Tag Archives: attorney general’s references

Stuart Hall – Att-Gen’s Ref judgment released

Stuart Hall, very publicly, had his 15 month sentence for 14 counts of indecent assault, increased to 30 months by the Court of Appeal last month.

The judgment has now been released and is available here: Stuart Hall AG’s Ref

The court spent a great deal of time going through the facts of the indecent assault and to save time, space and because they were well documented, I wont rehearse them here. In the judgment, they are at paras 3 – 63.

Having had a chance to skim the report, I noted a few interesting points. I copy the paras from the judgment and paste them below. The numbers refer to the paragraphs of the judgment.

None of the comments are intended in any way to defend Stuart Hall’s actions. This is an examination from a legal view point, on the comments made by the Court of Appeal and the way in which they approached the sentencing exercise.

 Hall’s very public denial of the offences

66. We take the view that what we are about to describe is a serious aggravating feature of these crimes.  The offender made a public statement to the media on the steps of the magistrates’ court.  He proclaimed his innocence:

“May I say these allegations are pernicious – callous, cruel and, above all, spurious.  May I just say I am not guilty and will be defending these allegations.

67.  Whatever legal advice the offender had by then been given, he knew the truth.  He knew that he was guilty of molesting the complainants.  As we have said, this deliberate falsehood is a seriously aggravating feature.

This was an indication of what was to come. The strength of the words used by the LCJ leaves no doubt that the end result was going to be an increased sentence. The court took a very dim view of the comments made by Hall. Presumably, the effect of the comments was aggravated by the public nature of the case – is that something for which he should be punished? If you or I were charged with a series of offences, the media probably wouldn’t be interested in hearing a statement setting out our disappointment and anger at the ‘false’ allegations. If they were, it probably wouldn’t make the headlines.

There was always going to be media attention because Hall is a public figure. Are we content with punishing celebrities merely because they appear(ed) on the telly?

Dan Bunting asked the interesting question as to whether the CPS should not make statements after charging someone. His opinion piece for Criminal Law and Justice can be seen here.

68.  The offender was an expert in the ways of the media.  He was fully alert to the possible advantages of manipulating the media.  At that date he was hoping to escape justice and he was, as we see it, attempting to use the media for the purpose of possibly influencing potential jurors.  He was traducing thirteen adult women who had been sexually assaulted by him in different ways 20 to 30 years ago.

To my mind the judgment goes too far here. To suggest that Hall’s statement was an attempt to influence a potential jury seems to lack sufficient grounding in any evidence. He knew the media were listening and interested, but, as Dan asked in his article, does Hall not have the right of a response after the CPS have made their statement? Further, is the approach taken by the LCJ one which fails to appreciate the nature of celebrity? Is it not necessary for celebs to make strong statements denying any wrongdoing for fear of the press and public whispering ‘well he didn’t deny it’ etc? In the 21st century, PR is an important concept. Firms, individuals, governments spend vast amounts of money on projecting the right image. I do not defend the comments made, but I question whether it is correct to a) find that it was an attempt to influence jurors and b) punish Hall for that.

69.  Whatever it may or may not have done to influence any potential juror, we have a clear idea of what it did to some of the victims.  One victim describes how the offender’s outburst “absolutely incensed” her.  She felt furious about his blatant lies.

This is undoubtedly a good point, but again is based on the idea that Hall is to be punished for being a celebrity. The statements were more widely disseminated because of who he is. Is it right to punish him because his job places him in the public eye and the public want to hear what he has to say?

The mitigation

73.  We note that the last incident occurred in 1986 and that there is no further offence recorded.  The offender no longer represents a risk or threat to children or young women.  His age and level of infirmity, too, are relevant to the sentencing decision, but need to be approached with a degree of caution.

The mitigation might have received a few more paragraphs than the brief reference above. The LCJ did recite the main points made by Hall’s counsel, however the brevity with which the mitigation was dealt with was a further indication that Hall was fighting a losing battle. Age and health are two recognised factors which can – and do – reduce a sentence. These points appear to have been given short shrift.

The passage of time

73. In reality the offender has got away with his offending for decades.

With the amount of public anger in relation to historic offences at the moment it was unsurprising that this point was underlined.

Hall the celebrity

75. The offender’s successful career provides no mitigation.  On the contrary, it was the career that put him in a position of trust which he was then able to exploit and which contributed to his image as a cheerful, fun-loving, fundamentally decent man.  This contributed to the view that he could be trusted; and second, if he could not be trusted, effectively he was untouchable.

I have trouble with this point. The successful career of a convicted criminal is relevant in my view as it represents a fall from grace in public opinion. It may also represent the end of a career and a destruction of one’s character. None of that is undeserved but I think it is relevant to the individual circumstances. The LCJ has often said that cases are fact specific and sentences must reflect the specific features of a case.

Frequently, the Court of Appeal has noted that loss of career and reputation (albeit usually in the local community etc.) In R v Cornwall 2012 EWCA Crim 1227, 2013 1 Cr App R (S) 30 (p 158)The court said that the Judge had wrongly rejected the loss of D’s career as a mitigating factor. I question whether this point was wrongly made.

The guilty plea

78.  We must specifically address the issue of the discount for the guilty plea.  The offender did plead guilty – not at the first opportunity, but, more important, not before he had publicly and deliberately attacked the victims.  There are two ways of approaching what we have already described as a seriously aggravating feature of the case.  We can either reduce the appropriate discount by 25% taken by the judge to allow for the unusual feature that preceded the indication of a guilty plea; or we can add the aggravating feature to our starting point and then apply the appropriate discount to whatever sentence we think right in the light of the aggravating feature.

79.  We consider that the appropriate course consistent with current sentencing practice is to reflect this distressing behaviour in the assessment of the sentence and then discount from it to allow for the guilty plea.

This is exactly the approach expected to be taken. Though I disagree with the calculation and amount of deduction for the comments made and the apparent influence of a potential jury, I agree with the process of making the deduction taking account of those factors.

Double jeopardy

88. The double jeopardy principle does not apply.  The appellant is in custody; he has been sentenced to an immediate custodial term; and he has known that the Attorney General proposed to refer the sentence to this court.

I am not a huge fan of the double jeopardy principle – the idea that because a defendant has the stress of being sentenced twice, he or she should receive a little bit of a discount.

The deductions for double jeopardy where a defendant received a non-custodial sentence at the Crown Court, but the Att-Gen referred it to the Court of Appeal and the Court of Appeal impose a custodial sentence, are  – for obvious reasons – significant.

To simply say that because Stuart Hall was in custody and he knew the Att-Gen wished to refer the case is over simplistic in my view and ignores the obvious stress of having to go through the process again, with the additional media coverage, knowing that the sentence could have been doubled, trebled or worse.

Approach taken by the sentencing judge

80.  The judge decided, and we agree with him, that, notwithstanding the features of mitigation, an immediate custodial sentence was appropriate.  He proceeded to examine each offence in meticulous detail, and we acknowledge the care that he took.  He then applied the totality principle with which again we agree.

There is a notable lack of criticism of the Judge. They court approved his approach and indeed declined to rearrange the sentences when they could very well have done so.

In fact, they implicitly approved the sentences given on each count (because they didn’t increase them) but disagreed only with the totality point, that the overall total of 15 months was commensurate with the seriousness of the offences.

Arriving at the sentence

81.  The question for us is stark: In the context of the aggravating and the mitigating features, which we have identified, did a total sentence of 15 months’ imprisonment sufficiently reflect the cumulative effect of the offender’s criminality?  We cannot interfere with the sentence unless we are satisfied that it was unduly lenient.

82.  After a careful consideration of the facts and the detailed material, we are so satisfied.  We must keep the seriousness of the offences in proper perspective, as the Attorney General did… All of the offences were real assaults.

88.  We have come to the conclusion that, making every allowance that can reasonably be made for the matters of mitigation, this sentence was inadequate. 

89.  In our judgment this sentence should be increased from 15 months’ imprisonment to 30 months’ imprisonment.  The objective will be achieved by ordering that the sentence on count 15, which was ordered to run concurrently with the other sentences, should now be ordered to run consecutively.

This section is the most disappointing feature of the judgment; it fails to give the reasoning as to why the sentence was doubled, save for the fact the court felt 15 months was too low. Some reasoning as to why 30 months was right and 15 months was wrong might have been useful.

Sentencing is not a mathematical exercise, but it is helpful for counsel and for judges to see how a sentence has been reached.

Conclusion

I still believe 30 months is too long, based on the law as it then was, the factual background and some of the points noted above.

One might also ask what purpose it serves doubling his prison sentence when the court noted that he no longer poses a threat to anyone.

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Stuart Hall – Attorney General’s Reference against ‘lenient’ 15 month sentence

Stuart Hall was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment on 17th June 2013 for a series of sexual offences committed between 1967 and 1985 (or 1986, the Prosecution were unable to say which).

We covered the background to this offending here and the issues thrown up by historic sexual offences here.

Attorney-General’s References

The Attorney-General, following (reportedly) around 150 complaints (including from the Shadow Attorney General, Emily Thornberry MP) has referred the case to the Court of Appeal as he considers that the sentence is unduly lenient.

An Att-Gen’s reference is essentially a prosecution appeal against sentence. An overview can be found here. The Court of Appeal, sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice, Court 5, will be led by the outgoing (as in he is retiring, not that he is friendly and confident) Lord Chief Justice, Lady Just Rafferty (a former Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association) and Mrs Justice Macur (who has been promoted to the Court of Appeal, as a Lady Justice, but is yet to take up that appointment).

They will consider whether the 15 month sentence handed down by HHJ Russell QC at Preston was outside the range of sentences the judge could have considered reasonably appropriate when considering all of the relevant factors. Attorney-General’s references are designed to correct gross errors as opposed to replacing a sentence which is a little lenient, or different in nature to the one the Court of Appeal have in mind.

Stuart Hall

The starting point is the sentencing remarks, which are here. They are worth reading in full (especially if you are of the view that the sentence was too short).

There were 14 separate offences (relating to 13 separate victims). The ages of the victims were between 9 and 17 years old. The offences vary in seriousness, with the Judge noting that some of them, had they stood in isolation, “is by no means the worst example of sexual abuse of children to come before the Court“

The maximum sentence for indecent assault was originally 2 years, later to 5 (for children under the age of 13) and then to 10 years from 16th September 1985 (s3 Sexual Offences Act 1985).

The most serious offences were Counts 6, 15 and 16. Briefly, Count 6 involved a 13 year old girl who had been drinking. Mr Hall accepted touching her breasts and inserting a finger in her vagina. Counts 15 and 16 involved far less serious offending, but also attracted the highest sentence as the girls were so young (10 and 9 respectively).

It should be noted that the offence in Count 6 would today be charged as Assault by Penetration with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Given the facts of the offence, the starting point today would be in the region of 10 years (page 29).

An explanation of the sentence – and why the court are constrained by the maximum sentences of the 1960s can be seen here and here.

The outcome

The Court of Appeal increased the sentence, saying that the breach of trust seriously aggravated the offences (as did his pronouncement of denials of any wrongdoing on the steps of the Court, which the Court seemed to think was an attempt to influence a potential jury)

As a result, the sentence as a whole was not just merciful or lenient, but was unduly so. The Court doubled the sentence to 30 months. This is a significant increase (equating to a starting point of a sentence of 3½ years after trial, allowing for an element of double jeopardy.

Comment

To my mind, the sentence wasn’t unduly lenient when balancing all of the factors, such as his pleas, his age, the maximum sentences at the time and the guidance given by the Court of Appeal in the guideline case of R v H.

However, that said, there has been an awful lot of media pressure and public anger about the sentence and so I wasn’t surprised that the sentence is increased slightly. It was certainly not a severe sentence and so it is probably within the scope of the court to increase the sentence if they feel the judge did not properly assess the offences correctly. An increase to 30 months is a bigger increase than was expected.

Here is a link to a press release by the firm representing some of Stuart Hall’s victims detailing the reaction of one of the victims to the increase in sentence.