HMA v Robert Michael John Simmons

At Lerwick Sheriff Court today, 11 October 2017, Sheriff Philip Mann sentenced Robert Simmons to two years and eight months imprisonment after the accused pled guilty to domestic abuse offences.

On sentencing, Sheriff Mann made the following statement in court: 

“Mr Simmons, if I were at all influenced by what I understand has been said in the media about this case you would probably be going to custody for life with no prospect of release. But, whilst I understand and acknowledge that there is a legitimate public interest to ensure that those who do wrong are properly and appropriately punished, I am not paid to adopt a hang ‘em high, lynch mob attitude. My job is much more difficult, sensitive and balanced than that. 

“You stand before me having pled guilty to a catalogue of offences committed against your wife over a period of some 30 years. Individually and taken on their own some of the offences would possibly merit punishment by way of a fine, some would merit punishment by way of a community payback order or some other alternative to a custodial sentence, some undoubtedly would merit serious consideration of a custodial sentence. 

“Taken together, the offences reveal a sustained and wicked campaign of abuse, perhaps historic to an extent, but abuse which, nonetheless, has degraded and devastated the woman whom, if you took the marriage vow, you promised to love, cherish and obey. When I look cumulatively at what you did I can see no proper alternative to a custodial sentence. 

“I am aware that there have been calls in the media for me to remit this case to the High Court for sentence. Leaving aside the question whether it is at all appropriate, or proper, for the media to report or comment on such matters prior to the sentence being imposed and before all that will influence the sentence has been laid before me, I am not going to do that because that would suggest that the proper starting point for the sentence, taking account of the timing of your plea for which you are entitled to a discount of one third, would be in excess of seven-and-a-half years.  

“I consider that to be unduly harsh. It has to be understood that the Crown decided to place this case before me, with a sentencing power of no more than five years, rather than before the High Court. That decision, I am sure, was taken after a careful review of all of the evidence available to them.  

“That suggests that the Crown took and take the view that the maximum sentence appropriate for these offences, in cumulo, is five years – because the Crown will have proceeded on the assumption that they would have to prove the charges by trial before a jury when a finding of guilt by a jury would bring about a punishment not susceptible to discount for an early plea. Whilst I am not, of course, bound by any view expressed by the Crown, I set more store by that than by any views reported in the media that may be driven by emotive sensationalism. 

“In deciding on your punishment I have taken account of everything said by the procurator fiscal; I have taken account of the effects of your behaviour on your wife; I have taken account of everything said, so very ably, on your behalf; I have taken account of everything said in the criminal justice social work report placed before me today; I have taken account of the public interest in ensuring that crimes are properly punished and that the message is sent out that domestic abuse will not be tolerated; I bear in mind that the deprivation of liberty resulting from any custodial sentence, especially for someone who has not been to custody before or even been before a court before, represents a very significant sentence.

“I bear in mind that the purpose of the sentence is not to put a price on the harm that you have caused your wife or in any way to compensate her for what she had to endure. I bear in mind that the very fact of a custodial sentence is likely to hold more significance to your wife than the length of it; finally, I am prepared to accept that you are remorseful and now realise that what you did over the years was wrong and unacceptable. 

“Taking all of these factors into account, had it not been for your early plea of guilt I would have sentenced you, on a cumulo basis for all of the offences to which you have pled guilty, to a period of imprisonment of 48 months. 

“Your early plea has had a very significant utilitarian value because amongst other things it has saved your wife from having to give distressing evidence and saved other witnesses from that ordeal also. I reflect that utilitarian value by discounting the sentence to one of 32 months which will be served from today’s date.”