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High Court: decision to send child to Crown Court is best made after trial

R (on the application of the DPP) v South Tyneside Youth Court [2015] EWHC 1455 (Admin)

The High Court gives guidance on the new power to commit children convicted of a grave crime to the Crown Court for sentence that came into force on 15 April 2015. This case was remitted to the youth court because the District Judge was not aware the new power was not yet in force when the decision was made.

Details

Children charged with a grave crime may be sent to the Crown Court if a sentence of 2 years or more (the maximum sentence in the youth court) is a realistic possibility.1

Sir Brian Leveson, President of the Queen’s Bench Division, deciding the case with the recently appointed Judicial Lead for Youth Justice, Mr Justice William Davis, made the following observations:

“I .. start by emphasising the first principle that the general policy of the legislature that children and young persons should, wherever possible, be tried in the youth court, a court best designed to meet their specific needs, avoiding the greater formality and public involvement of the Crown Court.” [para 28]

The new power revises the “real prospect” test:

“Because s. 3B (as amended) of the 2000 Act means that the youth court is not making a once and for all decision at the point of allocation, the “real prospect” assessment requires a different emphasis and taking the prosecution case at its highest is no longer necessary; to that extent, the observations of Langstaff J in Oldham Youth Court no longer apply.” [para 31]

Secondly, that in the future it will be rare for children charged with grave crimes to be tried in the Crown Court:

“For the future, there will, of course, be cases in which the alleged offending is so grave that a sentence of or in excess of two years will be a “real prospect” irrespective of particular considerations in relation either to the offence or the offender’s role in it: such cases are, however, likely to be rare.” [para 31]

The judgment approves the observations in Southampton Youth Court (at para. 33) that a Crown Court trial for a youth “should be reserved for the most serious cases”. When deciding allocation and determination of venue, the views of the prosecution and defence should be taken into account; these views could include representations as the value of privacy of the proceedings or, alternatively, the desire for a jury trial [para 31].

In this case, B was charged with three offences of oral rape and one of inciting a boy under 13 to engage in sexual activity. B was 14 or 15 at the time of the first incident and 15 in relation to the others. The complainant was 6 and 7 at the time of the incidents.

A District Judge had not realised the new powers to commit those convicted of a grave crime to the Crown Court for sentence2 were not yet in force. The High Court therefore had to quash the decision and remit the matter back with some disapproval of the decision to prosecute this case.

Commentary 

This case is important for practitioners dealing with jurisdiction in the youth court as it highlights that it will now be rare for cases to be heard in the Crown Court.

  1. Section 24A Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980, Section 51A(3)(b) Crime and Disorder Act 2003, R(BH) v. Llandudno Youth Court [2014] EWHC 1833 (Admin)  (back)
  2. Section 3B (as amended) Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000  (back)