The importance of not justifying defendant’s crime in plea in mitigation hearings

By | April 11, 2016

Members of the University of Bradford Law Society were delighted to have been invited to attend the University of Law Bar Society ‘Plea in Mitigation’ workshop in Leeds.

The event, held on February 22, was hosted in conjunction with Park Square Barristers, Leeds, and attended by a number of universities nationwide. Upon arrival, we were presented with a selection of cakes, sweets and treats and the opportunity to network.

The Northern Circuit is relatively small and close knit; networking is vital and creating connections with future colleagues is invaluable. The main workshop was hosted in the university’s courtroom, which consists of a judge’s chamber, dock and counsel benches. Christopher Moran of Park Square Barristers was introduced as the judge for the evening. He is an experienced barrister dealing with predominantly criminal cases and so an expert in submissions of pleas in mitigation; suddenly, the thought of being judged seemed a lot more daunting. Nevertheless, we spent 30 minutes analysing the scenario put before us.

The case involved a single father, with alcohol issues and psychological illness who had been made unemployed. His crime was theft during the Christmas period and his motive was providing the bare necessities for his young children. The compelling circumstances of the case gave rise to the temptation of justifying the defendant’s crime. This is one of the biggest mistakes during a plea in mitigation submission as the aim is to mitigate the sentence not the crime itself. In order to do this, we looked at aggravating and mitigating factors to convince the judge to lean towards the lower end of the scale of the sentencing guidelines. For example, the defendant’s parental responsibilities towards his young children may provide mitigation for imposing a prison sentence but the fact that he is a repeat offender may counteract this.

Each student was allowed five minutes to perform a plea in mitigation in front of the judge and individual feedback was provided at the end of each submission. The University of Bradford School of Law students made a lasting impression on the judge, leaving him astounded that we had never taken part in a similar exercise before. Our mooting champion, Mohammad Haroon, was noted for being remarkably calm, logical and thorough in dealing with each possible line of argument. I was praised for tackling the problematic issues head on, legal justification of alternative sentencing and use of wider material for reference. Sara Fullalove was applauded for her confidence in delivery. The judge had little to criticise and suggested practice in order to make use of the full time available to us.

Plea in mitigations are an important part of all criminal cases. They are not only submitted by barristers in court, but also by solicitors. It is important to remember not to attempt to mitigate the offence but to mitigate the sentence. It is an opportunity to provide information to persuade the court to impose the most favourable sentence possible. The Sentencing Council has issued guidelines stating the minimum and maximum sentences that could be imposed upon the defendant. Advocates use a plea in mitigation to persuade the court to impose the most lenient sentence available.

This inaugural event was a huge success and helped us to develop our analytical, negotiation and public speaking skills. We were honoured to have been invited and were presented with a certificate to recognise our achievement. We look forward to attending future workshops and developing relations with the Leeds Bar Society.