THERE has been a lot of discussion in the last couple of weeks over the fairness and consistency of jail sentences.
In the wake of the riots last month, some people in the media expressed concern that criminals were receiving more severe sentences simply by being present in the looting, than would otherwise have been the case.
Other people responded by saying that prison sentences are not tough enough, and swift and sharp prison sentences should be provided in all cases.
Whatever people’s view, I think it is vital that people have confidence in the justice system and that they feel that victims and their families are at the heart of the criminal justice system. I don’t think people believe this is the case.
This is certainly the case with an issue I brought up in Parliament on behalf of a Hartlepool family.
Daryl Stevens was viciously attacked with a broken bottle and was hit in the face, neck and head. Doctors operated on him in a four-hour operation to remove glass shards from his back and spine, and told Daryl and his family that he was lucky not to face permanent paralysis or even death.
Most people would believe that common sense of justice would mean that a long and heavy prison sentence would result from such a violent attack. I would agree with that.
In our country, politicians and judges have different roles and responsibilities.
Politicians make the law and set out the guidelines for sentences.
Judges interpret the law and make rulings based upon the individual circumstances of the case.
In cases of violent assault such as this, Parliament has recognised that the crime is so serious that it has stated that such attacks can warrant a sentence of life imprisonment.
However, in this case, the person who attacked Daryl Stevens received a prison sentence of just three years.
I’m confident that the vast majority of Hartlepool people will think that sentence is far too lenient. One person who certainly did was Daryl’s mother, Mrs Jacqueline Stevens, who has campaigned tirelessly on behalf of her son.
One aspect which particularly disturbed me about the case and why I wanted to raise the matter in Parliament, is that Daryl’s attacker had breached the conditions of his licence from a previous violent attacker.
The sentencing guidelines laid down from Parliament states that a “serious aggravating factor” which should increase a sentence is when the offender breaches the terms of his or her licence.
This happened here and the fact that it doesn’t seem to have been considered in this case, or least given greater prominence in the sentencing decision, means that Mrs Stevens understandably feels that justice has not been done.
It is vital that people have confidence in the justice system. I have always worked as Hartlepool’s MP to ensure that the law falls on the side of the victim. Decent people like Mrs Stevens and her son Daryl deserve nothing less.