Court of Appeal upholds 7 of 10 riot sentences, including Facebook cases – Obiter J

18 October 2011 by

R v Blackshaw and others [2011] EWCA Crim 2312 – Read judgments / press summary

The Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) has issued judgment in relation to ten appeals against sentences imposed for convictions arising from the August disorder.

On 20th August, in a post related to the August disorder, Law and Lawyers looked at relevant sentencing principles and also at the views arrived at by the Crown Court judiciary in Manchester. It was clear, even at that stage, that the context of widespread disorder would be seen as a serious aggravation of offences such as burglary, theft and handling stolen goods. The 20th August post commented that – “It must be doubtful whether the Court of Appeal would adopt a substantially different viewpoint” to that of the Manchester judiciary.

This has proved to be the case though the Court of Appeal said that it is inappropriate for Crown Court judges to “issue, or appear to be issuing, sentencing guidelines.” That is a task for
the Court of Appeal and the Sentencing Council – and the court and council have a relationship of “mutual respect and comity.”

The Lord Chief Justice (LCJ) said that the courts had an overwhelming obligation to protect the public and sentencing could not ignore the context in which the offending occurred. Context can both mitigate and aggravate offending. The offenders dealt with in these appeals knew what they were doing – they were not children or mentally ill.

Slavish adherence to guidelines was not required – (they were guidelines not tramlines) – but existing guidelines did not contemplate offending in the context of what the LCJ referred to as “nationwide public disorder.” Sentencing beyond the usual ranges was inevitable.

Two of the cases (Blackshaw and Sutcliffe) concerned sentences relating to the use of Facebook. Those two cases were distinct from eachother and the offenders had each received sentences of 4 years imprisonment following, in Blackshaw’s case a guilty plea to the offence under the Serious Crime Act 2007 s.46 and, in Sutcliffe’s case a guilty plea to section 44 of that Act. The 4 year sentences were upheld by the Court of Appeal. Five cases were for offences of burglary and the appeals were dismissed and sentences upheld.

The final three cases were for handling stolen goods but here the Court of Appeal reduced the sentences in each case. The LCJ said (para 117):

We now come to three offences of dishonest handling. In cases like these, a line needs to be drawn between the offences which arose from and were directly connected with the disorder (which is an aggravating feature in itself) and those which were intrinsic to the disorder (an even more aggravating feature). None of these cases of dishonest handling involves someone who handled stolen goods by way of encouragement of the commission of burglary and theft as part of the disorder. Rather each represents opportunistic involvement after the burglaries had occurred, and although in close proximity to the scenes of disorder, the appellants did not participate or contribute to them. The connection between the offences which they committed and the burglary and theft committed during the disorders takes them outside the ordinary guidelines for handling offences, but not every handling offence committed during the public disorder was as intrinsic to it as, say, the burglaries of shops which had been smashed and looted. The sentences must recognise these distinctions.

An interesting aspect of the judgment is the detailed analysis of the August events (paras. 22 to 52) and the reference to “Community Impact Statements.” The Court of Appeal refers to such statements being prepared for a number of areas including a “London-wide statement” and then for various London Boroughs – e.g. Southwark and Haringey and also for Manchester and Salford.

There is nothing in legislation dealing with such statements. Unfortunately, the court said nothing about how they are prepared and the precise uses to which they may be put when presented to lower courts (e.g. to Magistrates). This is a pity since such statements raise a number of interesting questions and answers may now have to await further cases.

Brief summary of sentences:

  • Blackshaw – pleaded guilty to Serious Crime Act 2007 s.46 – “previous” – a caution for criminal damage. 4 years imprisonment upheld.
  • Sutcliffe – pleaded guilty to Serious Crime Act 2007 s.44 – “previous” – conviction for possession of Class B drug for which he was fined. 4 years imprisonment upheld.
  • Halloway – pleaded guilty at Magistrates Court to one offence of violent disorder and five of burglary. Committed for sentence. “Previous” – common assault in 2000. 28 months for the violent disorder + 28 months on each burglary (burglary sentences to be concurrent) – Sentence upheld.
  • Vanasco – pleaded guilty at Magistrates Court to burglary. Committed for sentence. No previous convictions. 20 months imprisonment – upheld.
  • Gillespie-Doyle – pleaded guilty at Magistrates Court to burglary. Had a “considerable record.” 2 years Young Offenders Institution. Upheld.
  • Koyuncu – pleaded guilty at Magistrates Court to burglary. Previous for robbery and attempted robbery. 12 months Young Offenders Institution. Upheld.
  • McGrane – pleaded guilty at Magistrates Court toburglary. Previous good character. 13 months Young Offenders Institution. Upheld.
  • Craven – pleaded guilty at Magistrates Court to handling. 12 months reduced to 6.
  • Beswick – pleaded guilty at Magistrates Court to handling. 18 months reduced to 9.
  • Carter – pleaded guilty at Magistrates Court to handling. 16 months reduced to 8.

This is a guest post by Obiter J and is produced with permission and thanks. Law and Lawyers looked at the August disorder in a number of posts:


  1. David Aftlad says:

    Err… No. The court DISMISSED seven out of ten appeals (the other three succeeding partially.) You title suggests 7/10 appeals were successful (upheld.) It’s the original sentences that were upheld, not the appeals against them.

    1. Adam Wagner says:

      Fair point – title changed

  2. Human Rights Defender says:

    These rulings are out-of-control judicial authoritarian extremism pure and simple, and the judges have completely destroyed their credibility by breaching basic principles of proportionality and equality before the law. This kind of patent injustice makes it clear that the system no longer cares about its credibility to the oppressed, and makes further mass unrest inevitable. It also throws serious doubt on the independence of the judiciary, and whether they are able to apply legal principles in the face of political pressure and the baying of the right-wing mob. Not only is it frankly untrue that sentences of this magnitude have precedents from previous unrest. It is also absurd that unrest is considered to be aggravating rather than mitigating regarding individual actions. That an act occurs during an uprising is clearly a MITIGATING factor. Firstly there is less criminal intent in being caught up in the moment than in premeditated burglary or assault. Secondly an act by someone caught up in the moment is more likely to be “out of character” than one done individually. Thirdly, the fact that people were reacting to police murders and brutality is a strong mitigating factor, compared to someone who simply burgles someone in normal circumstances. Fourthly, it is far less likely that such a person will commit further offences, since uprisings are rare. The judges’ actions thus fly in the face of normal legal reasoning, and can only be considered as POLITICAL sentences and an Agambenian state of exception. I think these judicial atrocities need to be taken much more seriously. Suppose someone does something that normally has a one-year sentence, and gets four years because involvement in a mass uprising is taken as “aggravating”. That’s exactly the same, logically and morally, from if they were serving three years simply for their political views. It should be treated as political imprisonment and as a crime against humanity. It should thus be seen as a blot on the regime responsible for it, a mark of its eternal injustice, and a strong indication of why people feel the need to revolt against the regime. When the same thing happened in Cameroon in 2008, international human rights pressure forced the regime to free most of the “rioters”. It’s disgusting to see that in this day and age, Britain is still above international human rights law. I hope one day these judges will face a Nuremberg-style tribunal for their actions. Meanwhile, let us notice that none of the people posting racist comments online, inciting the police to murder people, or inciting the government to breach the Human Rights Act have been jailed.

  3. ObiterJ says:

    The CPS website has information about Community Impact Statements which are made in the form of statements under Criminal Justice Act 1967 s.9

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