The Effect of a Custodial Sentence on the Children of the Offender: Regina -v- Hamilton [2016] EWCA Crim 78

The Appellant sought to appeal against a total sentence of three years’ imprisonment passed upon her following her pleas of guilty to two offences, namely conveying a List A item into a prison and possession of a controlled drug of Class B. The Appellant was 39 years of age. Previously she has been cautioned for shoplifting in January 1996 and had one conviction for an offence of affray, for which she was fined at the Magistrates’ Court in October 1997. The Appellant pleaded guilty at the preliminary hearing stage of the proceedings. During the sentence hearing His Honour Judge Woodward observed that the drugs guideline applied to such cases and that the fact of ‘supplying into a prison’ was to be treated as an aggravating feature.

The Sentencing Council’s guidelines for drugs offences do not expressly refer to offences under the Prison Act 1952, however, the provisions of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, s.125(1) provide that every Court must, in sentencing an offender, follow any sentencing guideline which is relevant to the offender’s case unless the Court is satisfied that it would be contrary to the interests of justice to do so.

In allowing the appeal against conviction Chema-Grubb J held that the learned Judge had taken too high a starting point for the Appellant’s sentence. In addition, there is the impact of the inevitable sentence which the Appellant has to serve upon her children. In this context the Court of Appeal had regard to the decision in Regina -v- Petherick [2013] 1 Cr App R (S) 116. The legitimate aims of sentencing are to be considered alongside the effect of a sentence on family life. The question is one of proportionality and balancing conflicting interests. The Court of Appeal explained that “Counsel who attend upon this Court upon an appeal must be ready to provide the Court with the information as to family circumstances, particularly where a custodial sentence has already been imposed”.

Nevertheless, the Appellant committed a serious offence and a custodial sentence of 18 months’ imprisonment was the least sentence that properly marked the gravity of the offence but also reflected in full her personal mitigation.