Muhiddin MIRE was today sentenced by a criminal court following the attack at Leytonstone Underground station last December that made prominent national headlines. I admit, I had a bit of a job initially piecing together what exactly the court had done, following vague media reports that appeared somewhat to contradict themselves! One simply claimed the man had been sentenced to ‘life in jail’ whilst another that he would ‘begin his sentence at Broadmoor’. This made me wonder whether, in fact, the court had sentenced him to what’s known as a hybrid order – this turns out to be exactly what they’d done; so I thought I’d quickly explain it, in case of any doubt as to what this means!
Before I do, I’d observe that somewhere between being charged with attempted murder by the police and his sentencing today, he has been transferred between the criminal justice and mental health systems. When he first appeared at court, there would be no power for Magistrates to remand the defendant to hospital under the Mental Health Act. At or after his first appearance at the Crown Court, he could be transferred and that has obviously occured and facilitated a period of assessment by the psychiatrists who have given professional opinion to the sentencing judge. The defendant has pleaded guilty to the offence, notwithstanding that his mental illness is serious enough to mean he reaches the threshold for admission to hospital under the MHA.
So this is yet another example to prove the point that serious mental illness does not always equate to a lack of criminal responsibility for serious crimes. Indeed, as previously pointed out, attempted murder is the most difficult kind of assault to prove – because a charge of murder succeeds if it can be proved that the defendant intended to kill or seriously injure the victim; attempted murder requires proof of intent to kill. A notably higher threshold to satisfy.
A hybrid order means that the court can issue a ‘normal’ criminal sentence of imprisonment to any defendant over the age of twenty-one, but they will first be admitted to hospital under the Mental Health Act for treatment. It then depends how long the patient’s treatment lasts as to whether they are discharged from hospital or transferred to prison to complete that original sentence. All of this is done under s45A of the Mental Health Act 1983.
So in Muhiddin MIRE’s case, he was sentenced to ‘life imprisonment with a recommendation that he serve a minimum of 8.5yrs in jail’, commencing with the treatment aspect of the hybrid order. Let’s imagine he remains in hospital for 6yrs receiving treatment, he will then be transferred to prison for a minimum period of 2.5yrs before the Parole Board would be able to take any decision about his release from prison. Were his hospital treatment to last 9yrs, then release would be considered – but not necessarily granted! – as soon as the clinician in charge of his care recommended discharge from hospital. If the Parole Board did not grant immediate discharge, he would be transferred to prison to serve further time in jail until his case for release is reconsidered.
Finally, anyone made subject to a hybrid order after conviction for any offence specified in Schedule 1 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, will be subject to the provisions of Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements, or MAPPA. These are arrangements which aim to ensure, amongst other things, post-release mechanisms through which public authorities cooperate to share information, to ensure risks are properly managed in the community, if or when a patient is discharged or prisoner released.
So this is the only form of sentence which combines two periods of detention: first in hospital and then in prison. These orders seem to becoming more popular amongst judges, the point being that they prevent people with serious mental illnesses who are convicted by the courts of being subject to a far shorter period of detention under a (restricted) hospital order than they would have done if they had been sentenced only to a period in prison.
And we could debate the ethics that sit behind that approach, all day long … on another day!
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