Earlier this week the case of Stuart Kerner hit the headlines when he received a Suspended Sentence for two counts of sexual activity with a pupil. There was an outcry over the Judge’s comments when sentence Mr Kerner, followed by calls for the sentence to be subject to an Attorney-General’s Reference, which was always bound to fail.
Two days later on 16th January 2015 Amardip Bhopari came to Birmingham Crown Court to plead guilty and be sentenced to a rather similar case. She got two years – why the difference in sentences?
Again, we’re going off the news reports. Ms Bhopari “groomed the vulnerable 16-year-old pupil during classes at the Birmingham school where she worked.” Additionally, “she performed a sex act on the pupil in an art room after sending an x-rated text message. The pair later had sex in her car and home and on an industrial estate near the school, which cannot be identified. Bhopari, from Streetly, West Mids, showered gifts on the teen”.
It seems (although it is not completely clear) that the three counts were them having sex twice and an unspecified sex act committed by Ms Bhopari. The news reports imply that the victim was aged over 16 and this was therefore the same offence as Mr Kerner – s16 Sexual Offences Act 2003.
The starting point (as always) is the Sentencing Guidelines (page 67). It is clearly Harm Category 1. In terms of Culpability, it is probably Culpability A because of the grooming, the additional vulnerability of the victim and the use of alcohol.
In addition, there was a guilty plea at the earliest opportunity, so the full one third discount would have been available. This means that the starting point the Judge took was 3 years.
This is double the starting point and, more significantly, a year higher than the top of the range. The aggravating features that can be seen in the newspaper report make it a serious offence, but much of these are taken into account in putting it in to the highest category, so this should not increase the sentence much further.
So, why is the sentence so long? The short answer is that we don’t know. Even taking this at the top of the highest category, it does not seem that there is anything in this case to take it outside the range. We would have expected a starting point of about 21 months, reduced to 14 after the plea of guilty. In other words, this sentence is nearly 2 years too long. It may be of course that there are circumstances that we are not aware of that makes this more serious, but on the face of it, we would expect an appeal.
Why the difference with Stuart Kerner?
Well, all cases are different. But we would suggest that these appear to be relatively similar. It may be that Ms Bhopari’s offence was more serious, but then she did plead guilty.
It seems to us that the sentence for Mr Kerner was about right in length (although he was fortunate to have it suspended) and that Ms Bhopari’s sentence was not just long, but too long and should be reduced by the Court of Appeal (usual caveats applying of us not knowing the full facts).