Case: Amicus Horizon Ltd v Thorley – Court of Appeal
The Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger sitting in the Court of Appeal has held that County Court judges dealing with committal applications for breach of Housing Act injunctions should follow the sentencing guidelines used for breach of ASBOs.
The Sentencing Council for England and Wales is responsible for producing sentencing guidelines for use in the criminal courts. Chaired by Lord Justice Leveson (yes, that one), the Council consists of a number of senior figures from the criminal justice world, including the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, and the Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer.
There are no sentencing guidelines produced for Anti-Social Behaviour Injunction breaches because they are not criminal proceedings.
The Defendant was a 69 year old man living in a block let to elderly residents. The Claimant obtained an interim ASBI against him, which he breached on four occasions, by being drunk, swearing and shouting. All four allegations were proved. The County Court Judge imposed sentences of between two and four months’ imprisonment, to run concurrently.
The Court of Appeal allowed an appeal against the length of the prison sentences. The Court should have had regard to the guidelines for ASBO breaches issued by the Sentencing Council, and, in particular, the list of aggravating and mitigating factors. Applying those principles, a sentence of six weeks’ imprisonment was appropriate.
The main aim for sentencing for breach of ASBO (and by inference and perhaps common sense the ASBI) is to achieve the purpose of the order. Culpability and harm must be considered to understand the seriousness of the breach – and if the harm might be been foreseen, or indeed intended – culpability will be higher. Clearly the original conduct that led to the making of the order will be relevant; as will a pattern of behaviour against an identifiable victim.
The specific guidelines for breach of ASBO is that where there has been serious harassment, alarm or distress, or where that was the intention – the starting point for custody should be 26 weeks. Where there is a lesser degree of harassment alarm or distress then the starting point would be 6 weeks.