In recent days, the sentencing of many linked to the riots which broke out in a number of English towns and cities in early August have hit the news. Two men were jailed for four years each for inciting riots on Facebook; riots which never happened. A woman was sentenced to five months after being given a pair of stolen shorts. A man was jailed for six months for stealing £3.50’s worth of water from a shop.
The harsh nature of these and many other sentences is undeniable. The supposed riot inciters were guilty only of being fantasists about their ability to raise trouble. They plainly did not manage to persuade anyone to riot. The others mentioned involve such overreaction to such trivial crimes that they are reminiscent of the days of Transportation to penal colonies.An analysis of the sentences by the Guardian show that they are on average 25% more severe than would normally be handed down for the same offence. The sentences follow promises in Parliament by David Cameron to crack down on those responsible. Our judges and magistrates have tamely fallen into line with Cameron’s need to appear tough on crime.
During the anti-cuts protests in March, more than 150 protesters were detained as a result of their occupation of Fortnum & Mason’s, following which over 100 were informed they would not face trial on the charges of aggravated trespass. These were the ones with no previous history of protest. Thirty protesters currently remain charged, despite there being no violence involved. This was purely people collectively entering a shop and not leaving. By no coincidence at all, those charged were organisers, those with banners or leaflets when arrested. There being no difference in the supposed crime to that of those released, the only conclusion which can be drawn is that this is an attempt to browbeat those who wish to legally, peacefully protest, and wish to help others to do so effectively. The right to protest is being attacked by the Police and CPS, responsible for the decisions to arrest and prosecute the charges.
In another high profile case, privileged teenager Charlie Gilmour was imprisoned for 18 months following a rampage during the student fees protest in December, culminating in an attack on a convoy of cars in which the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall were travelling. Gilmour was again sentenced harshly. The telling fact of the case is something the judge said however, quoted in the Daily Mirror, that it would be
“wrong to ignore who the occupants” of the car were and that this was an aggravating feature in the case.
In short, attacking a car with Prince Charles or his bodyguards in deserves a more severe sentence than if you or I were the occupants. So much for equality in law.
The judiciary have displayed their lack of independence from the legislative body in responding to political calls to crack down on rioters so they receive harsher sentences than they would have if their crimes were considered individually. They have also displayed their determination to protect our governing elite by adding to the ordinary tariff for Gilmour’s offence because of the identity of his victims. Finally the Police and CPS attempt to serve the ruling elite by snuffing out protest against its actions.
I have no wish to serve 4 years in chokey for inciting some non-existent event, so I must point out my abhorrence of violence and criminality in general. It falls to me though, to point out the irony that by serving so slavishly the elite currently pulling their strings, rather than eliminating the chances of future riots as they would wish, they actually increase them through engendering a general sense of injustice in the populace, and especially in that section of society suffering the worst because of our rulers.