Tuesday, 3 January 2012

The Stephen Lawrence murder: convictions; double jeopardy and sentencing

ADDENDUM - 5th January - The Attorney-General is considering whether to refer the Dobson and Norris sentences to the Court of Appeal - The Guardian 5th January.   See Criminal Justice Act 1988 s.36.    A reference may be made if the sentence is considered by the Attorney to be "unduly lenient" and therefore the Court of Appeal will only intervene if the sentence was significantly less than that which should have been imposed.  The Court of Appeal must give leave for the reference to be made.  It is instructive to see the minimum terms set by the Lord Chief Justice for young offenders in some of the older cases.

On 1st February, it was announced that the Attorney-General would not be referring these sentences to the Court of Appeal - see The Guardian 1st February

UPDATED 4th January - Post-sentence

It was on 22nd April 1993 that Stephen Lawrence was attacked and killed.  The BBC has produced an excellent "time line" of this tragic case.  Today, at a trial held at The Old Bailey (Treacy J and a jury), two men - Gary Dobson and David Norris) - were convicted of the murder of Stephen - Telegraph 3rd January.

From the outset, Gary Dobson and David Norris were implicated in the murder along with certain other suspects.  However, a prosecution against two (Neil Acourt and Luke Knight) was discontinued in July 1993.  In 1994, a private prosecution was mounted against Gary Dobson, Luke Knight and Neil Acourt but formal acquittals were entered in 1996 when Curtis J ruled certain identification evidence to be inadmissible.

The Macpherson Report:

In July 1997 an inquiry under the Chairmanship of Sir William Macpherson was announced and reported in February 1999.  The report extends to 47 Chapters and Appendices and was condemnatory of policing. 

Double jeopardy:

Historically, the common law
set its face against the idea that a person could be tried more than once for an offence - the so-called "double jeopardy" rule.  In April 2005 the law was amended by Part 10 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and the change enabled Dobson to be tried again. 

Explanatory Notes to Part 10 indicate that the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) may order a retrial in respect of certain very serious offences where new and compelling evidence has come to light.  "Examples of new evidence might include DNA or fingerprint tests, or new witnesses to the offence coming forward."  The legislation contains various safeguards aimed at prevention of harassment of acquitted persons in cases where there is not a genuine question of new and compelling evidence.  The personal consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is required both to the taking of significant steps in the re-opening of investigations – except in urgent cases – and to the making of an application to the Court of Appeal.

The change to the double jeopardy rule was considered by the Law Commission  - No. 267 (2001) Cm 5048  - which recommended that the rule against double jeopardy should be "subject to an exception in certain cases where new evidence is discovered after an acquittal" but only in certain serious cases (including murder) and the Commission also recommended that the exception have retrospective effect so that it applied equally to acquittals which have already taken place before the exception came into force.  The scheme finally enacted in the CJA 2003 is not exactly as recommended by the Law Commission but section 75(6) clearly states - "This Part applies whether the acquittal was before or after the passing of this Act."

In May 2011, the Court of Appeal considered the case and ordered a retrial.  The court's judgment (Lord Judge CJ, Rafferty and Holroyde JJ) was withheld until the trial concluded and was then published on 3rd January 2012.


The sentence for murder is basically life imprisonment: Murder (Abolition of the Death Penalty) Act 1965.  However, for those under the age of 18 at the time of the murder, the sentence is detention during Her Majesty's pleasure.  The trial judge sets a minimum term which must be served before the offender may be considered by the Parole Board for release.

The Criminal Justice Act 2003 Schedule 21 is the modern basis for determining the minimum period of imprisonment.  However, this Schedule came into force on 18th December 2003.  For this reason, Dobson and Norris had to be sentenced in accordance with sentencing practice applicable prior to Schedule 21.   

Dobson and Norris were both sentenced to detention during Her Majesty's Pleasure. Dobson's minimum term was set at 15 years and 2 months.  Norris's minimum term was set at 14 years 3 months.  The sentencing remarks of Treacy J are here (or via Bailii).  It was clear that both were members of a gang where there was group acceptance of the use of knives to threaten or harm black people.

Ar a subsequent hearing on 15th Febryary 2012, Treacy J issued an addendum to his sentencing remarks.

This has been a long and hard road to some form of justice for the Lawrence family.  It is perhaps a pity that television of the sentencing hearing was not available.  The criminal justice system is slowly moving in that direction - see Ministry of Justice September 2011


Looking back - the Inquest verdict in February 1997 - video / report by Joshua Rozenberg.  NB: At the time of the inquest the law on double jeopardy had not been reformed.

1 comment:

  1. Tragic case which is surely going to impact future hate crime murder cases such as the one in Manchester.