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Arson – a case on sentencing children

R v JT [2018] EWCA Crim 1942

This judgment is a good example of the distinct and individualistic approach to be taken when sentencing children.

Details

The appellant was charged with, what on the face of it, was a serious matter of arson. The appellant had set fire to bus in a bus station, which had caused £1.8 million of damage, and the sentencing judge had sentenced him to 3 years’ imprisonment following full discount for an early guilty plea under section 91 PCC(S)A 2000. However, a Youth Rehabilitation Order of 18 months was substituted on appeal with a number of conditions, including a curfew.

This significant change in sentence was described as an exceptional course by the Court of Appeal, who cited the appellant’s age, low culpability and individual circumstances as the reasons for considering the matter to be an exceptional one.

The appellant was 15 when he set fire to some newspaper on the bus. At the time he was being placed in care, he went to a number of different placements, and committed various criminal offences. However this matter, through no fault of his, took some time to be sentenced, and he was eventually sentenced 22 months after the incident, by which time he had stopped offending, was in education, and the writer of the pre-sentence report described him as a ‘very different young person.’ The report expressed concern that his good progress would be put in jeopardy by a custodial sentence.

The Court of Appeal criticised the sentencing judge for taking an arithmetic approach to sentencing, simply taking the sentence for an adult, and reducing it by a certain percentage. The need for a distinct approach to offending by children can be encapsulated by Mr Justice William Davis’ judgment: ‘It is, in reality, difficult to imagine an ordinary adult doing what this appellant did..’. The court emphasised many passages of the sentencing guidelines, that draw the sentencing judge’s attention to factors such as whether the child is in care.

Commentary

This is a good example of where in appropriate circumstances a radically different sentence may be passed on a child than that an adult would expect as youth sentences should be focused on the child rather than the offence, and in particular keep in mind their need for rehabilitation.