THE sentencing of felons will always have a slightly subjective element to it.
Judges, after all, have to weigh up so many different factors on top of Ministry of Justice guidelines when handing down a punishment for everything from relatively minor infringements to murder.
But sometimes the leeway, either in terms of severity or leniency, seems to be so severe that it has most laypeople scratching their heads in bemusement.
Several years ago we published two court sentencings for very different crimes in the same week.
On the one hand a man was prosecuted for smuggling a small amount of cannabis into prison for his brother.
On the other a man admitted battering his wife to death with a baseball bat after lying in wait for her at their home then faking a break-in to throw police off the scent.
The contrast in crimes sticks in my mind because both men received nigh on the same-length sentence: four years and several months.
I’ve always had difficulty squaring these two. I understand that bringing a banned substance into a jail is a serious offence and examples need to be made, but does it warrant the same term as someone who has horrifically taken a life, especially as it was a relatively small amount of a Class B drug?
For that matter does manslaughter (for that indeed was the charge) in the circumstances described warrant so short a spell behind bars?
Well you decide, but sentence lengths have been very much in the news again this week after sexual predator Stuart Hall was handed a 15-month term for a string of sexual assaults against children.
As he is likely only to serve half of that time because he (eventually) pleaded guilty, that works out, as many have pointed out since, at little more than a fortnight per victim.
Yes Hall is elderly and his offences when compared with knifepoint rape fall into a lesser category of sex crime.
But this man attacked no fewer than 13 girls, the youngest aged just nine years old.
That pervy and traumatising campaign deserved far more than this and must leave some of Hall’s victims wondering whether it was worth their while dredging up their ordeals after all this time.