In Meanley  EWCA Crim 1065 the Court of Appeal emphasised the importance of pre-sentence reports when sentencing young offenders.
Meanley was 16 ½ at the date of commission of the offences, and 17 at the date of his conviction and sentence.
On 29 October 2021, the appellant was sentenced by the trial judge. On Count 1 (murder) he was ordered to be detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, with a minimum term to be served of 27 years less 287 days served on remand, with a concurrent sentence on Count 2 (possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life) of 13 years’ detention under s.250 Sentencing Act 2020. No separate penalty was imposed for Counts 3 and 4.
In passing sentence, the Recorder started with some overarching observations. He noted the complexity of the sentencing exercise because of the young ages of the defendants and the fact that their ages meant they were covered by “widely differing sentencing regimes”.
He had well in mind the ages of each defendant and the role played by each individual. He also had at the forefront of his analysis their intellectual functioning and various disadvantages in life. If the defendant had been older and others in the group had been adults, each would have received a much longer minimum term, but he was compelled to reduce the minimum terms to account for age and, more importantly, their individual development ages.
He emphasised the “pernicious consequences” of gangland crime, the fact that gangs tend to attract disaffected and inadequate youths who lack education or prospects in life, the dreadful state of affairs that allowed a 16 year-old to acquire and use an improvised weapon like a slam gun, and the significant community impact of this sort of gang crime, that society would benefit from putting these gangs and their members out of existence, noting the evidence before him of the detrimental community impact, and that those who indulge in this exceptionally serious violence must expect very substantial sentences of imprisonment.
Counsel advanced a single ground of appeal, namely that the judge failed to have proper regard to the age and developmental maturity of the appellant when departing from the 12 year starting point, which resulted in an excessive finishing point of 27 years.
The judge had declined Counsel’s request for a pre-sentence report.
There was important information contained in the pre-appeal-report which was not before the judge, particularly relating to the appellant’s father’s involvement in crime and the appellant’s treatment of his father as a role model for his own life.
In respect to the failure to order a pre-sentence report, the Court of Appeal held:
“We are troubled by the judge’s refusal to obtain a pre-sentence report on the appellant (and indeed on the other offenders in the group). We accept that there was no statutory requirement in this case to obtain such a report. Nonetheless we consider that in cases involving young persons charged with very serious crimes, it is strongly advisable to obtain a such a report if none exists already. The Guideline says 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 (see [1.12] – [1.14]). Further, we note the view expressed by this Court (per the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon), in R v PS and others  EWCA Crim 2286;  2 Cr App R (S) 9 at , which, although focussing on mental health issues, we consider to have wider application:
“… where a serious offence has been committed by a young offender, both the Court and those representing him must be alert to the possibility that mental health may be a relevant feature of the case. The younger the offender, and the more serious the offence, the more likely it is that the Court will need the assistance of expert reports.””
It is clear that this omission was significant as the Court went on to observe:
“In the event, 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.”
This further information contributed to the Court quashing the original sentence:
“In our judgment, the minimum term of 27 years was manifestly excessive. We therefore quash that minimum term and substitute in its place a minimum term of 22 years, less 287 days served on remand. We do not disturb other aspects of sentence: the appellant remains detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, with a concurrent sentence on count 2 of 13 years’ detention and no separate penalty on counts 3 and 4.”
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