Earlier this year, the ICCA commented on Clarke, Andrews & Thompson  EWCA Crim 185. Now, in a recent Court of Appeal decision in R v Eniola Balogun  EWCA Crim 2933, the sentence of an 18-year old young man has been reduced on the basis that insufficient weight was given to his youth, his immaturity and his lack of appreciation of the seriousness of his offending and the harm it caused. It was accepted that the appellant had caused severe and lasting harm to his young victims.
The appellant was convicted of three offences of rape and pleaded guilty to four further offences of rape and one offence of distributing offensive photographs of a child. The offences were committed during a five month period in 2016 when the appellant was aged between 18 years 4 months and 18 years 9 months. His victims were aged between 13 and 16. His behaviour was described as a “campaign of rape.”
At first instance, prosecuting counsel provided the sentencing judge with a sentencing note which said of the appellant, “…he is still relatively young and lacks emotional development or maturity.”
Balogun was eventually sentenced, for one of the rape offences, to an extended determinate sentence of 29 years, (under section 226A of the Criminal Justice Act 2003), comprising a custodial term of 21 years’ detention and an extension period of 8 years. Concurrent standard determinate sentences totalling 10 years’ detention were imposed for the other offences.
On appeal, no challenge was made to the finding of dangerousness or to the decision of the court below that an extended determinate sentence was appropriate. The principal issue in the appeal was as to the length of the custodial term.
The appellate court considered Clarke, Andrews & Thompson  EWCA Crim 185 where the Lord Chief Justice said:
“Reaching the age of 18 has many legal consequences, but it does not present a cliff edge for the purposes of sentencing.”
The CA also considered R v Peters  2 Cr App R(S) 101, in which case the Appeal Court said at para. 11:
” Although the passage of an eighteenth or twenty- first birthday represents a significant moment in the life of each individual, it does not necessarily tell us very much about the individual’s true level of maturity, insight and understanding. These levels are not postponed until nor suddenly accelerated by an eighteenth or twenty-first birthday. Therefore although the normal starting point is governed by the defendant’s age, when assessing his culpability, the sentencing judge should reflect on and make allowances, as appropriate upwards or downwards, for the level of the offender’s maturity.”
The CA decided that the fact that the appellant had attained the age of 18 before he committed the offences did not of itself mean that the factors relevant to the sentencing of a young offender had necessarily ceased to have any relevance. ‘He had not been invested overnight with all the understanding and self-control of a fully mature adult’.
The trial judge had sentenced Balogun to a total sentence which was considerably longer than his life thus far. The CA disagreed that the trial judge’s notional starting point of 24 years’ custody after trial gave sufficient weight the features of youth, comparative immaturity and lack of appreciation of the seriousness of the offending or of the harm which the appellant was causing.
The CA held that they should have regard to the principle of totality. They gave credit, as had the trial judge, for the belated guilty pleas. It was acknowledged that the appellant had a broken family and a dysfunctional existence.
The CA held that the appropriate total sentence, taking into account all those considerations, was a custodial term of 18 years. They quashed the extended sentence imposed below and substituted for it an extended sentence, comprising of a custodial term of 18 years’ detention in a young offender institution and an extension period of 8 years, a reduction of 3 years.
The decision in Balogun confirms the approach approved in Clarke that practitioners representing young adults should not be afraid to rely on the Sentencing Council’s Guide to Sexual offences – Sentencing children and young people alongside the definitive guideline for Sentencing children and young people – overarching principles. This is especially so in the case of someone who is barely an adult and who falls to be sentenced for serious offences.