The Court Martial Appeal Court, presided over by the Lord Chief Justice, reduced Sgt Nightingale’s 18 month sentence to a suspended sentence of 12 months in respect of his guilty plea to possession of a prohibited firearm and ammunition.
The facts are here.
The appeal transcript is here.
The transcript of the Court Martial hearing is here.
After recounting the facts – in particular stressing Sgt Nightingale’s distinguished service career – the Court went on to state its reasons for reducing the sentence.
The Court rehearsed the reasons given in the Court Martial for the sentence of 18 months, offering very little by way of a fresh view of the offences: Sgt Nightingale had no intention that the weapon would be used for any criminal purpose and the highly unusual circumstances of Sgt Nightingale coming into possession of the firearm and ammunition were of note.
The Court then briefly recited the medical considerations which were discussed in the Court Martial transcript.
After ‘reflecting’ on those considerations, the Court came to the following conclusion:
“…for the purposes of the minimum sentence, which we must remember is there, these offences were committed in exceptional circumstances by an exemplary soldier. In these circumstances we believe that our obligation to be loyal to the statute can fairly and justly be achieved by a custodial sentence which will be reduced from 18 months to 12 months, and reduced, in order to enable us to do full justice and exercise a proper degree of mercy, by suspending that sentence for a period of twelve months.”
Irrespective of your view of the decision, the transcript offers very little by way of actual reasoning for a reduction in sentence. There is a concise (read: brief) recitation of the facts, followed by the statement that a 12-month suspended sentence would be ‘fair and just’. (That is not to say that 18 months is incorrect.)
It appears that the Court ‘felt’ that 12 months was the appropriate sentence in this case, whether that takes into account the media pressure, the time served since the Court Martial decision, or any other factors, is unclear.
So what is missing? There is no mention of authorities, notably the guideline case of R v Avis. Further, there was, as is commonly in sentence appeals, no reference to any ‘tariff cases’ (comparing the case being heard to other recent decisions of the Court of Appeal in similar cases). Presumably, this is due to the ‘wholly exceptional nature’ of this case, and so comparing other sentences for possession of prohibited firearms would have been of little use.
There is no criticism of the Court Martial; often, the Court of Appeal politely state that ‘the Judge failed to properly reflect’ certain aspects of the case. In other cases, the Court expressly state that there can be no criticism of the sentencing judge, and state their reasons for taking that view. Here, we have neither.
The conviction appeal will be heard in early 2013.