|'Lenient' jail terms for killers
Clare Dyer, legal correspondent
Saturday December 21, 2002
The court of appeal refused to increase jail sentences yesterday for three men found guilty of manslaughter for killing their partners.
The refusal was a defeat for the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, and the solicitor general, Harriet Harman, who had argued that the sentences were unduly lenient.
David Perry, counsel for the attorney general, had told the court that over the past decade a sentence of up to seven years had become "almost the norm no matter how exceptional the case or great the culpability of the offender".
Sentencing levels did not reflect what a "civilised society" should have regard to when dealing with someone whose partial defence to taking life was: "My partner was going to leave me and I couldn't face that."
Lord Justice Mantell, sitting with Mr Justice Bell and Mr Justice Andrew Smith, said the attorney general did not invite the judges to lay down guidelines but wished them to say something to encourage judges to impose longer terms.
There were cases of domestic violence in which there ought to be a sentence directed to warning others, particularly where offences were premeditated or there was a history of bullying or violence.
But the three cases - those of Darren Suratan, Leslie Humes and Mark Wilkinson - were cases of "uncharacteristic and unpremeditated" violence. "We do not accept that in all such cases a deterrent sentence is necessary or that the sentencing judge is to be regarded as unduly lenient if he concludes that the circumstances of the case do not require it," he said.
Suratan, 35, of Reddish, Stockport, Greater Manchester, was jailed for three and a half years in May after being convicted of the manslaughter of his 33-year-old partner, who suffered a haemorrhage following punches to the head.
Leslie Humes, 40, a solicitor, of Wickersley, Rotherham, South Yorkshire, was jailed for seven years in July after pleading guilty to manslaughter by reason of provocation. His 36-year-old wife, Madeleine, who had told him she no longer loved him and had feelings for another man, was stabbed 12 times in front of their four children and died in hospital.
Mark Wilkinson, 27, of Tuebrook, Liverpool, was convicted of manslaughter by reason of provocation and jailed for four years in September. He suffocated his 24-year-old victim, the mother of his two children, who had left him and was seeing another man.
In Suratan's case, Lord Justice Mantell said the judge had no doubt sentenced on the basis that he had not intended to cause his partner any severe injury, let alone kill her.
In Humes's case, the court saw no reason to believe that the sentence lay outside the bracket for cases of manslaughter where the killer has a defence of provocation arising from the faithless conduct or disenchantment of his partner.
In the case of Wilkinson, who had not previously been violent to his partner, the judge believed what he did was a violent, emotional reaction to the situation.
The Route to Justice - Audit commission report (pdf)
Crown prosecution service
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