The legislature and the judiciary are (supposedly) separate bodies in the U.K. It is not, as one columnist put it, for politicians to cheer or boo the decisions of the supposedly independent judges and magistrates. This did not seem to constrain anyone. Indeed, Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service went out of its way to clarify the position:
"Sentencing is a matter for the independent judiciary," it said. (But) "... justices' clerks and legal advisers in magistrates courts have a responsibility to give advice to magistrates on sentencing guidelines .... Accordingly magistrates in London are being advised by their legal advisers to consider whether their powers of punishment are sufficient in dealing with some cases arising from the recent disorder."
So that is clear then. The judiciary and magistrates are independent. On the other hand all their professional advisers are telling them to ratchet up the sentences they give and send offenders to the Crown Courts if magistrates' powers seem insufficient. This advice reflects the vengeful ambitions of the politicians (led by the Prime Minister).
From the Guardian, 16th. August: "The Chair of Camberwell Green magistrates' court, Novello Noades, went so far as to claim that the court had been given a government "directive" that anyone involved in the rioting be given a custodial sentence. She later retracted her statement and said that she was mortified to have used the term 'directive'."
Whatever you call it, the 'directive' has had its effect and the results of this advice from the politicians have been ludicrous. It would be a laughable situation were the sentences imposed not so extreme that they will wreck the lives of some young people and incite rather than deter active expressions of protest and dissent.
A youth was sent to prison for six months for stealing bottled water valued at £3.50. Two others were sent to prison for four years each (FOUR YEARS) for posting riotous suggestions on Facebook (though absolutely no one responded and one of them took the suggestions down as soon as he sobered up.)
The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, was - for once - completely right when he stated (before he came into office) that austerity policies and excessive deflationary pressures would lead to riots. These were his words before the last election, which Gary Younge recalled in an excellent article in the Guardian on Monday 15th. August:
"Imagine the Conservatives ... get an absolute majority, on 25% of the eligible votes .... They then turn around in the next week or two and say we're going to chuck up VAT to 20%, we're going to start cutting teachers, cutting the police, and the wage bill in the public sector. I think if you're not careful in that situation ... you'd get Greek-style unrest."
The Tories got 23% of the eligible vote.
Nick Clegg and his party have actively supported cutting teachers' pay, cutting the numbers of the police and axing the wage bill in the public sector.
".... Greek-style unrest."
Given how much politicians pocketed before the expenses scandal and the autocratic disdain with which they paid back the money (without remorse) when forced to do so, it does not behove them to call for poor people to be sent to prison for ludicrously long periods.
Most of the politicians stole much more than £3.50.