Harry Woolf of the House of
Lords is called Lord
Woolf, since he wears a white wig and sits on
the Court of Appeal of England and Wales.
December of 2002, a decision he wrote during his tenure as Lord Chief Justice, raised a small
furor in the press. In McInerney & Anor v R,
Chief Justice Harry Woolf rejected sentencing guidelines for home burglars, which called for a minimum jail
term of 18 months.
Eighteen months for a violent crime like a break and enter did not seem extraordinary. But to Justice Woolf did not like sentencing guidelines; he wrote:
propose that instead of adopting a stepped approach
(for home burglary offender) in cases in
which courts would otherwise be looking to starting
point of up to 18 months imprisonment, the initial
approach of the courts should be to impose a community
It was no typographical error.
La-La Land at Old Bailey
Within days, hardened criminals convicted of home burglary were given community service awards and required to
seek or obtain therapy.
one example of many examples, within a month of the decision, these
words appeared in the London Telegraph newspaper in
regards to a home burglary in which an elderly victim
had required hospitalization to treat her injuries:
"Earlier this month,
serial burglar Mark Patterson, 42, was spared jail and
given an 18-month drug treatment and rehabilitation
order - in line with Lord Woolf's guidelines.
Patterson, of Deptford, south east London, was a drug
addict who told the court he wanted to be a poet and
had 31 previous convictions, including 11 appearances
The Lord Chancellor
(the Minister of Justice in England) came out in
support of Justice Woolf.
Justice Woolf scoffed at the idea that he made a
mistake and took the very unusual step of issuing a public statement, trying to again justify
his decision and worried that it was a wrong
interpretation that was in
"... the public will be left
with a totally wrong impression.... This could
seriously harm the public, by reducing, without
justification, their confidence in the criminal justice
Cheyne Walk, Chelsea (south-west London) is one of the
city's most exclusive addresses if not the country.
Harry Woolf lives there. Again, according to the London
"Our investigation reveals that in the
past three years more than 40 of the homes in Cheyne
Walk, which Lord Woolf lists as his home address, have
been targeted by thieves: a number have been broken
In May of 2011, the Sentencing Council reversed Harry Woolf's precedent, returning to
a policy of mandatory jail terms for all home
Chickens Come Home to Roost
But not before the chickens may have come home to roost.
Retired British prison doctor and psychiatrist. Dr. Dalrymple wrote, in the very days of the 2011 London riots,
that judicial ignorance of criminality is a root cause.
His theory is impossible to dismiss: that the writers
know that short of killing a police officer, "nothing
much is likely to happen to them whatever else they
"How deeply criminality
is embedded in the culture and minds of at least some
of the British population. It's the default
"The number of people of whom this is
true is uncomfortably large. This is something that are
cowardly, lazy and dishonest political and intellectual
class has long refused to consider the possibility, let
alone acknowledge as a fact."
Dr. Dalrymple is
correct but he misses another reality. Most judges have
not been the victim of a violent crime. Justice Woolf's
house has never been broken into; his wife never duct-
taped while masked thugs rife through his personal
papers. We would not wish this on any judge nor do we ludicrously suggest that it be a prerequisite to appointment, but it is a fact.
Further, many "criminal minds" are substance-abuse fun-seekers who, too, have their actions shaped by decisions such as that of Justice Woolf. Their attitude isn't mafia-like: it's a perverted badge of honour to commit crime just for the sake of the thrill of it. And if caught, no big deal!1
Some of those standing trial for home
burglars may be potential good citizens just needing a
gentle warning. Perhaps 1%?
But home invasion is a violent crime that should not receive a slap on the wrist but should be dealt with by sharp, stern justice.
Justice Wolff's experience shows that when judges hesitate when applying a statute imposed upon them in an area where they previously had judicial discretion, chaos can result as any public policy the legislator had in mind is instantly compromised.
Theodore, Lenient Justice Begets Yobs and London Burns, Globe and Mail, August 11, 2011, page
- Doughty, Steve, From now you must jail EVERY
burglar, judges will be told, The London Daily Mail
Newspaper, May 12, 2011
- McInerney & Anor v R.,  EWCA Crim
- NOTE 1: law student Marouane Rouhi was one of the rioters arrested in St John's Wood!
- The Telegraph, Lord Woolf defends burglary
policy, January 14, 2003
- The Telegraph, Lord Woolf's own street hit by
crimewave, January 12, 2003