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