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Sentencing Hearings

The LCJ gave an ex temp-ore judgment (30th April 2020) in an AG’s Ref (R. v Manning) and made the observations copied below. The judgment won’t be available for a few week; the extract to follow this text is not expected to change. 

41. We would mention one other factor of relevance.  We are hearing this Reference at the end of April 2020, when the nation remains in lock-down as a result of the Covid-19 emergency.  The impact of that emergency on prisons is well-known.  We are being invited in this Reference to order a man to prison nine weeks after he was given a suspended sentence, when he has complied with his curfew and has engaged successfully with the Probation Service.  The current conditions in prisons represent a factor which can properly be taken into account in deciding whether to suspend a sentence.  In accordance with established principles, any court will take into account the likely impact of a custodial sentence upon an offender and, where appropriate, upon others as well.  Judges and magistrates can, therefore, and in our judgment should, keep in mind that the impact of a custodial sentence is likely to be heavier during the current emergency than it would otherwise be.  Those in custody are, for example, confined to their cells for much longer periods than would otherwise be the case – currently, 23 hours a day.  They are unable to receive visits.  Both they and their families are likely to be anxious about the risk of the transmission of Covid-19. 

  1. Applying ordinary principles, where a court is satisfied that a custodial sentence must be imposed, the likely impact of that sentence continues to be relevant to the further decisions as to its necessary length and whether it can be suspended.  Moreover, sentencers can and should also bear in mind the Reduction in Sentence Guideline.  That makes clear that a guilty plea may result in a different type of sentence or enable a Magistrates’ Court to retain jurisdiction, rather than committing for sentence.