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Court of Appeal ruling on sentencing a child for rape

Att.-Gen.’s Reference (R. v O); R. v O [2018] EWCA Crim 2286, [2019] Crim.L.R. 353, CA.

The Court of Appeal held that a sentence of two years detention in a Young Offenders Institution was not unduly lenient for a young man who had raped a six year old at the age of fifteen.


The Attorney General referred this case to the Court of Appeal to review whether the sentence was unduly lenient. The respondent (O) was 19 when he was convicted of offences which had occured three and four years earlier.  O had entered guilty pleas to two counts of rape of a child under 13 and one count of causing or inciting a child under 13 to engage in sexual activity.

The Court of Appeal held it was correct for the guideline on sentencing children and young people to be applied and for the sentence to be that which would have been imposed if he had been convicted at fifteen, rather than to apply the ‘approach to sentencing historic sexual offences’ detailed  in Annex B of the definitive guideline on sexual offences.

The court had found that O was very immature, remorseful and that he had been testing his own sexuality having regard to his contact with other older and more experienced males. The sentence was lenient, but not unduly lenient.


Practitioners will note that the Court of Appeal was clear that the sentence should reflect the age the offender was at the time it was committed.   This case illustrates the weight the courts can give to the youth and immaturity of an offender in serious cases. Given that O was a victim himself, could a different court have been persuaded that therapeutic and preventative work attached to a three year youth rehabilitation order would have been a suitable sentence?