Having praised the Guardian yesterday for clearly describing the IPP sentence imposed on an Albert English, it was disappointing to read their coverage of the sentencing hearing for Christopher Docherty-Puncheon. He was sentenced at St Alban’s Crown Court on 5th November to life imprisonment for shooting dead a retired army officer (for example stating that the 32 year tariff meant that he had to serve 32 years “before he can be considered for bail.”).
The sentencing remarks from Saunders J are available online. This is a relatively recent innovation and is a great move forward in ensuring that we can all understand how a Judge comes to a decision about any particular case. After all, we are not only paying for the whole proceedings through taxation, when a sentence is imposed, it is imposed in our names.
The brief facts are that Mr Docherty-Puncheon was convicted after trial of a murder committed in January 2004. Later that year he was convicted of a seperate murder for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment with a 30 year tariff. Therefore, he was serving a life sentence when he was convicted of this.
Saunders J is to be praised for setting out clearly how he arrived at the tariff of 32 years. In essence, he considered that both offences were in the category that deserved a 30 year starting point (firstly because there were two murders and, secondly, because they were committed with a firearm). Had he been sentencing them together, he would have set a tariff of 40 years.
The sentence for this offence cannot be ‘backdated’ – it must start on the day it is imposed (hence Judges will often make allowances for time spent on remand). It should also run concurrently with the other sentence. Therefore, the Judge concluded that, since if Mr Docherty-Puncheon had been sentenced for both of these when he had originally been sentenced 8 years ago he would have received a 40 year tariff, this can be achieved by setting the tariff at 40 years minus the 8 years; hence 32 years.
(1) This is a good example of when Judges can legitimately concluded that time on remand should not count towards the sentence – here Mr Docherty-Puncheon was serving the existing life sentence whilst on remand for this offence.
(2) This offence was committed after 18th December 2003, so the current regime under s269 Criminal Justice Act applies (see here for fuller explanation). It can be noted that if the murder had been committed a month before, then the ‘old’ regime would have applied and a (perhaps slightly) shorter tariff would have been imposed.