Wednesday 17 October 2018

Fracking protesters ~ sentences were manifestly excessive

The three men convicted of public nuisance in connection with their protest against "fracking" at a Cuadrilla site near Preston have had their sentences of imprisonment quashed.

Whilst The Guardian reports that the men "walked free" this is not strictly accurate.   They are out of prison but they remain convicted.  The Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) held that their sentences were "manifestly excessive" and that community sentences with a significant amount of unpaid work would have been appropriate.  Given that the men have been in prison for three weeks, the court substituted conditional discharges for 2 years.

A conditional discharge has the effect specified by the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 section 13.  Then three men would be well advised not to commit any further offence within the 2 year period because, if they do, the court may deal with them, for the offence for which the order was made, in any way in which it could deal with them if they had just been convicted by or before that court of that offence.

From the outset, these sentences appeared to be excessive (post 27 September).  There is a further question relating to an appearance of bias on the part of the judge who sentenced the men (post October 2018).  The point was raised in the Court of Appeal when Kirsty Brimelow QC (for the men) said that there "is sufficient evidence here to raise apparent bias, in particular we rely on the letter written by his sister in support of fracking in 2014. That letter was orchestrated by Cuadrilla.”   The Lord Chief Justice did not accept this as grounds in the appeal saying that the issue needed further investigation and a response from Altham.

It is reported that the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO) has received a complaint regarding HHJ Robert Altham which will be considered in accordance with the relevant rules and procedures.

The vast majority of judicial complaints relate to Justices of the Peace and complaints against professional judges are relatively rare - see JCIO here.

The Court of Appeal will hand down reasons for its decision at a later date.

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