Practice and Procedure


PUBLISHED January 2, 2004

Although the trial judge had not erred by imposing a custodial sentence, the sentence of two-and-a-half years' imprisonment was too high given that the appellant's actions had unintended consequences.Appeal against a sentence of two-and-a-half years' imprisonment for an offence of inflicting grevious bodily harm contrary to s.20 Offences Against the Person Act 1861. In October 2002 the appellant (F) was an in-patient at Royal South Hampshire Hospital suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and an anti-social personality disorder. F had been involved in an argument with a fellow patient (V) and F had punched V, who had fallen fracturing his tibia and fibia on the left side. The trial judge had access to pre-sentence reports for F's likelihood of re-offending, which was highly possible and likely to involve the injuring of others, and his psychiatric condition. This report stated that a custodial sentence would have a detrimental effect on F by increasing his paranoia. Both reports threw up sentencing difficulties for the trial judge because an accurate sentence had to balance F's position and the position of society as a whole. The court had a duty to protect the public and yet not place F under unacceptable psychological pressure. On appeal F contended that: (i) the trial judge had given insufficient weight to the evidence in the reports specifically that a custodial sentence would be to the detriment of F's psychological condition; (ii) there were exceptional circumstances wherein it would be appropriate for any sentence of imprisonment to have been suspended; and (iii) the sentence was manifestly excessive because given that F had punched V and that injury whilst serious was accidental in the sense that it was not deliberate.HELD: (1) (1) A sentence under s.20 of the Act, considering it involved a single punch which had an unintended consequence, was too high. Guidance was given in R v Gratton (2001) 2 CAR (S) 167 that made it clear that in one-punch manslaughter cases the starting point with a guilty plea was in the region of 12 months' imprisonment. In this case the appropriate sentence was one of 15 months' imprisonment. (2) In respect of exceptional circumstances, the trial judge had difficulty balancing the protection of the public with the effect a custodial sentence would have on the psychological welfare of F. He had not erred by favouring the custodial sentence and the sentence should not have been suspended. (3) The sentence of two-and-a-half-years' imprisonment will be substituted for one of 15 months' imprisonment.Appeal allowed.

[2003] EWCA Crim 3649