In the case of R v B the Appellant had pleaded guilty to five offences of robbery and three offences of attempted robbery. The Appellant was sentenced to a total sentence of four years and six months’ detention under section 91 of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000.
The appeal was allowed on the basis that the learned judge had taken the wrong approach when taking account of the Appellant’s age and immaturity and the Court of Appeal replaced the sentence to a total of three years and 10 months’ detention under s.91.
In the sentencing hearing, the learned judge moved from the starting point in the relevant guidelines of 8 years to a starting point of 12 years (for an adult after trial) due to further aggravating features. These features were the vulnerability and public service of the victims and the number of offences all within a six-week period. Having found that the offending was so serious to warrant custody and a length of custody under s.91, he went on to reduce the sentence to take account of the Appellant’s age and good character. The Appellant was 17 years old at the time of her conviction and 16 years old at the time of committing the offences. It was here that the learned judge stated that rather than reduce the sentence by half of that for an adult he would depart from that starting point and only reduce it by a third because of the number of the offences committed. He then gave a full third discount for her early guilty pleas.
The Court of Appeal found that this approach to the sentence was wrong. Having found the notional sentence for an adult to be 12 years, the learned judge had already moved up from 8 years to take account of the number of offences. It was incorrect of the learned judge to then use this factor again to reduce the appropriate reduction to reflect the Appellant’s young age and immaturity.
It was outlined that first the learned judge should have found the notional sentence of an adult (here being 12 years custody), and then gone on to give a discount of a half to reflect the Appellant’s age and immaturity and apply credit for her guilty plea.
The Court gave the final sentence of three years and 10 months custody. Interestingly, this means they must have given just over a 50% reduction for her young age and immaturity (down to 5 years 9 months) to give a final sentence (after a third credit) of 3 years 10 months. We can only speculate as to why this was and whether it was to take account of mitigation specific to the Appellant as a child (and therefore not considered when calculating the notional sentence for an adult)
A child’s emotional and developmental age and maturity as well as their chronological age must be reflected in the final sentence they receive. It is important that judges give the correct reduction in sentence for children and young people and this is only amended when properly justified.
The sentencing exercise for a young person is often a more complicated process than for an adult. It is pivotal to ensure this is done correctly and clearly and most importantly that a judge avoids considering aggravating factors more than once in their approach to the final sentence.
It is of note that in this case the Court of Appeal first took off the reduction for the Appellant’s age and then reduction for credit for her early guilty plea. The sentencing guidelines for children and young people are clear that the court should reduce credit for a guilty plea first and then reduce the sentence for the young age. In most cases, like this one, the order this is done will be academic because whether you take off credit first or percentage for age, whichever way round you do it you will still get the same number. The important thing is that any adding or subtracting (which would be finding the notional adult starting point and applying any aggravating/ mitigating features of the offence) happens before any percentages are taken off for credit or young age as if this is calculated afterwards than it does affect the final sentence figure.
The case of R v D  10 WLUK 433 reaffirmed the approach to take to sentencing young people (see the full case update here – https://yjlc.uk/court-of-appeal-judgment-on-sentencing-children-using-adult-guidelines/ )
The approach was this:
- Identify the adult starting point (including any adjustment for aggravating and mitigating factors),
- Apply any credit for a guilty plea,
- Apply the appropriate reduction for young age and maturity
This approach allows the youth reduction to be applied to the precise notional sentence that would have been imposed on an adult for the same offence, which is the noted aim of the youth sentencing guidelines.
Written by Hannah Williams of 3 Temple Gardens in collaboration with the Youth Justice Legal Centre.