This case concerned an appeal to the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) against a sentence imposed for offences of rape, aggravating vehicle taking and two burglaries. The appellant was 13 years old at the time of the offences and 15 years old at the time of sentence.
The appellant was convicted of the rape offence after a trial at Brighton Youth Court. The victim of the rape was a 42-year-old woman. The offence took place in her own home after she had invited the appellant in to wait for his friend to return.
He was sent to Lewes Crown Court to be sentenced for that offence and for an offence of aggravating vehicle taking and two offences of dwelling burglary (all of which he had pleaded guilty to). Prior to his sentence, the appellant had been placed for a period of 4 months at Amberleigh Care in Shropshire. This is a centre for young people demonstrating harmful sexual behaviour. The appellant had been undertaking education and therapeutic work with them and was making good progress.
At the Crown Court, the Judge was asked to impose a sentence that would allow him to remain at Amberleigh Care under a Youth Rehabilitation Order. This disposal was supported by the appellant’s social worker and Youth Justice Service worker. The Judge determined that the offences were so serious that only an immediate custodial sentence could be justified. She sentenced the appellant to a total sentence of two years and six months at a Young Offenders’ Institution.
Leave to appeal that sentence was granted by the single Judge. The full Court allowed the appeal and stated that the decision to impose a custodial sentence was wrong in principle and that a rehabilitative sentence akin to the one proposed by the Youth Justice Service should have been imposed. In relation to the custodial sentence for rape, they substituted a Youth Rehabilitation Order for 36 months with a 36-month supervision requirement and a 6-month local authority residence requirement. This residence requirement has the effect of ensuring that the appellant returned to Amberleigh Care to continue his rehabilitation. They quashed the consecutive custodial sentence imposed for the aggravated vehicle taking and the burglaries and imposed no separate penalty.
This case sets out in trenchant terms the approach that must be taken when sentencing young offenders and emphasised that custody really should be the last resort, particularly for those under the age of 14, even where the offence committed is of the utmost gravity.
From a practitioner’s perspective, this judgment also provides useful guidance on how adult sentencing guidelines should be approached when dealing with young offenders. The present position is set out in paragraph 6.42 in the Sentencing Guideline for Children and Young People as follows:
6.46 When considering the relevant adult guideline, the court may feel it appropriate to apply a sentence broadly within the region of half to two thirds of the adult sentence for those aged 15 – 17 and allow a greater reduction for those aged under 15. This is only a rough guide and must not be applied mechanistically. In most cases when considering the appropriate reduction from the adult sentence the emotional and developmental age and maturity of the child or young person is of at least equal importance as their chronological age.
In this case, the Judge at the Crown Court had reduced the sentence by 60% to reflect the fact that the appellant was 13 years of age at the time of the offence. Here the Court of Appeal concluded that reduction was insufficient in the circumstances. The Court highlighted that the reduction above was only a rough guide and that it was important to adopt an individualistic approach to sentencing young people.
Finally, this judgement also reaffirms the often-overlooked premise that when sentencing young defendants, it is not only their chronological age that is relevant but also their emotional and developmental age. On a practical note, this may mean that more detailed enquiries into these aspects are required prior to sentence.
Written by Daniel Frier, counsel for the appellant, Mountford Chambers