Law Review: Stephen Lawrence – Short sentences?

Guilty of murder

Inevitably, there was a hint of knee-jerking on twitter  at the ‘short’ sentences handed down to Dobson and Norris for their part in the murder of Stephen Lawrence.  One can understand the views expressed by some that the sentences were too short.

A number of points arise:  (1) The judge made it clear that he was constrained by Parliament. (2) The judge had to sentence on the basis of their juvenile status when the murder was committed (c) Article 7 European Convention on Human Rights  prohibits retrospective punishment, that is punishment using law which was not applicable at the time of the crime. – the sentences had to reflect the law prior to the change in 2003.

Mr Justice Treacy made it clear that he was obliged to give reduced sentences reflecting the juvenile status of Dobson and Norris,  applying the law applicable at the time of the murder 19 years ago and  noting that no discount could be given for contrition, no contrition being shown.

It is important to note that the sentences are ‘life sentences’ – or ‘detained at her Majesty’s Pleasure’ in the case of juveniles. This means that the sentences of 14-15 years to be served as a minimum (lower than the minimum of  30 for an adult under the law today for a racially aggravated murder) while apparently short, may not prove to be in practice.  Commentators have observed that automatic parole will not be applicable because of the lack of contrition. They have also noted that it is rare for parole to be given at the first opportunity.  Further, the Parole Board will not release a prisoner on licence if they form the view that the prisoner continues to be a danger to the public. It is argued that the racism of Dobson and Norris is embedded in their personalities and this will be a significant factor for the Parole Board.  It is likely that Dobson and Norris will serve more than the minimum sentences handed down – perhaps significantly more?

Adam Wagner, writing in the Guardian, has an excellent analysis.

Mr Justice Treacy’s sentencing remarks

Change in double jeopardy law led to Gary Dobson’s retrial

Joshua Rozenberg explains the change to the double jeopardy law: Change to rule allowed Dobson to be retried for Stephen Lawrence’s murder

Stephen Lawrence murder: reaction to sentencing of Gary Dobson and David Norris

4 thoughts on “Law Review: Stephen Lawrence – Short sentences?

  1. Informative, thanks!

    What do you make of the comments made by some that as they’ve been found guilty, then their relatives giving them alibis ‘must’ be charged with perjury..?

  2. I had to repost the blog post above for admin reasons – same content – no edits..

    Two comments which appeared on the earlier post. I have re-posted the comments

    Steve Jones

    Politically charged cases like this are always going to raise numerous problems. It’s a shame (to put it mildly) that the original investigation appears to have been botched (or worse). As it is, the climate is hardly conducive to an objective analysis. I’m also somewhat queasy about any cases relying on contested leading-edge forensics. We have, after all, been there before.

    @StokeNewington :


    This isn’t Texas and we don’t wait for young people to become adults to put them on Old Sparky.

    This is the Rule of Law in action. Not blood lust.

  3. @JuliaM

    That particular point opens an enormous can of worms. If this case, why not others? If everybody who testified on oath and gave evidence flatly contradictory with the eventual verdict was to be prosecuted then courts would be inundated. Presumably the CPS have rules about such things and only tend to prosecute where it’s been demonstrated that evidence has lead to a wrongful verdict. It’s an interesting point – anybody know who makes the decision and what the rules are. We could double the prison population in a few years…

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