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Unlawful to sentence children to longer than adults

B v Leeds Crown Court and another [2016] EWHC 1230 (Admin)

In this successful case stated, the High Court confirmed it is unlawful to impose a longer sentence on a child than the maximum sentence available for an adult in similar circumstances. The case reaffirms the principle in the Overarching Principles for Sentencing Youths that generally a child should be dealt with less severely than an adult offender.

Details

The appellant in this case was sentenced by Leeds youth court on the 10 September 2015 for a number of offences, two of which were aggravated vehicle taking committed on separate dates. He received a 4 month Detention and Training Order (DTO) consecutively on each making a total of 8 months. For the other offences he was given another DTO to run concurrently and no separate penalty for the rest. The appellant was 17 at the time he committed the offences and pleaded guilty at the first reasonable opportunity. He had also served 3 weeks in custody on remand, equivalent to 6 weeks for an adult.

Had he been an adult the maximum sentence would have been 6 months in the magistrates court.

He appealed unsuccessfully to the Crown Court. On further appeal by way of case stated to the High Court it was argued, on behalf of the appellant, that the court should have followed the principle reflected in the Overarching Principles for Sentencing Youths, issued by the Sentencing Guidelines Council, that children should be dealt with less severely than adult offenders albeit that the distinction diminishes as the offender approaches 18:

“there is an expectation that, generally, a young person will be dealt with less severely than an adult offender, although this distinction diminishes as the offender approaches age 18 (subject to an assessment of maturity and criminal
sophistication).” [paragraph 3.1, page 6]

The High Court concluded the sentence was unlawful. The sentence of 8 months DTO made up of two consecutive 4 month DTOs was quashed and the case was remitted for reconsideration.  In such cases, the youth court should regard that as the upper limit starting point,  the maximum sentence available for an adult.

Commentary

This case follows on from the case in P v Leeds Youth Court [2006] EWHC 2527 (Admin). P,  a 17 year old, was given a 4 month DTO for criminal damage where the maximum sentence they could have received as an adult would have been a 3 month custodial sentence. In his judgment Bean J stated:

“..it cannot be right to impose on a young offender a more severe sentence than could have been imposed on an adult who had committed the same offence. As Mr Southey for the appellant puts it, the youth of the defendant before the criminal courts is a mitigating factor, not an aggravating one”. [paragraph 6]

Practitioners should be ready to argue this principle when mitigating in the youth court, where the use of consecutive DTO sentences creates a lack of parity with adult offenders in analgous situations in the adult magistrates’ court. Practitioners may also find this case useful when mitigating as it highlights the principle that children should never be treated more harshly than adults.

The Sentencing Councul has recently undertaken a consultation on new Draft Overarching Principles: Sentencing Youths and this principle can be found at paragraph 4.4.