On 28 October 2014, the Guardian ran a story about Eric Joyce MP seemingly getting himself into another spot of bother.
On 27 May 2015, he was sentenced.
You may well remember Mr Joyce’s name cropping up in 2012 for assaulting four individuals in a House of Commons bar. This led to his resignation from the Labour party and resulted in a 12-month community order, a £3,000 fine and a £1,400 compensation order.
So what happened this time?
Well it’s a little unclear, however piecing things together from various news reports, it appears that Mr Joyce detained two boys in a shop after some damage had been caused (presumably by the boys). Mr Joyce asked the shop keeper to call the police, who upon arrival “found a man and two teenage boys involved in an altercation”.
We know that Joyce threw one of the boys, aged 14, to the ground and held him by the throat. The other boy was elbowed by Joyce as he attempted to come to his friend’s aid.
Joyce put forward a “citizen’s arrest” defence, attempting to justify his actions as lawful on the basis that his response to the situation in the shop was reasonable. The judge said that the defence “lacked credibility” and that the evidence against him was overwhelming.
The judge acknowledged Joyce’s attempts to overcome his drinking problem and urged him to restrain himself from violence, imposing a suspended sentence of 10 weeks with a requirement that he attends a course concerned with addressing his violent behaviour. There were also financial orders totalling £1,080 – it was reported as being a fine, but is more likely to have been a combination of a fine, costs and the victim surcharge. The criminal courts charge does not apply in this case as the offence was committed before 13 April 2015.
Joyce later said: “In the end it was a 14-year-old boy and that is a shame and a cause of considerable remorse and I have to both pay the price and make sure I don’t do it again.”
Joyce was originally arrested on suspicion of ABH, however this was dropped to common assault. Looking at the guidelines (see p.23), the judge appears to have placed the offence into category 1 (as the category range is a low level community order to 26 weeks). We have few details about the injuries of the boys (or indeed the surrounding circumstances) but based on the news reports it would appear that this might be a little over the top. However, when factoring in the primary aggravating features of this offence namely the ages of the victims (and therefore their inherent vulnerability) and Joyce’s previous for violent offences, the judge appears justified in elevating the offence to one which crossed the custody threshold.
As for the decision to suspend the sentence, we can only speculate, however Joyce’s attempts to deal with his drinking problem and willingness to undergo a course aimed at reducing his violent behaviour will no doubt have helped in that cause.
Given Joyce’s statement after he was sentenced, we don’t expect an appeal. A different judge on a different day might have imposed a community order, but we’d struggled to say that a very short suspended sentence is so far outside the permissible range of sentences so as to be wrong.
Let’s hope this is the last we hear of Eric Joyce being in trouble with the police.