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Court of Appeal rule sentence of child was manifestly excessive due to his age and personal circumstances

R v H [2016] EWCA Crim 2064

The Court of Appeal ruled that a sentencing judge had imposed an excessive sentence on a child, H. This case reinforces the special status of children in the criminal justice process and particularly when they come to be sentenced.

Details
The Court of Appeal quashed a sentence of 4 years detention for a 16 year old child who had pleaded guilty to robbery and replaced it with a 2 year Detention and Training Order.

H came to be sentenced along with an adult co-defendant. The circumstances were that the complainant was on his way home after drinking in a local public house. He came across three males, including H, the other co-accused and a female. They had some beer with them. The complainant invited them back to his home to drink the beer. They all went to his home and continued to drink for a few hours. During the course of the evening H, the co-defendant and another unknown individual in the house stole a medicine box and a television from the complainant. During the course of taking these items  H  punched the complainant in the eye and jaw area. He also got a knife from the kitchen and brandished it at the complainant.

The Court of Appeal agreed with the sentencing judge that he should receive credit for his guilty plea and noted that the sentencing judge had taken his age and difficult early life into account. He also noted that the child had long history of offending, including some for violent offences. He also agreed with the single judge and sentencing judge that this was a difficult sentencing exercise. Nonetheless he recognised that H was less culpable than his co-accused because of his age – even though his behaviour was more serious (producing the knife and inflicting actual violence to the complainant with it).

However the Court of Appeal noted, importantly, that over the past twelve months he had made considerable progress in terms of his maturity, his behaviour and his attitudes towards offending. He had demonstrated genuine remorse for what he had put his family through in the past and for the victim. All of the professionals involved with H had commented on the positive progress that he had made in recent times and a report was available for the court from the manager of his residential placement which was very positive. The Court of Appeal remarked:

“True he has a bad record, but there are many positive aspects to his character and his development”

Taking all these matters into account, the Court of Appeal concluded that the sentence of four years’ detention was manifestly excessive, particularly in view of the appellant’s age and circumstances.

 

Commentary

This case reinforces the special status of children in the criminal justice system. Young age is an significant consideration when sentencing children. It is relevant because of their relative immaturity and reduces their culpability, but the sentencing exercise should also relfect the fact that children have the greatest potential to stop offending (see, for example, the Justice Select Committee’s 2016 report on Young Adults setting out the research on child and adolescent brain development and its impact on propensity to criminal behaviour).