The Court of Appeal refused to grant leave for the Solicitor General to make a reference on the grounds that the sentence awarded was too lenient, given the adult defendant’s youth, vulnerability and immaturity.
The defendant pleaded guilty to causing death and serious injury by dangerous driving. He was 20 at the time of the incident and was sentenced by the trial judge to six years and six months’ detention in a young offender institution for causing death by dangerous driving, to be served concurrently with four years’ detention for causing injury. The Crown applied for leave to refer this sentence to the Court of Appeal on the grounds that it was unduly lenient, primarily on the basis that the judge had reduced the starting point by too much to take account of the defendant’s vulnerability.
The defendant and three others had been driving a stolen vehicle when they were noticed by police. A chase ensued, in which the defendant reached speeds of over 70 miles per hour. The defendant crashed into another vehicle, causing one of the passengers in that vehicle to die instantly, and the other to suffer life threatening injuries. One of the passengers in the defendant’s car also suffered serious injuries. Many aggravating factors applied to the case. The car was stolen, the defendant was uninsured, did not have a valid license and tried to escape from the police.
The trial judge had evidence of the defendant’s vulnerability. He had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and depression, was bullied at school, and suffered the loss of his father at a young age. A psychological report provided to the judge found that the defendant was a highly vulnerable individual who had suffered from mental health difficulties most of his life. The pre-sentence report made similar findings, stating that his ‘learning issues, immaturity and remorse’ should be taken into account when sentencing him.
The Court of Appeal did not accept the Crown’s argument that the judge had erred in reducing the starting point to the extent to which he did. The Court reiterated that turning 18 does not present a cliff edge for the purposes of sentencing, again citing R v Clarke and Ors  EWCA Crim 185. The absence of a ‘cliff edge’ is an important factor when sentencing those over 18 who have not yet fully matured. It stated that it is important to address the ‘developmental reality’ [paragraph 32] of the offender in question, rather than just chronological age.
This case highlights the weight that courts should give to maturity and other mitigating factors when sentencing young people. The guideline for sentencing children and young people states that such factors such as immaturity can greatly diminish culpability. In this case the Court confirmed that although the guideline does not apply to those over 18, ‘the absence of a “cliff edge” (as referred to in Clarke) is an important factor when sentencing those over 18 years of age but who are not fully mature’ and that factors in the guideline for sentencing children and young people ‘can weigh in considering the appropriate sentence in cases involving young adults who are not fully mature’ [paragraph 32].