Mandatory Sentences

judge hand with gavel by Diane M Byrne

judge hand with gavel by Diane M Byrne

On December 11th an ex-soldier from Merstham will be sentenced. His crime carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years. And what was this terrible crime Paul Clarke, 27, committed? He found a shotgun wrapped in a black plastic bag at the bottom of his garden and took it to the local police station to hand it in.

He had phoned ahead and arranged a meeting with Chief Superintendent Adrian Harper at Reigate police station. At the station Clarke took the the gun out of the bag and placed it on a table facing the wall for safety. He was then arrested for possession of a firearm.

Despite the fact there is no issue from the Surrey Police to inform the public not to touch any found firearms, it has been decided that Clarke is liable for the blunder, and his dutiful transportation of the weapon a criminal offence. This offence carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years.

Commenting on the case at Guildford Crown Court Judge Christopher Critchlow said, “This is an unusual case, but in law there is no dispute that Mr Clarke has no defence to this charge… The intention of anybody possessing a firearm is irrelevant.”

So whether you think Paul Clarke is a honourable citizen or a bumbling fool, it doesn’t matter. He’s about to be chewed up by a ridiculous judicial system that seems to come down hard on the innocent, whilst treating criminals leniently. A system that is more preoccupied with sound-bites than doing what’s right.

Mandatory sentences for anything is wrong. It completely negates intent and circumstances. Life is not black and white, there are rarely absolutes. But whilst this is all an academic discussion for us, it is rather closer to Paul Clarke whose life is about to be ruined. One thing is for certain: our judicial system needs to change.