I have been away from blogging for the past week, due to a combination of excitement at return of the football season and not being able to put my ipod headphones down whilst listening to the new Game album.
Yesterday’s news on the sentences of two lads who organised and encouraged people to riot on Facebook has, however, caught my eye and led me to question the impartiality of our court system.
Even though no trouble resulted from their actions, in part due to the fact that the police were one step ahead and had by then been monitoring sites like Facebook, Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan (pictured above) were both sentenced to four year’s in prison after pleading guilty to attempting to organise a riot via Facebook.
According to The Guardian Blackshaw, aged just 20, had set up a Facebook group called ‘Smash Down in Northwhich Town’ and encouraged people who wanted to riot to meet up behind a McDonalds in his town centre. Unluckily for him, no one else turned up other than the police who duly arrested him.
Sutcliffle-Keenan, aged 22, set up a Facebook page called ‘The Warrington Riots’ which was sent to over 400 of his Facebook contacts. Apparently he woke up the next day with a hangover and deleted the page immediately. The riot, again, did not materialise. The courts were told that his page had caused immense panic in the town and led to shops closing early that day.
Now there is no doubt that these two guys deserve to be punished for their actions, regardless of whether their Facebook page and group led to a riot or not. We all saw the disgusting scenes that resulted out of the London riots that were clearly organised over networks such as Facebook and BBM and there is no telling what would have happened in these cases had the police not been monitoring Facebook.
What does worry me, though, is the revelation that magistrates were advised by justices’ clerks to disregard normal sentencing rules when deciding on the correct sentences for riot cases. This advice has clearly had an effect on the decisions of the courts to give these two four-year jail terms for their crimes.
This sounds wrong for two reasons:
Firstly, had these crimes been committed one week before the riots had started it is obvious that the two guys would not have received such harsh sentences. Now I am no legal expert but it worries me if sentences and laws can change so quickly. A crime to me is a crime, no matter when or where it is committed, and changing the sentences of a crime to suit public opinion seems dangerous and inconsistent.
Secondly, it also seems like there is no sense of proportion when it comes to the sentencing of rioters. The fact that an offence like GBH can lead to a similar sentence as organising a non-existent riot makes a mockery of our justice system. Don’t get me wrong, many of the offences that took place during the riots were very serious indeed and deserve long sentences, but the two crimes highlighted above seem opportunistic at best and do not seem to warrant a similar sentence to GBH.
My last concern is related to the influence our politicians have had on the decisions of the courts. David Cameron has praised the two Facebook sentences and earlier called on the courts to issue ‘exemplary punishments’ to rioters. Ignoring the fact that Prime Ministers should not praise or condemn court sentences, surely the courts are experienced enough themselves to issue sentences without the interference of our Prime Minister. This interference may be the reason why we have seen such tough sentencing, such as the man who faces six months in jail for stealing a bottle of water.
So are the sentences being given out to some rioters overly harsh or are they getting their just deserts? I am not too sure, but what I do know is that locking up more and more people, some for very minor first term offences, will do nothing to ease our overcrowded prisons and nothing to sort out the moral problems in our youth.