Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Assault on Goalkeeper

The match between Sheffield Wednesday FC and Leeds United FC on 19th October was played at Sheffield Wednesday's home ground - Hillsborough. The match was a 1-1 draw but was marred by an ugly incident when 21 year old Aaron Crawley assaulted the Sheffield goalkeeper - Chris Kirkland.   Sitting at Sheffield Magistrates' Court - District Judge (Magistrates' Courts) Naomi Redhouse sentenced Crawley to 16 weeks imprisonment and imposed a Football Banning Order for 6 years.  Crawley is described in some media reports as an unemployed labourer.

A short video of the incident is at The Guardian 21st October

Crawley - so it is reported - told Police that he did not remember joining a pitch invasion and pushing Kirkland since he had drunk several cans of lager, three-quarters of a litre of vodka and up to 10 pints of cider.  However, according to this report, it appears that he only realised what he had done when other people told him and he saw himself on TV. He immediately made contact with police.  In court, he entered a guilty plea to common assault.

Unfortunately, there are no published sentencing remarks from the judge.  In Magistrates' Courts, publication of sentencing remarks is the exception rather than the rule.  The publication of such remarks would probably improve public confidence in sentencing generally.  At the very least, the public would have access to the factors taken into account as opposed to, for example, media reports which rarely seem to mention important details such as the precise charges.

Sentencing ~ Guidance:

The CJA 2003 sets out the purposes of sentencing (section 142); determining seriousness (section 143); reduction in sentence for guilty pleas (section 144); general restrictions on custodial sentences (section 152) and general restrictions on length of custodial sentences (section 153). 

The latest guidelines for Common Assault are in the Magistrates' Courts Sentencing Guidelines (page 213).  These are newer guidelines applicable from June 2011.  The reader will find it instructive to follow the guidance through and see what kind of sentence is arrived at.

The guidance requires the sentencer to decide which category - 1, 2 or 3 - the case falls into.  Here, I would think that the judge decided Category 1 (Greater harm and higher culpability).  Greater harm because, for one thing, Kirkland required medical attention.  The culpability is clear and is high even though Crawley claimed to have been unaware of what he did.  (Whether the judge actually believed that story is not known).

For Category 1, the starting point for sentencing is a High Level Community Order with a range from low level community order to 26 weeks custody.  Aggravating features in this offence would include: the location (a football ground where an incident might ignite further trouble); commission of the offence under the influence of alcohol or drugs (Crawley admitted to drinking a very considerable amount); failure to comply with any court orders.  There appears to be little here to reduce the seriousness of the offence apart, possibly, from the fact that the violence was basically a single push.  It is unlikely that this would weigh very much in the mind of the sentencer in this case.

Applying the "custody threshold" to all of this then the judge was almost certain to conclude that  the offence was so serious that neither a fine alone nor a community sentence can be justified.  The judge chose to go to the maximum end of the custody range (24 weeks or 6 months) and then reduce it by one-third for Crawley's guilty plea - hence a sentence of 16 weeks custody.  An entirely well merited sentence.

Football Banning Orders:

Football Banning Orders were the subject of a separate post back in February.  It appears that Crawley had received such orders in the past and is, since this case, subject to a 6 year order.   Media reports are not particularly clear as to whether he was actually on such an order at the time of this match.  (Again, a good reason to have court reasons published).  In this case, a 6 year order is the minimum which could be imposed under the Football Spectators Act 1989 s.14F and a 10 year order could have been made.

(Breach of a football banning order is an offence punishable with up to 6 months imprisonment.  It is to be noted that where a Magistrates' Court deals with two or more summary imprisonable offences on the same occasion, the maximum custodial sentence is limited to 6 months.  The separate sentences are not accumulated).


From 1st October 2012, the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (Surcharge) Order 2012 came into force.  Where an immediate custodial sentence is imposed of 6 months and below, the Order seems to mandate a surcharge of £80.  However, this will (for the moment) only apply if it is the Crown Court which imposes the sentence.  The government intends to legislate to make this applicable to Magistrates' Courts.


I keep "banging on" about reasons and make no apology for it.  They are required by the Criminal Justice Act 2003 s.174; they inform the offender, witnesses, victims and the general public; they build confidence and accountability.

As to how extensive reasons must be has been the subject of some case law which is helpfully summarised in a recent judgment of the High Court - R (Aitchison) v Sheffield Crown Court [2012] EWHC 2844 (Admin).  This issue in the High Court hearing was whether, on an appeal from Magistrates to the Crown Court, the reasons given by the Crown Court for a finding of guilt were adequate.  The High Court said that the Crown Court's reasons need not be lengthy or elaborate. "The Crown Court judge giving the decision of the court upon the appeal must say enough to demonstrate that the court has identified the main contentious issues in the case, and how it has resolved them…. The reasoning required will depend on the circumstances. In some cases the bald statement that the evidence of a particular witness is accepted may be sufficient."  The same would apply to reasons issued for convictions in the Magistrates' Court and, similarly, only brief reasons would need be given to indicate why a particular sentence has been chosen.  To that would be added any requirement under section 174 for any explanation about matters such as breach of orders.

As a final observation.  It is irresponsible drinking like that of Crawley which has led to demands for minimum pricing for alcohol.  The effectiveness of this idea is debatable.  Irresponsible drinkers always seem to find the money somehow.  Although Crawley is described as an unemployed labourer, he seems to have had plenty of cash to spend on his drinking.


  1. You can make sentencing reasons available for publication; but you cannot make anyone publish them, and in all but the rarest cases (such as this) they would never see the light of day. Man bites dog . . .

    There is no such thing as an unemployed labourer; if you are unemployed you are unemployed, and available for any work you are physically capable of doing. Unemployed former labourer.

    1. Sentencing reasons do sometimes see light of day. The MoJ / Judiciary could put together a mechanism to make sentencing reasons more publicly available. I don't suppose that there is really a will to do this and the financial climate would be used as the reason for not doing it. Unfortunately, the result is that the public are fed media reports which lack key detail and can be positively misleading.

      "Unemployed labourer" - OK - semantics - that's how the media described him - as the post states.

      The courts frequently see offenders who are "unemployed" but seem to have plenty of spare cash for their booze and other things that fall within their individual priorities. There is little doubt that a lot of work continues to be done for cash in hand pay - no questions asked.

  2. Cawley may have "remembered" to hand himself in when his name started trending on Twitter and appeared on Facebook. As to surcharges these smack of a desperate govt trying to raise revenue. I support Sheffield Utd;)