Hackney solicitor accuses judiciary of abandoning rule book for London riots cases

TWO weeks ago a mother and daughter charged with looting a convenience store in Clarence Road, Hackney, appeared before Thames Magistrates Courts ready to be sent to Crown Court with the spectre of a heavy sentence looming.

Instead, the case was kicked out after the prosecution requested a further two weeks to gather evidence.

It had already had five while the 38-year-old mother was held on remand and the daughter under strict bail conditions.

The solicitors representing the pair said it was their fourth riot-related case in East London to be discharged at committal stage that week, something that normally rarely happens.

In fact as of October 4, 16 per cent of Hackney’s riot related cases brought before the courts were discharged.

Judges at Thames Magistrates Court have been inclined to keep ‘rioters’ on remand despite a lack of evidence at times

Jonathan White, head of the higher court team at McCormacks Solicitors, believes the Crown Prosecution Service were under pressure to charge suspects with less evidence than usual following the reaction to the unrest in August.

But he is more concerned at the number of people being held on remand, often with little evidence against them.

He said: “The rule book in terms of bail has been thrown out of the window here. As far as I can tell the message came from within the government that bail should be withheld in all but the most exceptional of cases. You can see that in the statistics.”

In August 2010 between 12 and 15 per cent of people were held on remand compared to 60 to 70 per cent in 2011, he said.

In Hackney 75 per cent (102) of the riot-related cases that have gone before the courts have been remanded in custody.

“And of course the outcome of that has been there are many people whose case has now been discharged, or who in due course may well be acquitted, who have spent a considerable amount of time in overcrowded conditions in places like Pentonville Prison for an offence they didn’t commit and that’s obviously concerning.

“It can cost people their employment, it can cost people their accommodation. Holding someone on remand is a serious step and should only really be done if there is a substantial risk or concern that person will commit a further offence or fail to attend court for a future hearing and if those substantial risks don’t exist then the person should really be granted bail.”

As of October 4, Hackney Police had charged 136 people of which 34 were bailed and 22 discharged.

White said: “Clearly these were serious disturbances and its right the people responsible for them should be punished however the justice system operates on a set of rules and procedures and if you are going to depart from the guidelines you should first of all make it very clear why you are doing that.

“There is a principal that you’re innocent until you are proven guilty and that principal must not be thrown out of the window in any circumstances because the consequences of being falsely accused and falsely held on remand can be devastating for an individual or family.”

A spokesman for the Judiciary Communications Office, responsible for setting bail conditions, would not answer questions as to why there was such a dramatic increase in the number of people being held on remand and would only say that bail was granted on a case-by-case basis.

Yesterday the Court of Appeal said that involvement in the riots aggravates respective cases and that tougher sentencing is appropriate.

The Court upheld seven of the ten test cases it was reviewing including four-year sentences given to two men for posting Facebook pages inciting rioting.

Three people sentenced for handling stolen goods had their terms reduced.

The judges made it clear sentencing was intended to provide both a punishment and a deterrent and should be longer than if the crimes were carried out individually.

Referring to the number of cases being discharged, a CPS spokesman said the organisation had had to deal with an unprecedented workload since the unrest in August and sometimes prepare for court hearings over short periods of time.

He said: “A small proportion of cases have been discharged before being committed to the Crown court because insufficient evidence was available at the time.

“It is important to note that these are not acquittals and the CPS with the police will be working to obtain the necessary evidence. Where it is available, and it is in the public interest, we will be recharging the defendants.”

One thought on “Hackney solicitor accuses judiciary of abandoning rule book for London riots cases

  1. I was speaking to a criminal defence barrister today about sentence guidelines, especially the new ones for assault. She was very clear about advice courts given re: riots. That there was not holding back. The Facebook two who are appealing 4yrs will get 4yrs. Appeal was/to be rejected. Shocking

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