West Law Report

No sentencing guidance can be comprehensive

Posted in Times Law Report by mrkooenglish on December 1, 2008

From The Times
November 24, 2008
No sentencing guidance can be comprehensive

Court of Appeal, Criminal Division

Published November 24, 2008

Regina v Height and Regina v Anderson

Before Lord Judge, Lord Chief Justice, Lord Justice Thomas, Lord Justice Leveson, Mr Justice Owen and Mr Justice Christopher Clarke

Judgment October 29, 2008

The sentencing provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 were not intended to be applied inflexibly. No scheme or guidance or statutory framework could be fully comprehensive, and any system of purported compartmentalisation or prescription had the potential to produce injustice.

The Court of Appeal, Criminal Division, so stated when allowing an appeal by John Height and dismissing an appeal by Malcolm Anderson against sentences of life imprisonment with minimum specified terms of 24 years and 22 years respectively imposed by Judge Stokes, QC, on April 30, 2007 in Nottingham Crown Court on Height’s conviction of, and Anderson’s plea of guilty to murder.

Mr Timothy Barnes, QC, assigned by the Registrar of Criminal Appeals, for Height; Mr Christopher Milligan, solicitor, assigned by the Registrar of Criminal Appeals, for Anderson; Mr Greg Dickinson, QC and Mr Jonathan Straw for the Crown.

THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE, giving the reserved judgment of the court, said that for all practical purposes Anderson was Height’s boss. Anderson gave evidence for the Crown that he had spoken to Height about getting rid of his wife. Height had said that it could be arranged for a price of £20,000.

In the event it was Anderson who struck his wife with a saucepan and hammer, stabbed her with a knife and finally cut her throat. Then he and Height dragged her body to the river where it was found the next morning.

In accordance with his understanding of the statutory obligation imposed on him by section 269 of and Schedule 21 to the Criminal Justice Act 2003, the sentencing judge identified the relevant starting points as 30 years in the case of Height because it was a killing done in pursuit of financial gain and as 15 years in Anderson’s case since he did not stand to gain financially.

Their Lordships had lost count of the number of times when the Court of Appeal had emphasised that these provisions were not intended to be applied inflexibly. Indeed an inflexible approach would be inconsistent with the terms of the statutory framework.

If paragraph 6 of Schedule 21 was read literally, and in isolation from the remaining parts of the Schedule, it might suggest that any case which fell outside the express criteria identified in paragraph 4(2) and 5(2) should have a 15-year starting point.

But, in their Lordships’ judgment, the criteria which purported to identify those cases where the seriousness was particularly high, suggesting a starting point of 30 years, were not exhaustive of the cases which fell in that category and did not exclude the possibility that in some cases, probably rare, the seriousness might be such as to justify the 30-year starting point, even when the express criteria normally required for that purposes were absent.

Although Height’s financial motivation made a 30-year starting point appropriate, Anderson’s culpability, with all the many aggravating features, should also have been regarded as a case of particularly high seriousness, and the same starting point adopted.

Height’s minimum term would accordingly be reduced to 22 years. Anderson had no legitimate complaint about his minimum term of 22 years so that his application would be refused.

Solicitors: Crown Prosecution Service, Nottingham.

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