Picture from the BBC
Cheick Tiote admitted buying a fake Belgian driving licence for 15,000 euros (£12,800) the BBC reported yesterday. It is likely this was an offence under Identity Documents act 2012 s 4 (possession of false identity documents etc with improper intention). Tiote, an Ivory Coast international, joined Newcastle in 2010.
He also admitted driving whilst otherwise in accordance with a licence but pleaded not guilty to driving with no insurance. That matter will be dealt with at the magistrates’ court at a later date. No evidence was offered on a count of making a false statement to obtain insurance.
Tony Hawks (not the skateboarder) prosecuting, said that the footballer had tried to use the fake licence to apply for a UK driving licence from the DVLA. “The licence was a very good forgery but there were a number of features that showed it was a forgery,” said Mr Hawks.
He was sentenced to 7 months suspended for 18 months, with 180 hours of unpaid work. He also received a £600 fine and six points on his licence after admitting driving whilst otherwise in accordance with a licence.
He was ordered to pay prosecution costs of £3,795 and a £100 victim surcharge.
The Judge, HHJ James Goss QC, said that Tiote’s guilty plea had saved him from an immediate custodial sentence, and:
“In that way you will be punished and I have no doubt that, using your considerable talent, you will be able to assist others in the community by encouraging them and passing on your skills that way.”
Was the sentence right?
In R v Hoxha 2012 EWCA Crim 1765 the Court of Appeal said that there was nothing wrong with a short custodial sentence of 4 months for a man who had a false Albanian licence, who had not passed his test but had obtained a UK provision licence.
Cases where false ID documents are used to obtain employment or to make asylum claims are undoubtedly serious. To my mind, in cases such as this, there is no point in sending Mr Tiote to prison.
But looking at the sentence, is it wrong in law? The way in which a judge is supposed to determine sentence is as follows:
a) If the custody threshold is passed, determine the appropriate length
b) If that length is less than 2 years, can the sentence be suspended?
With a sentence of 7 months, credit for the plea would have been in the order of 4 months, making a starting point of around 11. Cleary the sentence of 7 – or 11- months could be suspended but it cannot be said that the plea enabled the sentence to be suspended (e.g. the starting point was more than 2 years, but the plea brought it below 2 years which enables it to be suspended). The judge appears to have treated the plea as a factor which enabled him to suspended the sentence.
Arguably wrong in law but taking a pragmatic view, the right sentence.