A common question when someone is sentenced to prison is ‘how long will they serve?’ There are fuller articles on this topic here, as well as a longer look at what happens when someone has been remanded before they are sentenced here.
The general rules is that someone will serve half the sentence in prison and then be released. They will then spend the rest of the sentence in the community, but can be sent back to prison under certain circumstances.
Our coverage of the Jeremy Forrest case is here. We thought that we would have a closer look at here because it raises some interesting questions.
Mr Forrest was arrested in France on 28th September 2013 and was extradited to the UK on the 10th October where he was charged with Child Abduction, appearing on Court the next day. He was convicted of that offence on 20th June 2013 and was sentenced the next day. On the 21st June 2013, as well as being sentenced for the Child Abduction, he was charged with, pleaded guilty to, and was sentenced, for 5 counts of Sexual Activity with a Child.
The total sentence was 5½ years, made up of one year for the Child Abduction, with 4½ years consecutive for the sexual offences.
Normally with a sentence of 5½ years you would add up the days that someone spends on remand and take that off the sentence. Here, Mr Forrest was remanded from 28th September 2012 to 20th June 2013 (the day before he was sentenced), a total of 266 days. This would give a release date (based on him serving half the 5½ years) of about 28th March 2015.
There are two issues that arise however:
1. Does the time Mr Forrest spent in a French prison count?
2. Does the fact that Mr Forrest was only charged with some offences later make a difference?
This is significant because the sentence for Child Abduction is 12 months. Normally Mr Forrest would be released after 6 months. The time on remand will count. But, and here’s the kicker, he was on remand for the Child Abduction for 9 months. That leaves an extra 3 months. Given that he wasn’t charged (let alone remanded) for the sex offences, can he ‘bank’ the extra 3 months and count it against that sentence?
Time in France
The law (s242 Criminal Justice Act 2003) is that time spent in a prison abroad “in connection with the offence, or any other offence the charge for which was founded on the same facts or evidence” will count. So that is 13 days that will count towards the offence of Child Abduction. Will it count towards the sexual offences charges?
So, will time on remand for one offence count if the person is sentenced to a different offence? Well, it will if it is a ‘related offence‘.
What is a related offence? The law says (s108 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012) :
“In this section “related offence” means an offence, other than the offence for which the sentence is imposed (“offence A”), with which the offender was charged and the charge for which was founded on the same facts or evidence as offence A”
Clear? As clear as a mud field in a dark night in the countryside.
There is no real guidance on what this means. It would seem on the face of it that the sexual offences were separate. The evidence was different and the facts were different. Whilst there was an overlap in the sense that it seems that the motive for going to France related to the sexual offences, it does not seem to us that the Child Abduction was ‘related’ to the sexual offences.
So, what difference does it make?
Instead of a release date of about 28th March 2015, if the offences are not related, then Mr Forrest will be released about 20th September 2015 (2¼ from the date of sentence, being half the sentence of 4½ years for the sexual offences). This is a difference of about six months. In effect, although the sentence passed by the Judge is 5½ years, it has the impact of being a six year sentence.
What did the Judge say?
The Judge does not have to address this in his sentencing remarks – it is all done administratively.
We looked at the Judge’s sentencing remarks here. In this case, there was no reference to this in what the Judge said. It would have been discussed prior to the sentence (if anyone was there for those discussions, please let us know).
It may be that the Judge concluded that the offences were related and so nothing need be said, or that the appropriate sentence was 6 years and it was reduced to 5½ to allow for that.
Does it matter?
There is a view that Mr Forrest deserves everything he gets, but the law should not work like that.
Also, the sentence passed is a matter of clear public interest (and certainly the public have been very interested in it). It is unfortunate that the Judge didn’t set out what view he had in relation to this.
Unless someone who was present can clarify this, we will have to wait for an appeal. Whatever the answer, it is unfortunate that this discussion wasn’t in the sentencing remarks or reported by the press.