On 20 January 2016, The Mail covered the story of Shady Omar, a 22-year-old student. She pleaded guilty to section 20 unlawful wounding and received a suspended sentence.
The Mail reports that after a night out, one of Omar’s friends became involved in a confrontation with a group of “tall young men…aware of their level of intoxication”. It appears that the confrontation was regarding a taxi. The victim, 22-year-old Justin Lloyd – a member of the group of men – approached Omar’s friend and offered her a crisp from a packet he was holding. The friend knocked (or attempted to knock) the bag out of his hand, at which point he attempted to pour the contents of the packet over her. Mr Lloyd maintained that he was ‘joking’. At this point, Omar – who it appears had already removed her shoes – struck Lloyd with the heel of one of the shoes. The heel became lodged in his eye and Lloyd had to remove it.
He suffered “bruising, cuts and bleeding to the lower lid, cuts to the upper lid and a fracture to the eye orbit” and at the sentencing hearing described his vision as “still not 100%”. He also stated that Omar, immediately after the incident, showed no remorse, despite him being covered in blood and unable to see from his left eye. He told how he was fearful that he would lose his sight and that the incident has damaged his confidence and his desire to socialise with friends. He has been left with some scarring.
Omar pleaded guilty. It is not clear whether or not she pleaded on a basis of plea, however it was said by her barrister that:
a) she had taken off her shoes because they were hurting her feet, not because she intended to use them as a weapon;
b) she brandished the shoe in an attempt to stop Lloyd from harassing her friend, and had no intention to use the shoe as a weapon;
c) she acted in self defence but accepted that she used excessive force.
HHJ Kushner QC imposed a sentence of 18 months’ imprisonment, suspended for a period of 2 years, with unpaid work and supervision requirements. There would also be the mandatory £100 victim surcharge.
Once again we see the imposition of a suspended sentence with no reference (in the press at least) to the justification for taking such a course. The two-step process is first, to determine the length of sentence, and second, where that length is two years or less, determine whether or not it is appropriate to suspend the sentence.
There is no guidance on when a suspended sentence is appropriate (rather bizarrely) however the Sentencing Council issued draft guidance for consultation last week. It is worth a look (it’s only a short document) and we would encourage readers to respond as this is very important guideline.
As to the length of sentence, the assault guidelines apply (see p.7). The injury sustained falls close to being considered to be “serious in the context of the offence”, (an indicator of greater harm) however as Lloyd was fortunately not blinded, a fracture to the eye socket and some cuts and bruising is probably not serious enough to be in the top category of the type of injury seen in s.20 offences – although we acknowledge that the issue is not clear cut. The use of a weapon suggests higher culpability, but “excessive self defence” and “lack of premeditation” suggest lower culpability; and so it can be seen that yet another case doesn’t fit neatly within the guideline categories. When faced with facts that dont fit neatly into any one category, the court has to make a decision as to which category the offence best falls into. In this case, we would say this offences falls on the border between Category 1 and Category 2: this was a serious assault involving a weapon, but there were features that reduced the culpability; additionally the injuries were serious but not the most serious example of this type of offence.
Category 2 has a starting point of 18 months with a range of 1-3 years. Aggravation comes in the form of the fact the offence was committed after consuming alcohol; mitigation comes in the form of the fact it was a single blow/single incident and presumed lack of convictions. With reduction for a guilty plea, an 18-month sentence indicates a 27-month starting point, a little above the Category 2 guideline starting point but within the range.
That seems to be fair for what was, on any view, a nasty incident.
Finally, the Mail began the story with the usual “walked free from court” line that they include for anyone who doesn’t get sent to immediate custody, which as regular readers will know is incorrect.