A man who assaulted a prison officer had a jail sentence overturned due to court backlogs and cell shortages, i can reveal.
Arie Ali, who was convicted of assaulting an emergency worker in February, was sentenced to six months in prison following a guilty plea.
But the sentence was quashed by the Court of Appeal on Friday, after a judge said prison overcrowding concerns and the delays during his prosecution meant he should not be jailed.
In his judgment, Lord Justice Edis cited precedent that sentencing should take prison overcrowding into account when deciding sentencing, due to the effect on prisoners of poor conditions from overcrowding.
In 2019, while serving a three-year sentence for his role in a people trafficking racket, Ali threw a mug of boiling hot liquid over a prison officer, giving him a first-degree burn.
But he was only charged in February 2021, seven months after his release and sixteen months after the assault. The case was meant to be heard in June last year but was delayed until February this year because of barrister strikes and court backlogs.
In Ali’s appeal, which concluded last week, two grounds of appeal were rejected, but Lord Justice Edis said that the length of time that passed between the offence and the sentencing had created “exceptional circumstances” as he was unable to serve his two sentences consecutively.
He also noted limitations of prison capacity, citing a notice from Justice Secretary Dominic Raab that warned “operating very close to prison capacity will have consequences for the conditions in which prisoners are held”.
The judge said he would “take into account” Mr Raab’s warning about crowded conditions as he quashed Mr Ali’s custodial sentence, instead handing the prisoner a six-month suspended sentence.
People serving shorter sentences are particularly badly affected by overcrowding because the problems persist for a larger proportion of the time they spend behind bars.
The Government has been placed under pressure due to cell shortages, as ministers have looked to balance a desire for stronger sentencing with a reduced ability to jail criminals. In January, i revealed how the Government were forced to U-turn over a planned cut to “rapid deployment cells”, as capacity reduced.
In the judgment, Lord Justice Edis said the Government would need to tell the courts as to when prisons had returned to a more “normal” state.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Sentencing remains a matter for the independent judiciary.
“As the public would rightly expect, we’re working with other agencies across the criminal justice system to make sure we have enough prison places in the immediate term as we continue to experience significant pressures driven by the impact of the barristers’ strike and the pandemic.”
Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said “This Conservative Government talks a big game about how tough they are on crime, but it’s all just empty words and broken promises. In reality, victims are lucky if they see appropriate justice.
“Serious offenders, including those who assault key and emergency workers, are given sentences that are too light because the Government has failed to support any facet of the criminal justice system.
“Cases like this are becoming too frequent. Conservative Ministers need to urgently find ways to tackle court backlogs so violent offenders are not let off the hook by default.”