judge says

17 August 2011

The sentencing guidelines can “properly be departed from” when dealing with people involved in last week’s riots, the senior Crown Court judge in Manchester has said.

Judge Andrew Gilbart QC, the Honorary Recorder of Manchester, said he had received “no advice from anyone in the government or the Courts Service” on how to use the guidelines when sentencing rioters. “Had I done so, I would have ignored it,” he said.

Judge Gilbart said he “had regard” to Court of Appeal decisions on cases relating to the Bradford riots of 2001, but had applied the principles “in the context of disorder of a different kind and involving widespread ransacking of shops and theft of goods from them”.

He said “any participation of whatever duration” in the Manchester riots “added to the effects of the overall criminality and hampered the efforts of the police to bring it under control”.

Judge Gilbart went on: “Those who choose to take part in activities of this type must understand that they do so at their peril.

“It must be made equally clear, both to those who are apprehended and to those who might be tempted to behave in this way in the future, that the court will have no hesitation in marking the seriousness of what has occurred and it will act in such a way in the present case as will, I hope, send out a clear and unambiguous message as to the consequences to the individual.

“It is a message which I trust will deter others from engaging in this type of behaviour in the future.”

Judge Gilbart said the people of Manchester and Salford were entitled to look to the law for protection and to the courts to punish those who behaved “so outrageously”.

As a result, it would be “wholly unreal” to have regard only to specific acts as if they had been committed in isolation.

“In my judgement the context in which the offences of the night of 9 August were committed takes them completely outside the usual context of criminality.

“For the purposes of these sentences, I have no doubt at all that the principal purpose is that the courts should show that outbursts of criminal behaviour like this will be and must be met with sentences longer than they would be if the offences had been committed in isolation.

“For those reasons I consider that the sentencing guidelines for specific offences are of much less weight in the context of the current case, and can properly be departed from.”

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