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R v CW: A Court of Appeal judgment on age, delay dangerousness and sentence

R v CW [2020] EWCA Crim 970

The Court of Appeal reduced the appellant’s sentence on the basis that the alienation of a young person from society through an extended sentence should be avoided where possible. This is the case even where the offender has turned 18 by the time of sentencing. Where there are delays in sentencing, evidence of the offender’s self-improvement and lack of re-offending will be relevant.

Details

The appellant had been convicted of wounding with intent and possessing an imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence, at the age of 17. The trial and sentencing took place 2 years after the offences took place. The sentencing judge found the applicant to be dangerous and passed an extended sentence of 12 years, comprising of a custodial term of 10 years and an extended license period of 2 years with a concurrent sentence of 4 years’ detention for both offences. The appeal concerned the finding of dangerousness and the total sentence of 10 years in custody.

The Court of Appeal found that proper weight ought to be given to the appellant’s age at the time of offending. As he was 17, regard must have been given to the Definitive Guideline on Sentencing Children and Young People which states that offending by a child or young person is often a phase that can pass rapidly and the sentence must avoid alienation of the young person from society if that can be avoided.

The Court also found that proper weight ought to be given to age in an assessment of dangerousness. To find an offender dangerous, there must be a significant risk both of the commission of further specified offences and also serious harm to members of the public. 1 Furthermore, young people are more likely to act impulsively, affecting the nature of the offence itself and are also more responsive to positive change when sentenced to a determinate sentence. 2.

The Court, therefore, held that a custodial sentence of 10 years could potentially lead to the appellant’s alienation from society with adverse consequences. This was based significantly on the fact that the appellant had not reoffended in the 2 years between offending and sentence while on bail and had instead embarked on a productive and resourceful period of unpaid work, in pursuit of an apprenticeship. This evidenced that his offence, while serious, was not part of a wider pattern of criminal offending. Consequently, the Court held that a finding of dangerousness was not justified and the extended sentence was wrong in principle.

The Court also held the sentence to be manifestly excessive.

The Court considered that the great delay between the offence and the sentencing, through no fault of the applicant, should be taken into account and that this was a lengthy period for a young person to have something ‘hanging over their heads’. 3

The appellant’s sentence was thus reduced to a determinate one of 6 years’ detention for wounding with intent to run concurrently with 4 years for possessing an imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence.

Commentary

This judgment reiterates the significance of age and the youth justice system’s aim of preventing recidivism in children and young people, therefore seeking to prevent custodial sentences, where they are necessary, from being excessive.

The judgment is also significant in reflecting the importance of practitioners highlighting the defendant’s behaviour pre and post offence. The appellant’s counsel concentrated on the lack of serious offending before and after the appellant’s offending, contributing to the court finding dangerousness unjustified. The court also recognised the detrimental impact that delays in the youth justice system can have on children and young people who have cases ‘hanging over their heads’ for long periods at a critical stage in their development.

 

  1. R v Lang [2005] EWCA Crim 2864   (back)
  2. R v JW [2009] EWCA Crim 390; R v Chowdhury [2016] EWCA Crim 134  (back)
  3. R v CW [2020] EWCA Crim 970, para 13  (back)