R v A, Rodney Harris and Julian Grant  EWCA Crim 1372
The Court of Appeal held that a sentence of 18 years detention for an offence of manslaughter, where the Appellant was 17 years and 7 months old at the time of the offence, was manifestly excessive. The case considered the appropriate approach to sentencing children and young people. The facts involved elements of grooming and exploitation by the Appellant’s much older co-defendants.
A (17) (together with the above named two adult defendants) was convicted of manslaughter on the 14th January 2020. Kevin Roach was convicted of murder in relation to the same victim.
The key facts are as follows:
- A was a drug runner for a county lines operation run by Mr Roach, a 40 year old male;
- In February 2019, A was assaulted and robbed of money and drugs belonging to Mr Roach;
- Mr Roach (and the other 2 adult defendants) believed that the victim, Wesley Adyinka, was involved in the robbery;
- All 4 defendants travelled to find Mr Adyinka and confront him about the robbery;
- During the confrontation Mr Roach fatally stabbed Mr Adyinka in the heart;
- A had at some point during the confrontation assisted Mr Roach and taken hold of Mr Adyinka to prevent his escape.
The Judge found that each of the defendants must have known that Mr Roach was armed with a knife and that Mr Roach disposed of the knife in the presence of and with the knowledge of the other defendants.
In passing sentence, the Judge described A as a naïve and somewhat vulnerable young man. There was evidence from Social Services which suggested that A’s emotional and developmental age was far from his chronological age. He had no previous convictions and only one caution for a non-violent offence.
The Judge considered A to have been groomed, exploited and corrupted by his much older (40, 38 and 28 years old) co-defendants who collectively ran a county lines drug operation. Nevertheless, the Judge placed the manslaughter within category A in the sentencing guidelines. Applying the relevant circumstances the Judge considered that the appropriate sentence for an adult in A’s position would have been 20 years. She then sentenced A to 18 years. This amounts to a reduction of one tenth to account for his youth.
The Court of Appeal held that this sentence was manifestly excessive given A’s age at the time of the offence, his evident vulnerabilities and the fact that he had been groomed. The sentence of 18 years detention was reduced to 12 years.
This case emphasises the importance of acknowledging that children and young people are to be treated differently from mature adults by the criminal justice system. It reinforces the principle set out in paragraph 6.46 of the Guideline on Sentencing Children and Young People that, where the sentencing guidelines for adults are considered in relation to children and young people, a sentence ‘broadly within a region of a half to two thirds of the adult sentence’ is appropriate for those aged 15-17. Furthermore, the judgement underpins the principle that the appropriate course for a sentencing judge to take is to identify first the sentence which would have been imposed on a fully mature adult defendant and to then make a reduction by reason of the defendant’s youth (R v RB, JS and HG  EWCA Crim 643).
The Court of Appeal criticised the sentencing Judge for not having identified any factors which justified such an “unusually low reduction” for this youth. They stressed the fact that his offending was directly linked to the fact that he had been groomed by his older co-defendants and reduced his sentence significantly to account for this.
It is worth noting that the evidence put forward to demonstrate A’s low emotional age and limited development appears to have been substantially out-of-date. Evidence was put forward from Social Services relating to when he was 12 years old. Furthermore, there is no mention of whether he was referred to the National Referral Mechanism for an investigation as to whether he was a victim of modern slavery. Had more current and detailed evidence been provided regarding both his psychological condition and his child criminal exploitation, his position may have been improved further.
Written by Kate Riekstina, Barrister, St John’s Buildings