In the space of a week, Paul Mitchell went from being an ordinary football spectator to Birmingham City’s most notorious fan. He invaded the pitch on Sunday, landing a blow to the back of the head of Aston Villa player Jack Grealish. His actions have brought him a prison sentence of 14 weeks- but where will that figure have come from?

Here, the Regulatory and Criminal Law team offer an overview of the process involved when defendants come to be sentenced, and whether more can be done to make it more transparent.

So why did Mr Mitchell get sent to prison?

Mr Mitchell was prosecuted in relation to two offences. The most important for him was that of Battery, contrary to section 39 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. He was also charged with a further offence as a result of him encroaching onto the pitch. The Football (Offences) Act 1991, section 4, allows a person to be punished if they go onto the playing area. The maximum sentence for that offence is a Fine.

Clearly, the most significant contributor to Mr Mitchell’s sentence was his conviction for Battery. In deciding the case, the Magistrates deciding Mr Mitchell’s case were required to apply the Sentencing Guideline in relation to Assault.

It appears that the Magistrates placed Mr Mitchell’s case in Category 1 of the Guidelines. For it to have been classified this way, they must have felt that the greater harm and higher culpability categories both applied. We simply don’t know, which leads to the ‘What should happen in the future?’ point at the conclusion of this article.

Tempting as it might be for Mr Mitchell to feel he was made an example of because his victim was a footballer, that’s simply not the case. We should not overlook the fact that we don’t have the exact reasons for the decision, but one thing is clear: the Magistrates believed the case to be sufficiently serious that only a prison sentence would do.

What should happen in the future?

Calls for a copy of a court’s sentencing remarks to be issued as a matter of course are not unwarranted; more information would help to demystify the process and ought to help correct some of the most common misunderstandings. We currently see this only happening in the most serious cases taking place in the most senior courts, but cases which are dealt with by Magistrates can often be of particular public interest, as with Mr Mitchell.

This would rely on the media to report the sentencing remarks accurately, avoiding the temptation to quote the most salacious elements out of context. In fairness, Court reporters are not always available to attend hearings and even if they are, a copy of the sentencing remarks should help to ensure clarity and precision.

The Sentencing Guidelines Council recently launched a consultation on expanding the explanations given in the Guidelines. Perhaps the issuing of sentencing remarks as a matter of course should also be given the consideration it so clearly merits.

The above article is a general overview of the principles, but it does not of course act as a substitute for expert advice about a particular case.

If you have any questions relating to the content of this article, please do not hesitate to contact Ison Harrison.


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