The sentencing of serious young offenders: legal update

Sentencing decisions of the higher courts illustrate the ultimate consequence of offending behaviour. This means they can provide useful material for workers trying to divert young people from crime. Here, key recent cases from the Court of Appeal are examined. By Ed Mitchell


R v Raithley (August 2009) concerned a serious street robbery committed by a 17-year-old boy in which a knife was held to the victim’s neck. The boy pleaded guilty and was given two years’ young offender institution detention by the Crown Court. He appealed to the Court of Appeal. The Sentencing Guidelines Council recommend that, where a weapon is used to threaten a victim in a street robbery, the starting point is three years’ detention if an offender aged under 18 is found guilty following trial. This defendant pleaded guilty and so his starting point was lower. He also offered substantial personal mitigation in that he had no previous convictions, had recently completed a two-year carpentry course and his mother died when he was 15. In the light of those factors, while a custodial sentence was inevitable, the Court reduced it to 15 months’ detention.

R v R (September 2009) involved a 15-year-old who took part in a knifepoint robbery of a newsagent in which cash and cigarettes were stolen, threats of violence made and disguises used. The defendant, whose one previous conviction was a reprimand for theft, was sentenced to three years and four months’ detention in a YOI. He appealed against the length of his sentence to the Court of Appeal. The Court had before it a report from R’s Youth Justice Board caseworker which detailed the “exceptional progress” that he had made in his YOI. In the light of that the Court reduced R’s sentence to two years and three months.


In R v R (September 2009) a 15-year-old girl, with two younger girls, abducted boys aged nine and 10 from a park. The boys were stripped, severely beaten and made to perform sexual acts. The sentencing court thought a supervision order was pointless for the older girl because there was “little prospect of progress or co-operation”. That court identified that the girl required a sentence that gave her the best prospect of rehabilitation. In the circumstances, this was a two-year custodial sentence. The Court of Appeal dismissed the girl’s appeal, observing that the girl had committed a “very serious offence”.

Sexual offences

R v S (September 2009) concerned a 15-year-old boy who had already received a supervision order for the anal rape of an eight-year-old when he was convicted of a statutory rape, in that he had persuaded an 11-year-old girl to engage in oral sex. The Crown Court imposed a sentence of detention for public protection with a minimum term of 32 months. This was an unusual sentence for one so young and meant that the Court must have been of the opinion that “there is a significant risk to members of the public of serious harm occasioned by the commission by him of further specified offences”. The sentence of detention for public protection was upheld by the Court of Appeal which noted that the defendant was “very dangerous”.

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