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.
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.
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 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.
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.