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Sentencing guidelines and the smartphone generation

View profile for Casian Sala

Sentencing guidelines and the smartphone generation


Interesting developments over at the Sentencing Council reflect how seriously the courts are taking the twenty-first century dependence on digital living.

So what precisely has moved Lord Justice Treacy, chairman of the Sentencing Council, to say: “Judicial thinking has evolved in part because technology has evolved”?

As ever with the law, a fairly profound statement with potentially far-reaching consequences arises from a fairly prosaic matter: in this case, the issue of how to deal with sentencing for theft when a smartphone is stolen.

The aim of the changed guidelines is to take into account when sentencing the full effect of the theft on the victim. In the case of stolen smartphones, it’s about far more than the cost of the phone in pounds and pence – or even the inconvenience of having to arrange a replacement, with all the tedious wrangling over contracts that can involve. What the Council aims to address it the emotional distress and loss of confidence that can come when the content of a smartphone is stolen – ranging from photographs (some of which may be fairly – ahem – personal in nature) to private data and confidential information.

In the past, magistrates have been able to take into account the sentimental value of a stolen item. A sentence for the theft of a comparatively low-value but highly prized wedding ring, for example, might conceivably be greater than that for an expensive item such as a television.

The new guidelines proposed by the Council will reflect the twenty-first century tendency for people to, as Judge Treacy put it, “Carry their whole lives on their smartphones or other devices.” He said, “We think it’s right that not only the value of the phone, but the emotional distress of losing precious photographs and the considerable inconvenience that losing a smartphone can cause should be taken into account when a device is stolen. People will be understandably concerned that their data might be misused as well as lost.”

So much for the days when judges were so far behind the times it was necessary to explain what the Beatles were . . .