Robert Chalmers v HM Advocate

9th May 2014

Background

On 12th May 2011, the appellant was convicted of the following:

“(i) the murder of Samantha Wright and (ii) of defeating the ends of justice by, inter alia, mutilating and attempting to conceal her body.” (numbering added)

Mr Chalmers was given a life-sentence for the the first charge of murder with a punishment part of 23 years. The appellant was also convicted of the second charge and was sentenced to six years imprisonment. The six years of the second charge is to run concurrently with the life sentence.

Appeal

The appeal, submitted on Mr Chalmers’ behalf, alleged that the punishment component of the sentence was excessive due to the following:

“the fact that the cause of death could not be ascertained; the delay before trial and the sentencing judge’s approach to the period of time that the appellant had spent on remand.”

The appeal argued that since the cause of death was unknown – injuries inflicted post mortem meant that cause of death could not be ascertained – it was not appropriate to impose a prison sentence outwith the normal range. Additionally, it alleged that, due to a definitive cause of death, death from natural causes could not be excluded.

The appeal also argued that the the trial judge ought to have taken account of the delay in bringing the appellant to trial and the lengthy period it took for proceedings to conclude.

Conclusion

The advocate depute submitted that the punishment fixed by the judge was within the range of reasonable discretion open to him. This discretion granted to judges is necessary to allow the circumstances of each case to be appropriately taken into consideration (HMA v Boyle2010 SCCR 103, at para 17).

The advocate depute also asserted that due to the aggravating factors the judge was fully justified in using such discretion. The factors that determined this decision were as follows.

“The appellant and the deceased were strangers. The deceased was a vulnerable individual. (HMA v Boyle (supra) and Jakolev v HMA (supra)) She was significantly younger than the appellant. There were indications that she suffered a violent death. The bloodstain on the mattress was consistent with a significant wound. Her body had been dismembered in an attempt to conceal the crime (HMA v Boyle (supra)). The appellant had a previous conviction for murder. He made no admission of guilt and expressed no remorse.”

Of the appeal’s final point – that the appellant spent 545 days in custody before sentence – the judge conceded the only safe and proper course of action was to back-date his sentence.

Due to the reasons provided above, the Lord Justice General refused the appeal.


Further details can be found on ScotCourts.gov.uk.

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