Laura Baumanis, Criminal Defence Solicitor considers the Sentencing Council’s Consultation on Sentencing Young Offenders
The current Sentencing Youths Guideline was drafted by the Sentencing Council in 2009. Whilst overall this has proved to be well received by the courts, comments have been made as regards its accessibility and functionality. Furthermore, it perhaps does not deal properly with the changes in time, for example, the increased use of social media and accessibility of devices for filming and recording the commission of offences.
Sentencing Young Offenders
The purpose of sentencing youths is well established and is different in some ways to the way adults are sentenced in that in addition to the over-riding principle which is to prevent offending by children and young people, the courts must also give great consideration to the welfare of the offender.
The current consultation does not intend to alter the above overarching principles or sentencing levels which are currently set down by law. Instead, it will deal with two issues, namely the overall approach Courts should take when sentencing young offenders and to draft specific sentencing guidelines for robbery and sexual offences.
Perhaps one of the biggest changes since the initial guidelines were introduced in 2009 which the consultation aims to consider is the huge advances in technology. There was a trend which began in the UK following the increased availability of camera phones of acts known colloquially as ‘happy slapping’, namely offenders recording assaults upon random victims, and then uploading these videos on social media. This trend has become increasingly sinister over the years, with the worse example perhaps being the recent, shocking case, of two young girls who were convicted of the brutal murder of Angela Wrightson, which was recorded and put online.
Whilst the term ‘happy slapping’ certainly seeks to minimise the serious nature of these incidents, the impact of having a humiliating attack being recorded for entertainment purposes is something the court will now be invited to view as an aggravating feature. If this is to be adopted by the courts it will be the first time such factors will have been explicitly covered in guidelines for sentencing youths. It would suggest that as per the sentencing guidelines issued for adult offenders, the impact of the offence on the victim will be even more paramount.
Robbery Offences Sentencing
This consultation will also consider the fact that the Youth Sentencing Guidelines in relation to robbery and sexual offences are deemed not to be comprehensive. The current robbery guidelines were published in 2006 and are limited in their scope. They tend to relate to a person of 17 years old with no previous convictions, whereas, sadly, much younger youths are now regularly coming before the court in respect of such serious offences, and frequently commit these offences as an escalation in their offending behaviour, rather than as a first offence. Furthermore not all types of robbery are covered by the guidance.
Sexual Offences Sentencing
Similarly, the guidance in relation to sexual offences does not deal with all types of offences which more commonly now come before the court and, again, does not deal with the advances in technology. There has been a huge increase again in the use of digital images and social media in respect of these types of offences which have not previously been considered by the Sentencing Council in respect of youths.
How does the Consultation change Sentencing?
The consultation aims to address these issues and more to produce a comprehensive and accessible guide to sentencing youths. Sentencing Council Chairman Lord Justice Treacy, in discussing the purpose of this Consultation, has said:
‘No-one wants young people turning into hardened adult criminals and sentencing must play its part in fostering a sense of responsibility and helping them re-integrate rather than becoming alienated’.
Laura Baumanis, Criminal Defence Solicitor
Written by Laura Baumanis. Laura is one of our most experienced Magistrates’ Court advocates boasting an extremely impressive acquittal rate together with an empathetic and reassuring manner.