R v RH: When is a deferred sentence too lenient?

R v RH [2024] EWCA Crim 404

Summary

Following a referral by the Attorney General, the Court of Appeal considered the applicability of the 7-year mandatory minimum sentence provisions for drug offences in the case of a young adult, found developmentally to be a child. 

Details

RH was a vulnerable young adult who pleaded guilty to three offences relating to the supply of class A drugs, and another related offence, before the Crown Court. He had two previous convictions for drugs supply offences which were committed when he was a child. As RH was over 18 at the time of his third conviction, the 7-year mandatory minimum sentence provisions were triggered. 

After hearing evidence, the sentencing Judge found that although RH was a technically an adult, developmentally, he was as a child. This was accepted by the advocate for the Crown. In addition, the Judge found that RH was a victim of modern day slavery. Accordingly, the Judge ruled that there were exceptional circumstances which meant that a departure from the mandatory minimum sentence was appropriate and deferred sentence with a number of conditions. 

The Attorney General referred the sentence as unduly lenient arguing that firstly, the minimum sentence of 7 years should have been imposed and secondly, even if the Court found that there were exceptional circumstances to depart from the mandatory minimum sentence, a shorter period of detention should have been imposed. 

The Court of Appeal found that RH was not only chronologically young but he was also immature, with no formal education. They considered his adverse childhood experiences and the sentencing Judge’s finding that RH had been groomed by others who identified his need for approval. When considering the mandatory minimum sentence provisions, the Court of Appeal concluded that the requirement for the last offence to have been committed as an adult meant that the finding that RH was operating as a child was significant. The Court of Appeal refused to set aside the Judge’s finding and held it would have been disproportionate to impose the mandatory minimum sentence on the basis that the statutory regime is addressed at adults. The reference was therefore dismissed on its main ground. 

The Court of Appeal held that it was for the sentencing Judge to determine whether it would be proportionate for a shorter period of immediate imprisonment to be imposed at the deferred sentence hearing. 

Commentary

The Court of Appeal acknowledged that the circumstances of this case are likely to be very rare however, children and young adults in contact with the criminal justice system often have complex needs. This case serves as an important reminder of the need to not only a consider a young person’s chronological age but also their level of maturity. It also highlights the importance of obtaining as much information as possible about a young persons circumstances. 

 

Written by Hannah Mansfield and associate Macario Chung (Paul Hastings) with Sabrina Neves (GT Stewart)