Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Social Services delays highlighted as Judges reduce sentence

Burglar before Court of Appeal

A jailed burglar had his 15-week prison term cut by over two thirds after the Court of Appeal found he may have been denied alternative punishment in the community because of delays in the preparation of pre-sentence reports by the Social Services Agency.

Kenneth Martinez, 21, had spent 22 days in prison after pleading guilty to the crime in the Magistrates’ Court earlier this year and subsequently losing a first appeal to have his prison sentence reduced by the Supreme Court in Gibraltar.

But in the Court of Appeal last Friday, Maurice Turnock, Martinez’s barrister, described the initial sentence as “manifestly excessive and wrong in principle.”

He told the court that his client had waived his right to a pre-sentence report, normally a pre-requisite if a court is to consider alternatives to imprisonment, because it could have taken up to six months for it to be ready.

Such reports are prepared to enable the courts to assess whether or not a person is suitable for a community sentence, rather than a custodial one.

Mr Turnock said his client had expressed remorse for his actions and had learnt his lesson. “He has received a short, sharp shock,” he said. “He has heard the clang of the prison gates.”

In considering its verdict, the panel of three senior UK judges sitting in the Court of Appeal said burglaries were serious crimes that caused “fear and outrage” in the public. But they noted that in this case, Mr Martinez had not forced his way into the home he burgled – he entered through an open window – and had taken no more than £1500 worth of jewellery.

Some of those items were recovered and Mr Martinez, a first-time burglar who had pleaded guilty at the first opportunity, had also paid the victim some compensation.

The judges added that a non-custodial sentence could have been an option when Mr Martinez was initially sentenced and described the backlog of Social Services reports as “a very unfortunate situation”.

“Martinez was deprived, it would seem, of the possibility of a community sentence unless he was prepared to wait six months,” said Sir Christopher Staughton, JA, president of the Court of Appeal. The judges added that the courts should examine the possibility of non-custodial sentences even in the absence of pre-sentence reports.

“We do not think that it would be right to send him back to prison,” said Sir Christopher in reference to Mr Martinez. “We reduce the sentence to one month, which by now would have been served.”

Mr Martinez walked away from court a free man.

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