Interesting comments in the documents published today concern suspended sentence orders or more simply custody suspended. As I had to advise various colleagues and also probation officers upon their pre sentence reports recommending SSOs; the custody threshold has to be crossed before consideration can be given to its suspension. It would seem that not all sentencers follow that line of reasoning because amongst other matters in the documents is written, "Since there is no current guidance on all types of breach of court orders and where there is, its scope and format varies, this will replace the existing out of date instructions that have seen some suspended sentences being imposed when a custodial sentence was not the appropriate sentence". [my underline] In another curious observation there is a statement of what is an admittedly lack of information on sanctions for breaches of SSOs; "Very little evidence is available regarding current sentencing practice for breach of suspended sentences. The Council therefore explored this in discussions with sentencers and probation officers and staff. A review of case transcripts was also conducted, to identify factors currently influencing activation of custodial sentences upon breach, and when it may be unjust to activate a suspended sentence in full or in part." I can say with full knowledge that this is wilful head in the sand obfuscation by the MOJ.
A Freedom of Information was made last year on this very subject........ Dear Ministry of Justice,
For the last five years how many suspended sentence orders have
been made by magistrates` courts in actual numbers and as a
percentage of all custodial orders?
For the last five years how many of these SSOs as above have been
breached and resulted in the activation in whole or part of these
orders in actual numbers and as a percentage of all SSOs
The answer was as follows:-
To conclude, Martin Graham of the Sentencing Council seems now to accept that public protection is an important factor in the sentencing of those who breach court orders. “Where they breach orders and cause or risk harm or distress to others, they can expect robust penalties to be imposed.” [my underline]
With a labyrinthine maze required for the operation of these latest guidelines perhaps a simple tick box a la Michigan would be preferable on our aforesaid journey from London.