Marine A (Sergeant Blackman) – Conviction upheld, sentence reduced

Marine A (Sergeant Blackman) – Conviction upheld, sentence reduced

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BBC Photo
BBC Photo

Introduction

We looked at the case of Sgnt Blackman when he was convicted of murder last year, and the inevitable appeal that followed.

We predicted that he would lose the appeal against the conviction for murder, but have a couple of years knocked off his 10 year tariff, taking it down to 8.

On 22nd May 2014 we found out what happened …

 

Judgment

The Court of Appeal gave a written judgment, which is well worth reading.

The conviction appeal tackled the legality of the Court Martial head on, saying (para 16) “it is a fundamental feature of the system of criminal justice in England and Wales, emblematic of a democracy, that those facing serious criminal charges are entitled to be tried before 12 members of the public and can only be convicted by a majority of at least 10 of the 12” which is not the case in a Court Martial.

The most interesting part of the argument put forward, to me at least, was “A simple majority conviction is said to be inherently unsafe because it demonstrates sufficient doubt to defeat the criminal standard of proof.“This was always going to be a tricky argument to run, as it had been considered (and rejected) in the case of Twaite [2010] EWCA Crim 2973.

The attempt to get round this used Art 14 ECHR (non-discrimination). The Court of Appeal had little difficulty in knocking that one on the head. They did raise the question of whether Mr Blackman should have been tried by a civilian jury, but did not go much further than that because he didn’t object to a Court Martial.

Of more concern to the Court was the appeal against sentence. There was no challenge to the mandatory life sentence, the only issue was the tariff. The Court of Appeal concluded (para 75-76) that greater weight should have been given to the combat stress in the circumstances of the case. More interestingly, they concluded that there was no need for any element of deterrence in the sentence, given all the factors.

For this reason, the tariff was reduced to 8 years.

 

Comment

The appeal against conviction was always doomed to fail. It does, to my mind, raise some important questions. If 10 out of 12 members of a jury (or 2 out of 3 magistrates, or 3 out of 5 members of a Court Martial) are sure of an individual’s guilt, how can one say that the jury (or bench or panel) is sure?

This is a conceptual problem that arises with majority verdicts that has always troubled me. I completely understand the rationale for majority verdicts, but if at least 17% of the people hearing the case do not believe that the person before them is guilty can we really say that that person’s guilt is proved beyond a reasonable doubt?

The sentence appeal is fair enough, although still perhaps too high in my mind. What it does show (to me at least) is the iniquity of the mandatory life sentence. Mr Blackman committed this murder in unique circumstances and I believe that a life sentence is unjust. Mandatory sentencing always gives rise to injustice, and this is a good demonstration of that -and would be a perfect case to tackle the sentencing laws for murder.

If, as in some jurisdictions, juries had a role in sentencing and had the option to impose a life sentence or not, then I have no doubt that one would not have been imposed. Maybe this is a step that could be taken?

Finally, if Mr Blackman had had a trial in a Crown Court would he have been convicted? He is undoubtedly guilty of murder, but this is a prime case where a jury may have found a way out, possibly by convicting him of manslaughter rather than murder.

It would be nice if this case gave rise to a public debate over the issues raised.

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Dan is a barrister at 2 Dr. Johnson’s Buildings practising in crime.

4 COMMENTS

  1. “Mr Blackman committed this murder in unique circumstances and I do not believe that a life sentence is unjust”

    Given the rest, did you mean ‘just’ and not ‘unjust’?

  2. Interesting where to draw the line. If you shoot someone and they fall to the ground but they are still moving is it murder to shoot them again or are you expected to do a split-second risk assessment and go to their aid? Obviously Blackman was not in that category but still. There was a documentary on BBC3 called ‘Our War’ where, if my memory’s correct, you see some soldiers approach a ditch where they’ve just engaged an insurgent. The insurgent is lying in some water obviously injured, not moving, and you hear the CO say “f**king shoot him” which they do from about 3m away. Is that murder?

    • An insurgent murders or fatally wounds one of soliders in any of the scenarious above and is captured. Should he face tried for murder and face a life sentence as a result of his actions or is life only sacred and murder reprehensible depending on who is doing the killing and who is doing the dying. And don’t get me wrong. In a it’s either me or them situation I understand why it is “them”. I’m talking about the same situation as Marine A was in but with the gun being used on one of our soldiers rather than being used by them.

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