Yesterday the Telegraph reported the case of a gang of youths who over a three-year period, caused £150,000 worth of damage to Tube trains in London.
The facts of the offence are not too important. What we are more concerned with is the implication that the Judge, in imposing the ‘least possible sentence’ is an example of the ‘soft judges’ about which the Telegraph and Daily Mail in particular regularly bemoan.
In fact, there is a good reason why the Judge said that he was imposing the least possible sentence. There is a duty imposed upon the courts to impose a custodial sentence for the shortest possible term, Criminal Justice Act 2003 s 153:
“…the custodial sentence must be for the shortest term (not exceeding the permitted maximum) that in the opinion of the court is commensurate with the seriousness of the offence…”
If we consider this provision, it is an obvious requirement – why would we want judges to impose sentences that were longer than necessary in order to meet the aims of the sentence? If 6 months is an appropriate punishment, and will allow for suitable rehabilitation, why waste public funds on a 9 month sentence? It makes no sense.
In this case, the Judge made other comments which the Telegraph appeared to take issue with:
“I don’t endorse it but I understand the adrenaline rush and the feeling it gives them and they may be isolated in their families.
“I don’t want to be doing this and I will by as lenient as I can be. They’ve got talent and some of Mr Rowe’s portfolio you would be proud of.”
“Clearly they are talented artists”
On one view, this is a ‘soft’ judge not treating the offence with the seriousness that it requires, considering the damage caused.
On the other, it is a judge who is trying to understand why the offenders have committed their offences, appreciate the circumstances of each offender and see the potential for the offenders to turn their talents away from graffiti and to lawful art.
Is that not what we want our judiciary to do?
The Judge imposed sentences of 2 years, 9 months and a 6-month Detention and Training Order.