riots update

March 3, 2015

During my time covering the riots of 2011 for the Guardian’s Reading the Riots project, I was tasked with interviewing defence lawyers for their views about the harsh sentences handed out to rioters.

All of them expressed concern about the length and manner in which sentences were handed out; the fact bail was routinely refused; and that magistrates seemed to be playing to the press gallery, making examples of individual defendants to score political points.

There were high profile critics of sentences at the time. Leading criminal barrister John Cooper QC said they were ‘over the top’, while former chair of the Criminal Bar Association, Paul Mendelle QC, said sentences were too long and harsh.

Yet politicians justified them, saying that the circumstances were extraordinary – and that rioters needed to ‘understand the consequences’ of their actions.

A recent report from Manchester University, however, confirms the view of those I interviewed at the time as well as critics of the courts’ approach.

By analysing data, they have shown that the sentences were ‘excessive and arbitrary’ – and say the justice system acted like ‘Judge Dredd’

My report for the Big issue in the North is below. Read a version for Equal Times here.

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