Harsh riot sentences criticized

Aug. 18, 2011 at 12:02 AM
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LONDON, Aug. 17 (UPI) -- While British Prime Minister David Cameron applauds the harsh sentences handed to rioters, his Liberal Democratic allies are less enthusiastic.

Lawyers have warned there appears to be a "post-code lottery," with judges in some districts being far more severe, The Daily Telegraph reported. Two young men who tried unsuccessfully to use Facebook to incite a riot that never materialized got four years each, while another who posted an online call to target a store was ordered to apologize without making a court appearance.

"They decided in that court to send a tough sentence, send a tough message and I think it's very good that courts are able to do that," Cameron said of the four-year terms.

Lord Ken MacDonald, former head of the prosecution service for England and Wales, however, said many of the sentences show a "collective loss of proportion" and lack "humanity or justice," The Guardian reported.

Critics cite a woman who got six months for receiving a pair of stolen shorts a friend gave her and a man given the same term for stealing a case of bottled water.

Two Liberal Democrats said politicians should leave sentencing to judges.

"With all due deference to the Prime Minister, politicians should not be either cheering nor booing in the matter of sentencing," Sir Menzies Campbell, the party's former leader said. "It is an important part of our constitutional principles that political influence is not directed at the judicial system."

Tom McNally, the party's leader in the House of Lords and a minister of state for justice, echoed his sentiments: "It's dangerous when politicians try to do the sentencing."

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