A few decades ago the idea of trying someone in their nineties for things that allegedly happened many years before would have seemed an alien one
But, as society changes, and life expectancy increases, the courts have adapted and we have seen men well past their autumn years in what they would have known, when they were growing up, as the Assizes.
2016 saw the boundaries pushed, when Ralph Clarke became the first centenarian to be tried in the Crown Court. We looked at this case in the summer when the trial date was set and, on 16th December 2016, another record was set as he was found guilty of 21 counts relating to 2 women in the 1970s and 80s. It seems that during the trial he had admitted 9 counts against a separate boy.
Details are pretty limited. We think that the offences were indecent assault and indecency with children, but this could cover a multitude of different offending.
Sentencing has been adjourned until Monday (with Mr Clarke remanded into custody), where it is likely that more details will be available.
What sentence will he get?
The Judge said that he will ““ponder with care” what sentence to pass. But there is no doubt that it will be a prison sentence, as he said “The reality is that he’s so old it’s unlikely he’ll be released back into the community”.
This case will present a difficult sentencing exercise. All historic cases are complex (we have a factsheet on this area here), but the difficulty will be that the sentence passed today will be a lot longer than it would have been had the trial been in the 1980s.
Against that, how is a Judge to weigh the fact that any prison sentence of more than nominal length is effectively a whole life tariff?
The Judge said that the public would be ‘horrified’ if Mr Clarke was not sent to prison (although there are undoubtedly some sections of the public who would be equally horrified at the idea of locking up a 101 year old), and it seems that the question will be one of length.
Another point to bear in mind is that one of the reasons that the sentences for sexual offences are so long is that they include an element of public protection. In this case, this is clearly not a relevant factor.
So we shall see on Monday how the Judge deals with this very difficult case.