Court of Appeal refuses Attorney-General’s application to increase sentence of mentally disordered defendant convicted of murder
In R v Mark Richard Alexander  EWCA Crim 1517, the Court of Appeal (Popplewell LJ, Johnson J and HHJ Flewitt KC) declined to interfere with the minimum term of 15 years set by trial judge HHJ Munro KC following Mr Alexander’s conviction for murder. A defence of diminished responsibility had been rejected by the jury.
The Court of Appeal agreed with the judge’s assessment that this was a “complex and very difficult sentencing exercise”: the detailed evidence in the trial included several thousand pages of medical notes and numerous days of evidence from expert psychiatric and other professional witnesses. Although the case was complicated by elements of “malingering, fabrication and exaggeration”, as well as some “culpable refusal” to take medication, this had to be balanced against the evidence of “genuine psychosis and delusions”. The trial judge also accepted that Mr Alexander had been willing to go to hospital to receive treatment in the run-up to the killing, but that this did not happen because no bed was available.
The Court of Appeal rejected the Attorney General’s submission that the judge had given too much weight (i.e. a six year reduction) to the “important mitigating factor” of Mr Alexander’s complex presentation of mental disorder and disability. In so doing, the Court expressed its hope that the Attorney General would “keep in mind” the well-established principles that apply in the context of references to refer sentences on grounds of undue leniency, including that “sentencing is an art rather than a science; that the trial judge is particularly well-placed to assess the weight to be given to various competing considerations; and that leniency is not in itself a vice” (AG’s Ref. (No. 4 of 1989)  1 WLR 41 at p.45H).