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Riot Sentences Questioned By Former Chief Prosecutor

August 18, 2011

It is “just not justice” if those involved in rioting who are guilty of similar offences receive wildly different sentences, the country’s former top prosecutor has said.

Lord Macdonald, the former director of public prosecutions in England and Wales, said judges need to remain dispassionate and avoid the “moral panic” elsewhere in society when sentencing those involved in the riots and looting.

He called on the Sentencing Council, which has not met since the riots but aims to promote consistency in sentencing, to issue new guidelines “as soon as it can feasibly do so”.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4, he said: “I think it’s important that the courts retain their objectivity, remain dispassionate and don’t get swept up in any sort of moral panic that might be existing elsewhere in civil society.

“We shouldn’t be finding ourselves in a situation where people are receiving wildly different sentences for offences that seem on the facts to be relatively similar. I mean that’s just not justice.”

He added that within the riots and looting there was a range of offences being committed, saying that someone who was not at the scene and received a small amount of low value property later was guilty of a far less serious offence than someone who smashed a shop window, stole property and then set the place alight.

“I think those differences need to be clearly reflected in sentencing,” he said.

Lord Macdonald added that there was the risk of a “collective loss of proportion”, saying that some sentences look “very severe” and “appear out of kilter with each other”.

“It would be a very good idea if the Sentencing Council could meet and issue some guidelines for sentencing in this area,” he said.

“The whole point of guidelines is to achieve consistency and fairness. I think the council should issue guidelines as soon as it can feasibly do so.”

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