Anyone believing that they can predict the outcome of any criminal appeal is likely to be swiftly corrected, and sentencing appeals are no easier to predict than any other case. Mr Hall’s is made still more difficult because it has attracted such widespread comment, not all of it terribly enlightening.
If you want to make your own mind up you ought first to read the sentencing remarks of HHJ Russell QC.
If the Attorney-General’s appeal were a sporting event upon which Mr Hall was commenting he would certainly have quoted the statistics to his listeners, and they will not have reassured him. Once a Prosecution appeal against a lenient sentence reaches the Court of Appeal the defendant is about as likely to win as, say, Aldershot Town in a fourth round FA cup tie against Manchester City. It can happen, but it usually doesn’t.
In 2012, 435 complaints about the leniency of sentences were referred to the Attorney General’s office. Of these the Attorney-General actually referred 88 sentences to the court. In 5 cases the court refused leave to bring the case, and in a further 15 cases left the sentence unchanged. However, and ominously for Mr Hall, the overwhelming majority, 62, had their sentences increased. Previous years show a similar pattern. In 2011 out of 78 cases heard, 64 were increased.
Before referring Mr Hall’s case the Attorney-General will undoubtedly have taken his own legal advice from senior counsel: the practice generally is that this should be from someone who was not involved in the original prosecution. We are unlikely to hear exactly what that advice was, but, unless the Attorney-General is engaged on a purely political exercise, we must assume that it was that his sentence was at least arguably “unduly lenient.”
The maximum sentence for most of the offences was only 2 years at the time they were committed, although it was 5 years for the indecent assaults of 9 and 10 year old girls.
Mr Hall’s real problem is that there are so many offences against 13 different children. However one looks at it, it is an unattractive picture, especially when one considers that some of the offences appear to have been premeditated. It is all very well to note that on their own many of the offences would not have resulted in a custodial sentence today, let alone in the 1970s. But that is to ignore the sheer number of offences. And even in the 1970s it would have been possible for the sentencing judge to have imposed consecutive sentences had he been so inclined. In theory Mr Hall could have received sentence after sentence, which would have resulted in a total of many years. However, the practice at the time and today, which was observed by Judge Russell, is not do this but to consider the “totality” of the sentence so that it is equivalent to what the judge considers to be the overall criminality.
My view is that the Court of Appeal would be wrong to increase the sentence. Mr Hall is very far from being uniquely evil. Had he not been a famous man I do not think his sentence would ever have been singled out as one of the tiny minority referred to the Court of Appeal. He is being pilloried for his fame.
He is an 82 year old man in indifferent health. The whole process of being imprisoned will age him further. Even a 15 month sentence is likely to take up a sizeable proportion of the rest of his life, assuming he survives it at all. There is no need to protect the public: he presents no threat to anyone any more. It is pointless to talk of rehabilitating him. He has not offended for nearly 30 years. The main point of the sentence is to deter others. Yet surely it is not the threat of a prison sentence that is the main deterrent to somebody thinking of acting as Mr Hall did, so much as the threat of public exposure and humiliation. Mr Hall has certainly suffered that.
Mr Hall is lucky to be represented by the sensible and persuasive Crispin Aylett QC. If anyone can persuade the Court that justice should now be tempered with mercy, it is him.