Richard Littler QC and Jane Greenhalgh appear in landmark Sinaga sentencing appeal
November 5, 2020
Earlier this year, Sinaga, the world’s most prolific sex offender, was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 30 years after being found guilty of 159 counts of sexual offences against 48 different men. He was convicted of 136 counts of rape, 8 counts of attempted rape, 14 counts of sexual assault and 1 count of assault by penetration.
Richard Littler QC has had conduct of the case for 3 years, conducting 4 consecutive trials.
The historic appeal is testing the existing practice that only homicide cases can justify the imposition of a whole life sentence.
The hearing marks the first time two separate offenders’ sentences have been challenged together as being unduly lenient. The Court of Appeal is also considering the sentence in the case of Joseph McCann, who was given 33 life sentences at the Old Bailey in December for a series of horrific sex attacks on 11 women and children.
As an indication of the historic nature of the appeal, five judges heard the case. The panel was led by Lord Burnett of Maldon, the Lord Chief Justice and the most senior judge in England and Wales. He was joined by Dame Victoria Sharp, the President of the Queen’s Bench division of the High Court, Lord Justice Fulford, the vice-president of the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal, Mr Justice Choudhury and Mrs Justice Cutts.
Following extensive submissions, the court announced the outcome will be handed down on a future date.
The following submissions were made by Richard Littler QC:
- It was argued that the Attorney General was out of time and could not now complain about the length of sentences passed in December 2018 and June 2019. Each of the trials were distinct, served separately and dealt with individually. Therefore, any complaint about those sentences should have been within 28 days. There is no power to extend. The Attorney General argued they were entitled to wait until the end of “entire proceedings” before referring and the court could review the entire case.
- Richard Littler QC argued whole life sentences have hitherto been awarded only in homicide cases. Whilst authorities suggest the door is not closed to non-homicide cases, they must be factually “exceptionally serious” and authorities suggest extreme physical violence (attempted murder). The facts of the individual offences in Sinaga did not, according to the Trial Judge, have the hallmarks of physical violence or lasting physical injury, albeit huge psychological harm was caused and it is right that violence is inherent in all sexual assault cases. However, the absence of actual physical violence did not make the case “exceptionally serious enough”, and the numbers of victims or prolific offending did not, justify the leap to such a sentence.
- Richard Littler QC was invited to consider Mr. Justice Edis’ approach to sentencing in the McCann case. In that case the Trial Judge ordered life imprisonment but ordered McCann to serve two thirds of the sentence before parole consideration. This was on the basis that two thirds is the approach with dangerousness Extended Determinate Sentences (so what is the difference with dangerous lifers?).
- Richard Littler QC argued the Trial Judge in Sinaga deliberately chose for the appellant to serve half before Parole following careful consideration. Any attempt now by this court to vary the minimum term from 30 to 40 years by ordering two thirds to be served would effectively be bringing about a whole life sentence via a different route. The court therefore could only do that by applying the same “exceptionally serious to warrant it” test and the facts of the case were not.