R v Boular (Safaa); Boular (Rizlaine)  EWCA Crim 798
The Court of Appeal considered the application of the Sentencing Council’s Terrorism Offences Definitive Guideline in relation to life sentences imposed on two teenage sisters convicted of offences under s.5 of the Terrorism Act 2006.
The applicants, Safaa Boular (SB) and Rizlaine Boular (RB), had each been convicted of the offence of engaging in acts in preparation for giving effect to their intention to commit acts of terrorism or to assist another in committing an act of terrorism.
Between 2014 and 2017, the two teenage sisters communicated online and on social media with persons seeking to recruit them to ISIS and to engage in acts of terrorism. SB, who had engaged in an online relationship with Naweed Hussain, a UK national fighting with ISIS in Syria, arranged that she would travel to Syria, marry him and carry out a joint suicide bombing. This plan was prevented when SB was stopped at Stansted Airport and her passport confiscated. SB redirected her attention to planning to carry out an attack in the UK. SB planned with her supposed accomplices, who were in fact members of the Security Services, to carry out an attack using semi-automatic firearms and/or grenades at the British Museum.
Following the death of Naweed Hussain in Syria, and SB’s arrest, RB devised a plan to attack members of the public in the Parliament area of London with knives on a specific date. RB and her mother drove around the relevant area on a reconnaissance mission prior to the intended attack and purchased a set of three knives. Covert recordings evidenced RB discussing how the knife attack would be carried out and practising stabbing techniques.
RB having plead guilty to an offence under s.5 of the Terrorism Act 2006 received a life sentence with a minimum term of 16 years and SB, after being found guilty at trial, received a life sentence with a minimum term of 13 years.
SB and RB each appealed their sentencing on the grounds that the judge had incorrectly applied the Terrorism Offences Definitive Guideline and the principles relating to the imposition of a life sentence. The court rejected the application of RB on the basis that none of the grounds provided any arguable basis for challenging the sentence as being either wrong in principle or manifestly excessive. However, the court was receptive to the arguments that the sentence imposed on SB did not give sufficient weight to the mitigating factors present in the case, in particular:
- SB’s youth – she was only 15 at the start of the indictment period and only 17 at the end;
- SB had grown up in a dysfunctional family where she had been exposed to an abusive parental relationship;
- SB’s mother had affected and influenced her with extreme and distorted views; and
- SB was a victim of attempted trafficking.
SB was granted leave to appeal and her sentence quashed and substituted for a life sentence with a minimum term of 11 years. The court held that the sentencing judge should have given significantly greater weight than he did to the mitigating factors, particularly the potent effect of the two factors of youth and grooming (or indoctrination) taken in combination.
Defendants such as the two girls in this case are vulnerable by definition by virtue of the fact that they are children and, in addition, are victims of grooming and exploitation. The long custodial sentences punish them for their actions but what support is in place to deal with the underlying issues, address the fact that they are victims and prepare them for release?