I must admit I`m a little confused and not a little concerned. My confusion arises from two apparently accurate if limited reports on sentencing remarks of HH Judge Peter Bowers who sits in the North East. In June he was reported as making critical comments on the sentencers` bible AKA the Sentencing Guidelines with regard to the limitations on the sentence he could impose on a man convicted for the first time of attempted burglary. There are some metaphorical Russian dolls in all this. All sentencers have opinions on the guidelines whether as a matter of principle thereof, intention therein, content within or effect thereof. There is also to be considered the public pronouncement of the reasons why any particular sentence or disposal is imposed whether by the lowliest magistrate or a member of the Supreme Court. Within the pronouncement there is a wide choice of the manner and tone in which the words are spoken and the extent and reasons why if necessary the sentencer has departed from the guidelines. Judge Bowers seemed to have made his opinion perfectly clear.
Roll forward to a couple of days ago and the very same Judge Bowers sitting at Teesside Crown Court when sentencing a serial burglar declined to impose immediate custody and instead sentenced the offender to thirty months in prison suspended with an associated supervision order and 200 hours unpaid work requirement. His pronouncement of sentence included the reported comment, “It takes a huge amount of courage, as far as I can see, for somebody to burgle somebody’s house. I wouldn’t have the nerve. Yet somehow, bolstered by drugs and desperation, you were prepared to do that.” Not surprisingly those remarks have precipitated somewhat predictable responses from the prime minister downwards finding an unexpected opportunity to bolster his intentions to get tough on crime by his recent sacking of Kenneth Clarke.
Perhaps others can appreciate my confused state. Try as I have I cannot relate these two sentencing pronouncements. In the earlier case he was highly critical of the guidelines in which he, as many others, found himself in determining an appropriate disposal. He indicated that he was required to be unduly lenient in dealing with the offender; indeed much more lenient than he would have chosen to be in different circumstances, i.e. without having to defer to the guidelines. In the recent matter he did not merely deviate from the guidelines, as he had the right to do stating his reasons for so doing; he chose to drive a coach and horses through the Sentencing Guidelines with a wholly inadequate explanation.
And it is this combination of sentencing which is of concern to me. There appears to be a prima facia case of his remarks in combination being completely illogical in his reasoning behind his sentencing decisions. This would seem to fly in the face of official determination to end post code sentencing and the reason for the imposition of guidelines. Some, but not this blogger, might say HH`s observations indicate some confusion in his thinking. In addition I would opine that such public criticism of one of the basic tenets of the judicial system; Sentencing Guidelines……love them or loath them……..could be construed as bringing the judiciary or the judicial system into disrepute; the accusations that only a month ago the Senior Presiding Judge made with his edict on the position of blogging magistrates.
My final concern is whether or not this will be treated as merely a storm in a teacup or do our seniors and betters apply the same considerations to those higher up the judicial ladder as they do to we lowly Justices of the Peace.
It seems HH has had a few words in his ear from those with longer wigs than he. Will we soon hear of his retirement to spend more time with his family provided his pension rights are not imperiled?