Director of Public Prosecutions v Ottewell: HL 1968

The antecedent criminal history of an offender is a factor which may be taken into account in determining the sentence to be imposed, but it cannot be given such weight as to lead to the imposition of a penalty which is disproportionate to the gravity of the instant offence. The offender must be regarded as having otherwise paid the penalty for the prior offence or offences, and to do so would be to impose a fresh penalty for past offences.
If a word or expression is used in a statute creating a penal or taxation liability, and there is looseness or ambiguity attaching to it, the word should be construed strictly so as to prevent a fresh imposition of liability from being created unfairly by the use of oblique or slack language
Lord Donovan said: ‘Judges have always (and I think rightly) felt themselves entitled to deal with a persistent offender by increasing the sentence they would have passed if he were not. This is not to punish the offender again for his past crimes, nor is it always primarily for the protection of the public. It may simply be because of the Judge’s view that sentences passed for previous offences have proved to be an insufficient deterrent and that the effect of a longer sentence must be tried, perhaps in the offender’s own interest; or it may be that repetition has itself increased the gravity of the offence. Eventually, in some cases, the stage is reached where it becomes clear that progressively increasing sentences are not a deterrent and the protection of the public against a persistent offender then comes to the forefront of the considerations which the Judge must take into account.’


Lord Reid, Lord Donovan


[1968] CLY 837, [1968] 3 ALL ER 153, [1970] AC 642, (1968) 52 Cr App R 679


England and Wales

Cited by:

AppliedAttorney-General’s Reference (No 1 of 1988) HL 1989
The defendant received price-sensitive information. He was acquitted of ‘obtaining’ the information, the judge finding that he had done nothing positive to acquire it. On appeal the court held that no such act was required,
Held: Nothing . .
CitedTransport for London v Uber London Ltd Admn 16-Oct-2015
TFL sought a declaration as to the legality of the Uber taxi system. Otherwise unlicensed drivers took fares with fees calculated by means of a smartphone app. The Licensed Taxi drivers said that the app operated as a meter and therefore required . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Criminal Sentencing

Updated: 30 April 2022; Ref: scu.198951