A few weeks ago you may have seen a story in the press about Boris Johnson urging a fellow passenger on his flight from Kuala Lumpar to London to “calm down” or risk being arrested.
It appears that the passenger in question, David Morris, 43, was drunk and had been violent and abusive towards members of the crew. It had been alleged that Morris had been racially abusive to members of the crew, demanding more drinks and being aggressive. A witness said after several attempts to calm him down, six cabin staff handcuffed him, tied his legs and then strapped him in his seat.
The BBC covered the story here if you’d like a few more details.
It appears that on Thursday 18 December, Mr Morris pleaded guilty at Uxbridge Mags’ Court. There appears to be a little confusion as to why his case is being sent to Isleworth Crown Court for sentencing – after all, the headlines suggest that Morris pleaded to common assault, which regular readers of the blog will know is a summary only offence meaning it can only be dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court save for certain exceptions.
Morris in fact pleaded guilty to common assault and drunkenness in an aircraft.
Common assault (Criminal Justice Act 1988 s.39) – summary only offence with a maximum penalty of 6 months’ custody.
Drunkenness in an aircraft (Air Navigation Order 2009 art.139). Article 139 is listed in Schedule 13 Part C of the Order and accordingly, art.241(7) states that such offences are triable either way and the maximum sentence is one of two years’ custody.
Therefore, although it may appear to many that the assault is the more serious offence, it is due to the drunknness offence that Magistrates have the ability to send this case up to the Crown Court. The common assault offence, being “joined’ to the drunknness offence (by virtue of it arising out of the same set of facts) will also be sentenced in the Crown Court.
Morris pleaded guilty and so we can expect a reduction of a third or thereabouts (it seems unlikely that a judge would consider the evidence in this case “overwhelming” – but you never know).
The judge will obviously have to bear in mind totality and we would expect concurrent sentences to be imposed for this reason; however, as always, it is the total that matters, not the way in which the sentence is made up.
Courts (rightly) take instances of drunknness etc. on aircraft very seriously; it is easy to see why. The potential for disaster need not be explained. The Court of Appeal have said that offences of drunkenness in an aircraft will always require condign punishment, especially for the reason of deterrence.
We would expect an immediate custodial sentence (there being nothing in the news reports that indicate a suspended sentence would be appropriate) in the order of 6-12 months, though 12 months may be a little on the high side considering the plea and the apparent remorse.
We’ll come back to the story in January when he is sentenced.