Saturday, 29 December 2012

The death of a drug seller ~ Fixing the minimum term of imprisonment

Adam Vincent was a drug addict and in bad health as a result.  He sold drugs on the streets for the Griffiths family who operated their drug operation from a bungalow in Grimsby.  Lee Griffiths, Luke Griffiths, Thomas Griffiths and Mark Jackson were convicted before a judge and jury of the brutal murder of Vincent.  They appealed against the minimum terms of imprisonment determined by the trial judge who applied the Criminal Justice Act 2003 sections 269 and 270 and Schedule 21.

Lee Griffiths, Luke Griffiths, Thomas Griffiths and Mark Jackson v R [2012] EWCA Crim 2822 Hughes LJ, Ramsay and Irwin JJ

The court said - para. 15 - "We entirely agree with the judge's self direction that Schedule 21 cannot be applied mechanically, and that paragraph 5(2) is in no sense an exhaustive list of the kinds of case which a court may determine to be of particularly high seriousness. This court has said so on too many occasions to list. A mechanical application of the Schedule is apt to create absurd anomalies, such as that corrected in R v Height ; Anderson [2008] EWCA Crim 2500; [2009] 1 Cr App R(S) 676, where a simplistic application of the schedule would have resulted in the paid contract killer being subject to a starting point double that of the employer who incited and engaged him and for whose purposes the killing was carried out. Nor can the Schedule be applied in an arithmetical manner, by adding or subtracting years attributable to separate features of the case: that was demonstrated to be unworkable in R v Peters and others [2005] EWCA Crim 605; [2005 2 Cr App R (S) 101 at 627; see paragraph [8]. As was observed in R v Jones [2005] EWCA Crim 3414; [2006] 2 CR App R(S) 18 at 117, the very large gaps between the starting points identified in the Schedule present a sentencer with considerable difficulties in his quest to match the penalty to the infinitely variable circumstances of crime. It is nonetheless clear that it was not Parliament's intention that the Schedule should be applied mechanically by fitting each case into the nearest available starting point and making only minor adjustments to it. That is clear from paragraph 9 of the Schedule, which says:
"Detailed consideration of aggravating or mitigating factors may result in a minimum term of any length (whatever the starting point)…."

It is perhaps somewhat surprising, so long after it came into law, that the court needed to re-emphasise then non-mechanical approach necessary when applying Schedule 21.  The aim is to pass a minimum term which reflects the true criminality involved.

The result is not necessarily a simple exercise for the judge to conduct but it is plainly what Parliament intended.  The judgment is not particularly lengthy and is well worth reading by the general public.  In the result, the minimum terms for these men were set by the Court of Appeal at:

Lee Griffiths: 30 years
Luke Griffiths: 23 years
Thomas Griffiths: 25 years
Mark Jackson: 25 years.

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