Sentences must be decided by the judges

·1-min read
<span>Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA</span>
Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA

With regard to ‘Harper’s law’, Malcolm Fowler is against hobbling the court’s discretion by striving to ram square pegs into round holes

Zoe Williams is right about “Harper’s law” (PC Andrew Harper’s killing was appalling, but changing the law won’t protect key workers, 25 November). Like many former practitioners, I am for placing our trust in the experience and informed discretion of our judges to fashion the appropriate sentence, given all the circumstances of individual cases.

It follows that I am against hobbling the court’s discretion by striving to ram square pegs into round holes – this is what happens when we pretend to identify categories of offending, where on a wiser appraisal there are always differences to be found. Indeed, once such a category of “public servant” were to be established, where would it end?

The jury, understandably, faced with Andrew Harper’s violent death, found the defendants guilty of a dangerous and unlawful act resulting in a public servant’s death – of manslaughter rather than murder, with its mandatory life sentence. To deprive the judge of the exercise of assessing the just sentences to impose would distort the entire sentencing philosophy.

The sentences imposed were significant despite the relative youth of the offenders and in keeping with sound sentencing practice. Tinkering with intricate sentencing frameworks on the basis of cases such as this one is decidedly counterproductive.
Malcolm Fowler
Former chair, criminal law committee, the Law Society

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