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Sentencing more than one person for related offences is a difficult and complicated task.
As a starting point, persons who are involved in the same offence should, all thing being equal, receive the same penalty.
The problem, of course, it that all things are never quite equal. Different offenders might have greater or lesser involvement in the offending behaviour. There may be variations in the severity of the criminal record, the remorse shown by the offender, or any one of a multitude of subjective factors.
The consequence is co-offenders usually do receive different penalties.
These issues often arise when criminal offences are committed as part of a physical group, such as an robbery in company, or a riot. It also frequently comes up when different people play different roles in an offence, such as a large drug importation where the drugs pass through many pairs of hands, or a fraud involving multiple players.
The sentence proceedings can often end up running over several days as judicial officers wrestle with the difficult problem of allowing for all of the relevant factors.
Where one party feels that their sentence was too harsh by comparison to their co-offenders, they can appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal based on a ground usually referred to as “parity”. Before the court will vary a sentence, they need to be convinced that the person has a justifiable sense of grievance arising out of the comparison between the sentences.
Such appeals are often difficult, as there are usually numerous factors pulling in different directions. For example, where one offender has a longer criminal record and the other has a greater involvement in the offending, reasonable minds can differ as to what consequence this should have for the sentences to be handed down.
To try and address this problem, the lower courts usually do all they can to ensure that co-offenders are sentenced by the same judicial officer. This leads to far greater consistency, given that the judge or magistrate would usually be best placed to consider the varying roles played by the offenders, and to then reach consistent and easily understandable decisions.
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