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Court of Appeal judgment on deeming children dangerous

R v Melvis Mariano [2019] EWCA Crim 1718

The appellant’s extended determinate sentence was quashed following a finding that the trial judge did not take into account his age or maturity in the context of assessing dangerousness.

 Details

 The appellant was convicted of causing grievous bodily harm with intent. He was 15 at the time of the offence and 16 at the time of conviction. A year earlier, the appellant’s friend was arrested for possession of a knife at school and named the appellant as having supplied him with the knife. The offence in question was committed by the appellant a year later, as revenge for the victim naming him in that investigation. As a result, the victim suffered serious physical and psychological injuries.

The pre-sentencing report available to the trial judge discussed the appellant’s association with a negative peer group known to offend in the area. This group was found to have great influence over his behaviour and thinking. The author said that this association and influence was linked to the appellant’s immaturity and search for a sense of belonging. The report also found that at school his behaviour was positive, and that he was among the most capable students. It concluded there was a lack of evidence to indicate that the appellant was likely to reoffend imminently, but were it to happen, the risk of causing serious harm was high.

The trial judge held that the appellant posed a significant risk of serious harm to the public. He therefore imposed a sentence consisting of a period of detention and an extended licence period.

The Court of Appeal found that the trial judge did not make any specific reference to the age of the appellant or to his apparent maturity in the context of assessing future risk and therefore in the context of assessing the issue of dangerousness. . The material available to the judge showed that the appellant had no history of violence and indicated that he was immature at the time of offending. In failing to properly consider this, the Court found that the extended determinate sentence imposed, comprising of a period 7 years detention and an extension period of 3, was unnecessary and wrong in principle. It therefore quashed it, imposing instead a determinate sentence of 7 years, as this adequately protected the public.

 Commentary

This is a welcome judgment by the Court of Appeal, recognising and stressing the special approach necessary in sentencing young offenders. The Court emphasised that judges must address issues of age and maturity explicitly in the context of evaluating dangerousness and sentencing. It highlighted again that young people are capable of change and development in a much shorter time than adults, which, together with maturity, are important factors in assessing risk of future harm.