After a five day Trial and 5 hours of jury deliberation Jasmine was found guilty of simple arson (which she was not charged with-see below). She will be sentenced on 14th March with “all options open” after a pre sentence report. Roughly it will be a toss up whether she gets an immediate or suspended prison sentence.
The Jury first returned a unanimous verdict of “Not Guilty” of riot after three hours deliberation. Judge Patrick then gave a “majority direction” allowing a verdict on the arson charge that at least ten out of the twelve agree. They then took three more hours to acquit on arson endangering life but convicted on the lesser charge.
This is the second contested trial from the March 21st Kill The Bill demonstration against the Police Crime Sentencing & Courts Bill. Ryan Roberts was given a 14 years term for arson with intent to endanger life after a trial in October, while 10 people who have pleaded guilty just to riot have got between 3 and 5 years.
The charges in Jasmin’s case were Riot and Arson reckless as to life being endangered. Looking at the sentencing guidelines and how the Judge interpreted then in the case of Ryan Roberts, we would have expected something around 9 years which would mean serving at least 6 years. This is because arson is a ‘scheduled offence’ for which you serve a minimum of two thirds if you get a sentence of seven years or more. Even in the context of bourgeois justice this is cheating. The guidelines for riot include “throwing petrol bombs” so an additional charge of arson adds 50% to the time in jail.
Now you might be wondering how someone whose alleged contribution to the “unprecedented violence” was some pushing, kicking a bin and graffing a police van – all the while getting attacked by coppers and their dogs – could be understood as a rioter, let alone fall in the upper range for sentencing. As with all public order offences, you get punished for what everyone did not just your individual actions. Well, the prosecution said she was a “ringleader”, which attracts the highest sentences, the evidence for which appears to be live streaming and swearing at the constabulary. As we’ve noted before, this demonstration has attracted the highest penalties for “cheeking the police” since Toad of Toad Hall.
We don’t know why the Jury did it.
Juries do not give any explanation for how they came to their verdict and are in fact forbidden from revealing their discussions. They are also unable to give an indication of how serious they think the offence was (if they find someone guilty) and can have no input into sentencing. It’s up to the Judge to decide the seriousness of the offence and decide the penalty. Crucially, juries are not told the likely sentence, forbidden to research such information and discount it when coming to a verdict. That said, there is nothing to stop a juror who’s in the know from telling their fellows what the maximum penalty might be or the relevant sentencing guidelines. In this case, the maximum sentence is higher for the arson (life compared to 10 years) while the guidelines are overlapping and reinforcing, it being worse to commit arson during a riot or rioting where arson is committed with the top end being 9 or 10 years.
We can guess as to their basis for aquitting Jasmine of riot, and the judge will have to when they get to passing sentence. Common to both offences is use of unlawful violence. Logically, if the jury were not willing to acquit on arson but were willing to acquit her of riot, it follows that they must have accepted the prosecution argument that she was engaged in unlawful violence and was not acting in “self defence/defence of others”. Therefore, they probably doubted one or more of the other elements of riot. These are: a) 12 people, b) acting together with a common purpose, c) such as would cause a person of reasonable person firmness to fear for their safety.
The most obvious candidate is the lack of common purpose but this does not mean that the Judge would be limited to a sentence of five years maximum that could be passed for violent disorder (which shares certain features of the offence of riot but importantly does not require common purpose), just as he was able to give Ryan 14 years for riot & arson with intent to endanger life
What can we learn from this case and how the defence was run.
One difference from Ryan’s case was the choice of Hodge Jones & Allen as solicitors rather a local firm. As Netpol have long argued protest law is a speciality that few defence lawyers come across in their everyday work. It is obviously lamentable that whether you get justice is dependent on the skill of your lawyer rather than the merits of your case but it really matters. The same applies to Barristers. Russell Fraser of Garden Court Chambers has done many protest cases over the years and a background sympathetic to those exercising their article 10 & 11 rights.
As LDMG used to say “we support everyone, even the innocent”. But sometimes being innocent, peaceful and worst ignorant of the law lands you in worse shit.
Violence for the purposes of the Public Order Act 1986 includes violence against property and such as a missile thrown but falling short. So almost anything can get you in trouble but to argue that you used reasonable force in defence of yourself or others you need to have done something. Paradoxically the more force puts you in a better legal position. Also being aware of the law allows you to raise the defence immediately and so avoid accusations that your lawyer put it into your head afterwards. This is why all cops parrot that “I’ve never been so scared in all my years in the Force” every time they batter someone. The law that let cops get away with killing people like Jean Charles De Menezes also applies to members of the public. Sometimes it’s really just a matter of using the right words.
The CPS will be reviewing their strategy. We think there will be a move to a “scattergun” approach with other offences being charged particularly “violent disorder”. Violent disorder is similar to riot but doesn’t require common purpose, needs only three people and threatening violence is sufficient. As they may know – but are not usually told – juries may convict defendants of other offences that they are not charged with. For example, “simple arson” as opposed to “arson endangering life”. But it is now “good practice” for the prosecution to have an additional charge before the jury is given the option of an “alternative verdict”, so the Defence can address the separate issues involved. The CPS’s own guidance says they should not add multiple charges to get guilty pleas or convictions to at least some of them. But we don’t trust them not to cheat.
There are at least 30 riot and/or arson cases to come. Mariella Gedge-Rogers is next, with a trial for riot which started on Friday 4th February then a gap till April. We wish them all well. You can help Bristol ABC support them by donating here.
Image: Bristol ABC