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Court of Appeal judgement on credit for youth and immaturity

R v A [2019] EWCA Crim 1279

In a case of ‘serious offending’ the Court of Appeal reduced the sentence of a 17-year-old from 3 years and 4 months’ dentition to 2 years and 8 months, on account of his age and mitigation. The appellant had diagnosed Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and lower than average language skills for his age.

Details

In February 2019 the appellant entered guilty pleas to robbery, possession of a bladed article and two attempted robberies. He was sentenced to 3 years and 4 months for the robbery (with no separate penalties for the other offences). He was seven months shy of 18 when the offences were committed.

The appellant’s 18 year old co-defendant also pleaded guilty and received a sentence of 4 years imprisonment.

In determining the appellant’s sentence, the sentencing judge remarked that had he been convicted after trial as an adult, he would have received a sentence of 6 years’ detention, an equivalent term to his co-accused before credit for plea. She then reduced the sentence to 5 years on account of the appellant’s youth and applied credit for plea.

The  Court of Appeal found that this equated the appellant’s position with that of his co-accused, who had not only been charged with different offences but also had previous convictions, which the appellant did not, and had committed the offences in breach of a conditional discharge. Furthermore, they concluded that the sentencing judge had failed to give sufficient regard to the appellants’ youth, relative immaturity and mental health problems. In determining the appropriate sentence, the Court of Appeal referred to the Guideline for Sentencing Children and Young People, which proposes applying a sentence broadly within the range of half to two-thirds of the adult sentence for those aged 15-17. The appropriate sentence, taking into account mitigation and the appellants’ age, was 4 years’ detention. With credit for plea, 2 years and 8 months.

 Commentary

This case is an example of the courts considering maturity as well as chronological age and also of significant credit being given for youth despite the appellant being close to his eighteenth birthday. In mitigation, practitioners must use all material available  which demonstrates clients’ lack of maturity and understanding, learning differences and diagnosed conditions. This is especially important in cases of ‘serious offending’, where custody is a certainty. Contrary to prevailing legal principal, a person’s cognitive/psychological abilities do not fully mature until well after the age of 20, with some studies putting the age at around 25. Practitioners are encouraged to refer to client specific evidence as well to the general scientific evidence on child and adolescent brain development.