There is a criminal offence of intentionally assisting offences believing one or more will be committed.
Jordan Atkinson was charged with this offence and sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment. The offence he assisted was wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. Several co-accused were convicted of murder, wounding and assisting an offender. Atkinson appealed against his sentence, and the Court saw an opportunity to give guidance on sentencing such offences.
Atkinson was sentenced on the basis that first, he drove Cox (the man convicted of murder and wounding) to collect a stolen car which was then used to take him to the scene of the murder. Second, he believed at the time of his assistance that Cox was to commit an offence of causing grievous bodily harm with intent but without knowledge that a firearm would be used. He had been with Cox when he bought two machetes before collecting the car, and the judge concluded that the appellant was prepared to help Cox with anything that was asked of him.
There are no sentencing guidelines for this offence, so the judge followed the guideline for the offence that was anticipated. In an earlier case, the Court emphasised the importance of focussing on the offence contemplated by the accused, in this case, that was assisting causing grievous bodily harm with intent.
It was said in the earlier case “when those ingredients of the section 46 offence are proved or admitted, it seems to us that the appropriate sentence generally will not differ significantly, and may perhaps not differ at all, from the sentence which would have been appropriate for the anticipated offence for conspiracy to commit the anticipated offence.”
You might expect someone charged with assisting the offence to be dealt with less severely than the person committing the offence. There is no rule, however, to say that it should be dealt with at a lower level.
The sentencing judge determined that Atkinson believed serious violence would be committed with a machete. He also observed that those who assist others in committing serious offences play an important role in the anticipated offence without actually committing it.
The Court of Appeal agreed with the sentencing judge. It also drew attention to the fact that there is now a general sentencing guideline available where there is no offence-specific guideline.
The Court held that the appropriate sentence will not generally be significantly different, or at all, from the sentence which would have been appropriate for committing the anticipated offence. A sentencing judge will need to consider:
- the relevant factual background;
- the nature of the offence the accused believed would be committed;
- the actual assistance provided; and
- the link between the assistance and the anticipated offence.
Atkinson’s appeal was dismissed, eight years was said to be well within the sentencing range for this offence.
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[Image credit: “Day 165 – West Midlands Police – Arresting suspected offenders” by West Midlands Police is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)