A man who virtually decapitated his girlfriend with a bread knife while he was drunk has had his jail sentence doubled.
Judges at the Court of Appeal in London overturned the “unduly lenient” six-year prison term imposed in the case of James Richardson and increased it to 12 years.
Richardson, 35, of Berridge Green, Edgware, north London, who stabbed popular barmaid Natalia Czekaj more than 20 times while they celebrated the New Year at their home, was originally sentenced at the Old Bailey in October.
He denied murdering the 34-year-old, but pleaded guilty to manslaughter by diminished responsibility on the grounds he suffers from alcohol dependency syndrome.
The Old Bailey heard that Ms Czekaj had been considering ending their turbulent relationship.
On the evening of the killing, they had both been drinking and jobless plumber Richardson took three knives from the kitchen and stabbed his girlfriend repeatedly while she tried to fend him off.
Richardson, who was four times the drink-drive limit, phoned 999 to report the attack.
His sentence was increased on Friday by Lord Justice Davis, Mr Justice Haddon-Cave and Mrs Justice Whipple.
The trial judge imposed an extended licence period of five years which remains in place.
Solicitor General Robert Buckland said after the ruling: “I referred the original sentence as I felt that it did not properly reflect the severity of the case.
“This was a sustained and violent knife attack on the deceased which involved her being stabbed in the back deeply enough to penetrate her heart and the offender sawing at her throat so severely that all the structures of her neck were severed.
“I hope this increased sentence gives some comfort to the victim’s family.”
A High Court ruling that a policy of excluding prisoners with a history of absconding from being transferred to more lenient open conditions is unlawful has been overturned.
The Government’s policy was introduced following high-profile media reports last year of prisoners with a history of violence absconding while on release on temporary licence (ROTL) from open prison.
Among them was Michael Wheatley, an armed robber nicknamed the Skull Cracker.
In May last year, the then justice secretary Chris Grayling publicly announced that the Government was ”tearing up the system as it exists at the moment” and introduced his absconder policy.
But in April this year two senior judges at London’s High Court ruled that excluding transfers – save in exceptional circumstances – for prisoners with a history of absconding, escape or “serious ROTL failure” was inconsistent with his own directions to the Parole Board.
The long-standing directions state that ”a phased release” from closed to open prison is necessary for most inmates serving indeterminate sentences ”to test the prisoner’s readiness for release into the community”.
After their decision was announced at the High Court, Lord Justice Bean and Mr Justice Mitting gave the Justice Secretary permission to challenge the ruling.
Today, three judges at the Court of Appeal in London allowed the Government’s appeal.
Lord Justice Sales, announcing the court’s unanimous decision, said: “My conclusion … the various challenges to the lawfulness of the absconder policy must fail.”
A rise in the number of people representing themselves in person at Court of Appeal hearings is posing an “increasing problem”, a leading judge has warned.
Lady Justice Black – who sits in the Court of Appeal – said the task facing judges was “infinitely more difficult” when people were not represented by lawyers.
She has raised concerns in the wake of warnings from lawyers that Government cuts in legal aid provision would lead to a rise in the numbers of litigants in person and pose problems.
A year ago Maura McGowan QC, then chairman of the Bar, said savings resulting from cuts might pale against an increase in court costs because cases featuring litigants in person would last longer.
And Lady Justice Black said she also had previously spoken about “the cost to individuals and to the legal system of the absence of legal assistance”.
Her latest comments have been made in a written ruling after a woman represented herself in a Court of Appeal hearing – analysed by Lady Justice Black and two other appeal judges – when challenging a county court judge’s decision to place her four children into care.
“This case is illustrative of an increasing problem faced by this court,” said Lady Justice Black.
“More and more litigants appear in front of us in person. Where, as here, the appellant is unrepresented, this requires all those involved in the appeal process to take on burdens that they would not normally have to bear.”
Lady Justice Black, who used to be a judge in the Family Division of the High Court, added: “Everyone involved in public and private law children cases is attempting to achieve the best possible result for the children whose welfare is at the heart of the proceedings and, without legal representatives for the parties, that task is infinitely more difficult.”
Appeal judges concluded that the county court judge had not evaluated all options to care or adoption and said the case should be re-heard in a county court.
The woman and her children were not identified but appeal judges said the local authority involved was Stockport Metropolitan Borough and the case had initially been heard in Manchester County Court.
Leading judges gave a crucial ruling backing the use of whole-life sentences today – which was criticised as ‘right wing’ by commentators.
A panel of five judges, headed by the Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas, announced their decision on controversial “life-means-life” orders at the Court of Appeal in London.
The judges increased the 40-year minimum prison term being served by killer Ian McLoughlin, who murdered a man while on day release, to a whole-life tariff.
And they dismissed an appeal by Lee Newell, who murdered a child killer while in prison, against the whole-life order imposed in his case.
Sentencing in a number of high-profile criminal cases has been put on hold – including the terms to be handed out to soldier Lee Rigby’s murderers – pending the judgment.
The Government has said that whole-life tariffs are “wholly justified in the most heinous cases”.
Reacting to today’s ruling Attorney General Dominic Grieve said on Twitter: “I am pleased CoA (Court of Appeal) has confirmed those who commit the most heinous crimes can be sent to prison for the rest of their lives.”
Mr Grieve added: “As someone who has killed three times, Ian McLoughlin committed just such a crime, and following today’s judgment he has received the sentence that crime required.
“I asked the Court of Appeal to look again at McLoughlin’s original sentence because I did not think that the European Court of Human Rights had said anything which prevented our courts from handing down whole life terms in the most serious cases.
“The Court of Appeal has agreed with me and today’s judgment gives the clarity our judges need when they are considering sentencing cases like this in the future.”
Lord Thomas said the court had held that the statutory scheme enacted by Parliament which enabled judges to pass whole-life orders was “entirely compatible” with the European Convention on Human Rights.
“Judges should therefore continue as they have done to impose whole-life orders in those rare and exceptional cases which fall within the statutory scheme.
“Under the statutory scheme as enacted by Parliament, the Secretary of State has power to release a prisoner on licence if he is satisfied that exceptional circumstances exist which justify the prisoner’s release on compassionate grounds.”
He added that the court had given guidance as to the meaning of that under domestic law.
At a hearing in January, Lord Thomas, Sir Brian Leveson, Lady Justice Hallett, Lord Justice Treacy and Mr Justice Burnett were urged to find that imposing sentences which mean a prisoner can never be released are not “manifestly excessive or wrong in principle”.
Such terms were deemed a breach of human rights following a successful appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) by murderers Jeremy Bamber, Douglas Vinter and Peter Moore.
Last year the trio won a ruling that their whole-life sentences amount to “inhuman and degrading treatment”.
Whole-lifers should be entitled to a review of their sentence 25 years into their term at the very latest, the Grand Chamber of the Strasbourg-based court said.
The ruling by 17 judges from across Europe sparked further outrage among critics of the court – despite reassurances that the decision did not amount to grounds for imminent release.
As well as dealing with the appeal by Newell, who murdered child killer Subhan Anwar, they were asked to decide if the 40 years imposed in McLoughlin’s case could be regarded as “unduly lenient” and should be increased.
In the case of McLoughlin, the judges heard that he was aware of the proceedings but did not wish for any argument or representations to be made on his behalf.
His stance was explained to the court by barrister Kevin McCartney, who said McLoughlin had not considered the legal aspect, but had approached it from a “purely personal approach”.
It appeared from letters written by McLoughlin that he had been “very anxious at the sentencing hearing” and that this was a “sentiment that carried on… not to act in any way that would cause any further distress to the deceased’s family”.
Mr McCartney said: “That is a factor that played very heavily, as I understand it, in his attitude towards these proceedings.”
It was successfully argued on behalf of the Attorney General that the “failure to impose a whole-life order renders the sentence unduly lenient”.
On behalf of Newell, Joe Stone QC, in seeking permission to appeal against sentence, argued that a whole-life term was “manifestly excessive”.
Newell, now 45, challenged a whole-life sentence imposed last September at Warwick Crown Court.
He was convicted alongside Gary Smith for the February 2013 murder of convicted child killer Anwar in his cell at Long Lartin Prison, Worcestershire. Newell was already serving a life sentence for a previous murder committed in 1988.
Triple killer McLoughlin, 55, was jailed for life at the Old Bailey last October for stabbing a man on his first day-release from prison after 21 years in custody.
When sentencing McLoughlin, the trial judge imposed a 40-year tariff, saying he could not pass a whole-life term because of the European court ruling.
McLoughlin – who had killed twice before – stabbed Graham Buck, 66, as he came to the aid of a neighbour in Little Gaddesden, Hertfordshire, last July.
Those currently serving whole-life terms in England and Wales include Moors Murderer Ian Brady, who tortured and murdered children along with accomplice Myra Hindley, and serial killer Rosemary West.
Mr Justice Sweeney has said he will wait to sentence Fusilier Lee Rigby’s killers, Michael Adebolajo, and Michael Adebowale, until after the Court of Appeal decision. No date has yet been fixed for that sentencing hearing.
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said: “This is a timely and welcome decision. Our courts should be able to send the most brutal murderers to jail for the rest of their lives.
“I think people in Britain will be glad that our courts have disagreed with the European Court of Human Rights, and upheld the law that the UK Parliament has passed.”
Lord Thomas said: “These two cases are exceptional and rare cases of second murders committed by persons serving the custodial part of a life sentence.
“The making of a whole-life order requires detailed consideration of the individual circumstances of each case.
“It is likely to be rare that the circumstances will be such that a whole-life order is required.”
Lord Thomas said that “although there may be debate in a democratic society as to whether a judge should have the power to make a whole-life order”, it was evident in the court’s view that “there are some crimes that are so heinous that Parliament was entitled to proscribe, compatibly with the Convention, that the requirements of just punishment encompass passing a sentence which includes a whole-life order”.
Lord Thomas said the Strasbourg court held last July that there had been a violation of Article 3 – inhuman and degrading treatment – in relation to whole-life orders on the basis that they were “not reducible”.
He said the Court of Appeal did not read the Grand Chamber’s judgment “as in any way casting doubt on the fact that there are crimes that are so heinous that just punishment may require imprisonment for life”.
He added: “There may be legitimate dispute as to what such crimes are – at one end genocide or mass murder of the kind committed in Europe in living memory or, at the other, murder by a person who has committed other murders, but that there are such crimes cannot be doubted.”
He said: “Under our constitution it is for Parliament to decide whether there are such crimes and to set the framework under which the judge decides in an individual case whether a whole-life order is the just punishment.”
Lord Thomas said: “We therefore conclude that no specific passage in the judgment, nor the judgment read as a whole, in any way seek to impugn the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, as enacted by Parliament, which entitle a judge to make at the time of sentence a whole-life order as a sentence reflecting just punishment.”
In their ruling the five judges concluded that the sentencing regime established by Parliament does provide for “reducibility”.
They ruled that the Grand Chamber was wrong when it reached a conclusion that the law of England and Wales did not clearly provide for reducibility.
In the Court of Appeal’s view the domestic law “is clear as to ‘possible exceptional release of whole-life prisoners’.”
A power of review arose if there were “exceptional circumstances”. An offender was required to demonstrate to the Secretary of State that although a whole-life order was just punishment at the time the order was made, exceptional circumstances had arisen since.
The Secretary of State “must then consider whether such exceptional circumstances justify the release on compassionate grounds”.
Lord Thomas concluded: “In our judgment the law of England and Wales therefore does provide to an offender ‘hope’ or the ‘possibility’ of release in exceptional circumstances which render the just punishment originally imposed no longer justifiable.”
Ruling on the McLoughlin case the Court of Appeal said the sentencing judge did not think he had the power to make a whole-life order, but he was “in error”.
The seriousness of the case was “exceptionally high”, and just punishment required a whole-life order – 40 years was unduly lenient.
In a letter written by McLoughlin to his lawyers explaining why he did not want representations made on his behalf, he said: “It is just that I believe I deserve the whole-life tariff which the AG is seeking and that the family of Graham Buck deserves to know officially that I will never be released.”
In Newell’s case, Lord Thomas said: “The murder was premeditated and involved the use of an improvised weapon. It occurred in prison whilst Newell continued to serve a life sentence. The deceased took a significant time to die.
“There was no mitigation. This was a murder where the seriousness of the offence was exceptionally high. The judge was right in making a whole-life order. This appeal is accordingly dismissed.”
However Mark Leech editor of Converse, the national newspaper for prisoners in England and Wales, criticised the judgment as ‘right wing.’
Mr Leech said: “I am not against whole life tariffs in principle, for the most heinous crimes it is absolutely right that society must be able to lock the door and throw away the key.
“But the point of a review of such a sentence 20 or 25 years after it was imposed, as held by the European Court of Human Rights, is crucially important in terms of fairness even if nothing changes when those reviews take place.
“It should not be the case that a whole life prisoner should have to prove exceptional circumstances before a review takes place – all whole life sentences should be reviewed 20 or 25 years after they are imposed because they are effectively a death sentence, a sentence of death in jail, and a review of all such sentences would show that British Justice goes that extra mile of fairness for which it has become famed around the world.
“Sadly today’s judgement shows that we currently have the most right-wing higher Courts since the days of Lord Chief Justice Goddard in the 1950’s, our senior judges – who are all appointed by the Queen on the political recommendation of the Prime Minister it must be remembered – have today shown they have little respect for human rights and they have done so-called British Justice a huge disservice by serving their political masters rather than the rights of those people they swore to uphold.”
The Court of Appeal is to rule today on a challenge over the legality of random stop-and-search powers aimed at tackling street violence.
The Metropolitan Police have been accused of breaching human rights laws by using the controversial powers against a disproportionately high number of black Londoners.
Ann Juliette Roberts, 39, of Upper Edmonton, north London, claims that the powers allowing ”searches without justification” were discriminatory on the grounds of race and incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
She became involved in a row with police on September 2010 after a ticket inspector discovered there were insufficient funds on her Oyster to pay her fare after she boarded a number 149 bus.
According to the police, she lied about her details and was uncooperative and behaved in a suspicious manner.
A police officer called to the scene thought she might be concealing a knife in her bag and she was subjected to a search under section 60 of the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.
She was arrested after obstructing the search and handcuffed but had to be taken to the ground when she continued to resist. No weapons were found.
Mrs Roberts, who was of good character, received a caution which was later quashed.
The police had been authorised to use section 60 powers, which allow ”random” searches, in the Haringey area because of gangland violence involving the use of weapons.
Mrs Roberts, a black woman with an African-Caribbean heritage and a grown-up son, applied for a judicial review but two High Court judges ruled the police had acted lawfully and section 60 did not breach human rights.
She has now asked Lord Justice Maurice Kay, Lady Justice Rafferty and Lady Justice Macur to rule the High Court has gone wrong in law.
A young man who spent more than seven years behind bars for a murder he insists he did not commit had his conviction quashed by judges today.
Sam Hallam, 24, was at the Court of Appeal in London to hear the announcement by Lady Justice Hallett, Mr Justice openshaw and Mr Justice Spencer that his conviction is “unsafe”.
Mr Hallam, who was convicted at the Old Bailey in 2005 of the murder of a trainee chef and sentenced to life, was dramatically released on bail by the three judges yesterday after prosecutors said they were not opposing his appeal.
His QC, Henry Blaxland, told the court that Mr Hallam, of Hoxton, east London, was the victim of a “serious miscarriage of justice”.
Mr Hallam was 18 when he was found guilty of the murder of Essayas Kassahun, 21, who died after being attacked by a group of youths on the St Luke’s estate in Clerkenwell, London, in October 2004.
His family and friends have waged a high-profile campaign insisting he is innocent, with supporters including the actor Ray Winstone.
Mr Hallam sat in the public gallery with his mother Wendy Cohen as the judges gave their reasons for their decision.
There was tumultuous applause and shouts of “justice” as the conviction was quashed.
A young man who has always pleaded his innocence over a 2004 murder had his first taste of freedom in more than seven years today after a dramatic twist in his case at the Court of Appeal.
Sam Hallam, 24, from Hoxton, east London, whom lawyers described as the victim of a “serious miscarriage of justice”, was released by leading judges after prosecutors announced they were not opposing his challenge against conviction.
Mr Hallam, who was 18 when found guilty and sentenced to life at the Old Bailey for the murder of a trainee chef, was released from the cells at the Royal Courts of Justice in London to be greeted by emotional family members and dozens of tearful and cheering supporters.
His mother Wendy Cohen, 53, who hugged her dazed-looking son, said the family was in a state of shock over the turn of events.
Surrounded by well-wishers she said: “My family has been through hell. It has been torture for Sam and the whole family.”
After leaving the building they were drenched in champagne by supporters waiting outside.
Among those greeting Mr Hallam were his brothers Terry, 31, and Danny, 29, and sister Daisy, 16. His father, Terry, was found hanged in October 2010.
Mr Hallam, who had earlier listened to proceedings from the dock of a packed courtroom, was hurried into a waiting car which sped away up Fleet Street as car horns honked and supporters whooped.
He was convicted in October 2005 of the murder of Essayas Kassahun, 21, who died after being attacked by a group of youths on the St Luke’s estate in Clerkenwell, London, in October 2004.
Since his conviction, his family and friends have mounted a high-profile campaign insisting he is innocent.
His case came before the appeal judges after it was referred to the court by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), the independent body which investigates possible miscarriages of justice.
Lady Justice Hallett, sitting with Mr Justice openshaw and Mr Justice Spencer, will give their ruling in the case at noon tomorrow, when they are expected to quash his conviction.
During today’s hearing, Mr Hallam’s QC Henry Blaxland told the judges that a miscarriage of justice was brought about by a combination of factors – including failure by the police to properly investigate Hallam’s alibi and by non-disclosure of material by the prosecution that “could have supported his case”.
Summarising the grounds of challenge, he said: “It is our case that this appellant SamHallam – and I put it boldly – has been the victim of a serious miscarriage of justice brought about by a combination of manifestly unreliable identification evidence, the apparent failure of his own alibi, failure by police properly to investigate his alibi and non-disclosure by the prosecution of material that could have supported his case.”
The prosecution case against Mr Hallam was based principally on the evidence of two witnesses who said they were present at the murder scene. They said they saw the then 17-year-old Hallam there and saw him take part in the fatal attack.
Mr Hallam, who was ordered to serve a minimum term of 12 years at the end of his trial, says he was elsewhere on the night of the killing.
An appeal against his conviction was dismissed in March 2007 and he applied to the CCRC to review his case in February 2008.
When announcing its decision to refer the case, the CCRC said it had done so because it “considers that a range of issues, including new evidence capable of casting doubt on the reliability of identification evidence at trial, together raise the real possibility that the Court of Appeal would now quash the conviction”.
Mr Blaxland said the appeal court had “bitter experience of wrongful convictions in cases such as this”.
Sometimes cases come before the court “in which it is necessary to re-learn the lessons of the past”.
He said: “In my submission, this is one such case.”
Mr Blaxland told the court that Mr Hallam had continued to deny that he was present at the scene of the murder, since his conviction.
The appeal judges heard there was new evidence relating to the “circumstances and reliability” of his identification and alleged presence at the scene.
Mr Blaxland argued that the identification evidence given by two witnesses was “so manifestly unreliable that the appellant’s submission of no case to answer should have been allowed”.
Fresh material included evidence from an acquitted co-accused that Hallam was not present at the scene and post-trial evidence from the appellant’s mobile telephone relating to his whereabouts on the evening of the crime.
He said the case “provides a stark reminder of the dangers of a miscarriage of justice from unreliable visual identification evidence”.
The QC told the judges: “The failures of disclosure and investigation by the prosecution are such that the appellant was deprived of a fair trial.”
At the end of today’s proceedings Lady Justice Hallett said: “May we express our appreciation to everybody who has been involved in investigating this matter, particularly the CCRC and Thames Valley Police, who have done an incredibly thorough job.”