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A recent case heard before the Court of Appeal has emphasised the importance of pre-sentence reports in cases involving young offenders.
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The facts of the case
The Court of Appeal was asked to consider the sentence of a young offender called Meanley who was 16 ½ when he committed murder.
The judge originally sentenced Meanley to 27 years’ imprisonment less 287 days served on remand for murder, with a concurrent sentence of 13 years for possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life. Murder usually carries a mandatory life sentence, but this was reduced on account of the defendant’s young age and, more importantly, his development age.
Counsel for the defence requested that the judge review a pre-sentence report before making a decision. The judge declined this request, meaning he did not have access to important information which was relevant to the assessment. In particular, Meanley’s father was heavily involved in crime, and the defendant viewed him as a role model for his own life.
The defence launched an appeal on the basis that the sentence was excessive. It was argued that the judge failed to have proper regard to the defendant’s age, developmental maturity, and the complex father-son relationship that influenced his actions.
The Court of Appeal’s decision
The Court of Appeal agreed with the defence that the judge should have obtained a pre-sentence report. It was not a statutory requirement in this case. Even so, the Court of Appeal said that in cases involving young persons charged with very serious crimes, it is “strongly advisable to obtain such a report”.
The Court said it was “troubled by the judge’s refusal to obtain a pre-sentence report”. It drew reference to the guidelines, which state that:
“Where a child or young person is to be sentenced for any serious offending, the Court should ensure that it has full information about them, and that information should cover the possibility of mental health issues, learning difficulties, the possibility of brain injury or traumatic life experience, speech and language difficulties and any communication issues, vulnerability to self-harm, and the effect of past loss, neglect or abuse.”
“The judge failed to give sufficient reduction”
The Court of Appeal went on to say that:
“The report obtained by the Registrar in advance of this appeal is revealing. As we have noted, it provided a much fuller picture of the appellant. The appellant’s involvement in serious crime is to be seen in the context of a complicated father-son relationship, the appellant’s father being involved in serious criminal activity, and the appellant reported to look up to his father and to model his own future on the same path. That is not a surprising state of affairs for any 16-year-old boy; but it is particularly unsurprising to find it in a boy whose developmental age lags some years behind his chronological age, and who has learning difficulties, whose education has been lacking, and who has experienced a difficult and neglectful childhood. This information was directly relevant to the assessment of the appropriate minimum term. But it was unknown to the judge. If he had known of it, we are confident that he would have considered age and background factors to warrant more than a very modest reduction in the minimum term he would otherwise have imposed. In our view, the judge failed to give sufficient reduction to take account of those matters.”
The Court of Appeal reduced Meanley’s sentence to a minimum term of 22 years less 287 days served on remand. It did not alter any other aspects of the sentence.
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