By Renu Daly, clinical negligence solicitor
What makes for an appropriate punishment for somebody who took advantage of their position of trust as a respected children’s doctor to sexually abuse 18 young boys in his care for a number of years?
Initially, Judge Gareth Hawkesworth decided it should be a total of 22 years when sentencing Cambridgeshire doctor Myles Bradbury last December, following four-and-a-half years of offending in his specialist role at Addenbrooke’s Hospital.
The judge at the time said he had never come across a ‘more culpable or grave course of sexual criminality which had involved such a gross and grotesque breach and betrayal of the Hippocratic oath’ – handing out the severe sentence which was welcomed by victims and their families.
However, following an appeal by Bradbury against the sentence, a panel of three Court of Appeal Judges this week made the decision to ‘restructure’ the sentence, replacing it with a custodial element of 16 years, with an additional six years on licence.
This move was the cue for inaccurate headlines across the national media about Bradbury winning a ‘six year cut in sentence’.
Of course, it resulted in immediate calls to myself from journalists seeking the families of victims – a large number of whom we represent – looking for comments of outrage and disappointment.
As we stressed in our statement following the appeal hearing, yes, families were disappointed and angry that Bradbury even had the nerve to sit in a court room and appeal. He has not shown any remorse and had already put their families, and the gravely ill young boys through suffering from which many may not recover psychologically.
As lawyers representing these vulnerable victims, it is our place to ensure we fully explain the law, in plain English to our clients, so they fully understand what has happened.
We also feel it is important the wider public fully understand the decision made, and in this case, the ‘restructuring’ of Bradbury’s sentence was something we welcomed.
Previously, Bradbury had a determinate sentence, which is for a fixed length of time. Where the sentence is of 12 months or more, the offender spends the first half of the sentence in prison and the second half in the community ‘on licence’.
Under the previous statutory sentence, Bradbury would have served half his 22 year sentence – 11 years – before he would have been ‘eligible’ for release back into the community. He would have remained on licence for the remaining 11 years of the initial sentence, and would be immediately returned to prison should he offend again.
However, a sentence should always be about best protecting the public, and effectively, under the initial sentence, the threat of re-offending could have still have been very significant when Bradbury reached his 11 years term, and was able to walk free.
The Court of Appeal restructured the sentence to an ‘indeterminate’ 16-year sentence, with six years on licence.
With an ‘indeterminate’ prison sentence, there is no date is set when the person will be released.
They have to spend a minimum amount of time in prison (called a ‘tariff’) before they’re considered for release, with The Parole Board responsible for deciding if someone can be released.
Indeterminate sentences are given if a court thinks an offender is a danger to the public, and by sentencing him in this way, Bradbury’s character and behaviour will be under constant scrutiny.
He will serve two-thirds of the sentence – 10 years and 8 months – before importantly he is not ‘eligible’ `for release, but only ‘considered’ for release on licence, and here lies the key difference between the two sentences, as it provides greater protection to the public.
It means the courts have recognised this is a man who, after serving 11 years, may not have changed at all. He may have served his sentence, but he could remain a major threat to young children and could be highly likely to reoffend. If that were to be the case, his sentence would have done no good at all.
Under the ‘indeterminate sentence’, he will be assessed thoroughly, with his behaviour, his remorsefulness and his mental state closely assessed.
Under this system, the public will simply be much better protected.
If it is considered at the time that he is of any danger to the public, and young children in particular, he will remain in prison for the rest of his sentence – and if still a danger, his sentence could be amended again accordingly.
Under this approach, Bradbury won’t be released at all if still considered a threat, and that has to be the key consideration at all times.