The headline in the Guardian reads “Judge slashes single-punch killer’s jail term”. I thought that maybe the had got it wrong by having ‘Judge’ in the singular rather than the plural – the Court of Appeal (where jail terms are slashed, very occasionally) always sits with at least two Judges when an appeal is allowed.
But, I was wrong, as the piece made clear. What actually happened was unusual, but perfectly legal.
In August 2011 Mr Broom lost his temper with Mark Haley for reasons unspecified and punched him once. As sometimes happens, these cases can have tragic consequences, and here Mr Haley went into a coma.
Mr Broom was charged with (and pleaded guilty to) an offence under s20 Offences against the Person Act 1861. He got three years, which is a long sentence given that the maximum sentence is 5 years.
Sadly, Mr Haley died last year. This was (presumably) a direct result of the punch. As such, Mr Broom was prosecuted for his manslaughter (there was clearly no intent to kill or cause really serious injury). Given that this is the same as the s20 offence, just with the result being death, Mr Broom pleaded guilty to the manslaughter.
The Judge (Richard Hone QC) passed a sentence of 2 years. Whilst this seems light for manslaughter, at least nowadays, this was to reflect the fact that Mr Broom had already spent time in prison for the same act of the punch. It seems that this sentence was passed on 22nd December 2014.
The next day, however, the Judge called the case back on and halved this. He is reported as saying “If you had been charged with manslaughter in 2011 from a starting point of six years you have been sentenced to four years after giving full credit to your plea of guilty.
“As you have already been sentenced to three years for the grievous bodily harm, I am on reflection persuaded that should be taken in to account. In those circumstances, I vary the sentence of two years imprisonment to one of 12 months imprisonment.“
This makes sense when you think about it.
EDIT: We have since been contacted by Mr Broom’s representative in the case, Mr Khalid Missouri of LLM Solicitors. He informed us of the following:
Five minutes after the 2-year sentence was imposed, the defence asked for the matter to come back in court as in his view the judge had got the law wrong in that he had not given the defendant full credit for the time served in respect of the s 20 GBH. The judge said he had a discretion not to, and the prosecutor agreed. The defence submitted that he didn’t. The judge adjourned the case overnight to think about it.
The following morning, the defence referred the judge to a case which wasn’t totally “on point” but suggested that it was “a given” that in such a case the time served on a s 20 should be fully taken into account.
Two points arise here. Firstly, it was always the case that you could only be prosecuted for murder for acts done within a year and a day of the death. This made sense hundreds of years ago, but modern medicine meant that people could survive for years with before succumbing to an injury that would have proved fatal in hours or days previously.
In light of that, Parliament passed a refreshingly simple people of legislation to deal with this. The Law Reform (Year and a Day Rule) Act 1996 runs to a mere 397 words, and simply abolishes this rule, thus paving the way for people to be prosecuted in circumstances like this.
Secondly, it raises the question of when a Judge can revisit the sentence. For obvious reasons this is rare – you have to have a level of certainty about these things. Equally, however, sometimes new information comes to light that means that the original sentence was incorrect. Often, some formality relating to the sentence was forgotten.
The compromise was reached that allowed a Judge to vary a sentence, but only if it done with 56 days of the sentence being passed. There is no fixed rule, but a Judge should not really ‘tinker’ with the sentence just because he’s had second thoughts. Especially if this results in an increased sentence.
There are exceptions – when mitigation that is put forward is shown to be false, a Judge is entitled to increase the sentence (R v Hart (1983)), but it is most often used when something has gone wrong and an appeal to the Court of Appeal seems likely to succeed, and therefore a Judge can correct a mistake.
It’s a sensible power to have, and should be used sparingly, but HHJ Hone QC is to be congratulated for using it on this occasion.