Criminal Law: Breach of a Suspended Sentence Order – Credit for Completing the Unpaid Work Requirement?

Regina -v- Finn [2012] EWCA Crim 881

To what extent, if at all, should a Defendant obtain credit against the activation of a suspended sentence because he has complied with some parts of the original order?

In February 2010 the Appellant was sentenced to a suspended sentence order of nine months’ imprisonment suspended for two years for offences of affray and possession of a bladed article. There were two requirements to the suspended sentence order order, namely an unpaid work requirement (140 hours) and a supervision requirement (18 months). On the 20th January 2012 the Appellant was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for an offence of theft committed in November 2011. In addition, on the 20th January 2012, the sentencing Judge activated the suspended sentence order and imposed the full nine months’ imprisonment, making a total sentence of 15 months’ imprisonment.

The Appellant appealed against the sentence imposed with the leave of the single Judge.

In dismissing the appeal against sentence Coulson J held that it was not unjust for the entirety of the suspended sentence order to have been activated. The principal reason why the sentencing Judge refused to give any credit for those matters arose out of the Appellant’s wholesale failure to comply with the order itself. On no less than six occasions between the imposition of the suspended sentence and the hearing on 20th January 2012 the Appellant was in breach of the suspended sentence order in one way or another, most often because of the commission of fresh offences. That catalogue of breaches and failures to comply with the terms of the original order demonstrated that the Appellant never had any intention of refraining from his previous criminal activities. He therefore failed to engage with the principal purpose of the suspended sentence order.

Accordingly, the sentencing Judge did not err in principle in concluding that it was not unjust to activate the suspended sentence in full. Whilst some Judges might have given the Appellant modest credit for the unpaid work he had carried out, that is not the test. A suspended sentence order must be complied with in full and non-compliance risks activation in full. A Defendant such as the Appellant in the present case, who does not comply with the terms of the suspended sentence order, only has himself to blame if non-compliance leads to activation of the suspended sentence in full.