The case of Jones not only affirms the case of Manning, but goes further; the Court of Appeal have made it plain that the current prison conditions can and should be given weight not just when considering whether a defendant should be sent to custody, but also when deciding the length of any custodial sentence.
The case of Manning recognised that courts can consider the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on sentence. A summary of the case can be found here.
In Jones the court considered the impact of the change in the custodial environment brought about by the pandemic. The appeal against sentence was based on two grounds; firstly that the sentence was manifestly excessive and secondly that as the appellant was sentenced before lock-down, the sentencing judge would not have been aware of the restrictive conditions in which the appellant would be kept.
The appellant, aged 41, pleaded guilty to the attempted burglary of a public house committed at night whilst heavily under the influence of drugs. The premises were occupied by the landlady and her partner at the time of the offence. The appellant’s antecedents were poor, particularly with regard to dishonesty. At the time of sentence, the appellant had 66 previous convictions for 178 offences.
The sentencing court determined that the offence fell within category 2 and adopted a starting point of 12 months custody, reduced to 8 months after credit for a guilty plea.
The submission that the starting point was too high because certain mitigating features - including delay - had not been given sufficient weight, was rejected.
In relation to the second ground of appeal, the court was told that save for 30 minutes each day, the appellant was spending the entirety of the time locked in his cell and was not allowed any social visits.
The court considered the comments at paras 41-42 of Manning and came to the view that:
"In the present, exceptional, circumstances it is appropriate to take the conditions under which the applicant is presently held in custody into account. We do not of course criticise the judge for the sentence imposed because the judge was wholly unaware of the change in prison conditions that would arise just days after the sentence was imposed."
The appeal was allowed to the extent that the term of imprisonment was reduced from 8 months to 6 months.
9 ST JOHN STREET CRIMINAL TEAM