Mohammed and Shasta Khan

Mr and Mrs Khan were sentenced today for terrorism related offences. It is not entirely clear what the exact charges they faced were (The Ministry of Justice often release the sentencing remarks in high profile cases, but unfortunately not in this case). It was reported that Mohammed received an indeterminate sentence of 7½ years and his wife, Shasta, 8 years.

It seems that the couple both faced the same charges:

1 of Engaging in conduct in preparation of an act of terrorism (s5 Terrorism Act 2006 – maximum sentence : life imprisonment)

2 of Possessing Records of information likely to be useful to a person committing of preparing an act of terrorism (s57 Terrorism Act 2000 – maximum sentence : 15 years)

What do the sentences mean in practice for them?

Mohammed – He pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity and therefore got a full 1/3 discount. The sentence of IPP is the minimum he must serve before being released and equates to a determinate sentence of 15 years before the ‘credit’ for a plea of guilty. This means the starting point the Judge took was in the region of 22 years.

Shasta – As she had a trial, she could not get any credit for pleading guilty. The Judge therefore thought the 8 year sentence he passed was the right starting point. Given the way the release provision work she will be released after serving 4 years, so just under half of what her husband has to serve before he can be considered for release (he won’t be released until the Parole Board considers it safe to release him).

Why did they receive different types of sentences?

This isn’t clear from the news reports, but a sentence of IPP would only be passed on Mohammed if the Judge felt that he presented a significant risk of causing serious harm in the future by committing violent offences and that the public could only be protected by this sort of a sentence that would only allow him to be released when it is safe to. With Shasta, the Judge must have concluded that, whilst the offences were serious (it’s a pretty hefty sentence), she must have played a lesser role and/or been influenced by her husband and, therefore, it was not necessary to have an indeterminate sentence to protect the public.

Why was his starting point nearly three times higher than hers?

Again, from the fact that she got a determinate sentence and he didn’t, it must have been that she played a lesser role in the offence. It seems that Mohammed was considered to have been the ‘driving force’ behind the enterprise.

If they were planning a terrorist attack, why didn’t they get a longer sentence?

The offences they were charged with were not an attempt to attack, but planning for a potential one. They had not made steps to put an attack in to operation, beyond collecting materials that could have been used in a bomb. In fact, the evidence showed that what they had collected would not have been able to make an effective bomb. Had they made a working bomb, or identified a target and begun to plan an attack on that, the sentences would have been much longer.

Lyndon is the General Editor of Current Sentencing Practice and the Criminal Appeal Reports (Sentencing)