Many will remember the report of a series of stabbings in Birmingham in September 2020 – Jacob Billington sadly died, killed at random and seven others were seriously injured in the course of other random attacks across the city centre area and a man was arrested in subsequent days, prosecuted for murder and a number of serious woundings. Yesterday, Zephaniah McLeod was sentenced for manslaughter at Birmingham Crown Court to (at least) 21yrs in prison for these offences and it’s obvious from victim impact statements how much carnage has been inflicted on the lives not only of the victims, but their families who are still looking for answers as to what happened and why.
Having handed down a lengthy prison term, the judge also stated Mr McLeod will be detained at Ashworth (high security) hospital “for as long as is necessary” and I thought a short-post to explain this sentence may be useful. It’s almost certain (although not made explicit in media coverage) that he has been sentenced under s45A of the Mental Health Act 1983 – a so-called “hybrid order”. They are becoming increasingly common in cases where there is serious criminal liability but where a defendant is seriously mentally ill to the point where they require hospital treatment. At the risk of repetition, it’s obviously not the case that just because someone is seriously ill, they are not criminally culpable for their actions.
Some are – but Mr McLeod was not and hence the suitability of a hybrid order after guilt was established.
Section 45A means a defendant like Mr McLeod whose guilt is established will be given a set prison term (in this case, 21yrs), however, he will first be removed to a relevant psychiatric hospital for treatment of their mental disorder and will remain there until doctors feel that his treatment is complete. If such period of time is less than 21yrs, he will then be transferred to prison to complete his sentence and any release from prison will be subject to the normal Parole Board processes which apply to prisoners; but if his hospital treatment lasts longer than 21yrs, then consideration will be given as to whether he can be discharged from hospital or whether he should still be transferred to prison. In this particular case, the judge has imposed a sentence duration of “at least” 21yrs, so it’s conceivable in theory that if treatment is completed at 22yrs, he could still be transferred to prison for a further period – just like
The purpose of these types of order is to make sure that criminals whose guilt has been established do not spend less time in detention that someone guilty of similar crimes who did not require psychiatric treatment. By way of contrast, had Mr McLeod been given a s37/41 restricted hospital order, then he discharge would be governed only by considerations around his mental health and public safety. If doctors and the Ministry of Justice were satisfied, for example, that he no longer required hospital treatment after 10yrs, he would not be moved to prison, thus spending far less time in custody than someone guilty of similar offences who was not also mentally ill. The s45A hybrid order ensures parity, if you like.
Examinations continue as to Mr McLeod’s contact with mental health services and other agencies prior to the offences and those are due to complete next year.
Winner of the President’s Medal, the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Winner of the Mind Digital Media Award
All views expressed are my own – they do not represent the views of any organisation.(c) Michael Brown, 2021
I try to keep this blog up to date, but inevitably over time, amendments to the law as well as court rulings and other findings from inquests and complaints processes mean it is difficult to ensure all the articles and pages remain current. Please ensure you check all legal issues in particular and take appropriate professional advice where necessary.
Government legislation website – www.legislation.gov.uk