Judges will be required to give greater consideration to the welfare of black and minority ethnic (BAME) children being sentenced as part of new guidance that echoes the lord chancellor’s desire to cut reoffending rates.
Publishing guidelines for the sentencing of children and young people, the Sentencing Council today says evidence suggests BAME children and young people are over-represented in the youth justice system.
The guideline states: ‘The factors contributing to this are complex. One factor is that a significant proportion of looked-after children and young people are from a [BAME] background. A further factor may be the experience of such children and young people in terms of discrimination and negative experiences of authority.
‘When having regard to the welfare of the child or young person to be sentenced, the particular factors which arise in the case of [BAME] children and young people need to be taken into account.’
Previous guidance for sentencing children and young people was ‘piecemeal’ and some parts were out of date, the council said. Although previous guidelines had sentencing ranges, they envisaged a 17-year-old offender with no previous convictions, so provided little guidance in any other circumstances, the council added.
The latest guideline, which includes specific guidance on robbery and sexual offences, will apply to those aged between 10 and 17 who may have different backgrounds and offending history.
Sentencing Council chair Lord Justice Treacy said: ‘Our guideline on the sentencing of children and young people has the prevention of reoffending at its heart.
‘No one wants children who commit offences going on to become adult criminals. The guideline therefore looks with far greater detail at what kind of sentence would prevent this based on the age, background and circumstances of each child or young person, so that it can help them reintegrate instead of becoming alienated further.’
Cutting reoffending rates has been a key aim of Liz Truss’s prison reform plans. Addressing the Conservative party conference last year for the first time as lord chancellor and justice secretary, she told the conference that reoffending was costing taxpayers £15bn a year.
The council has today also published revised guidelines for sentence reductions for adults who plead guilty early.
To qualify for the maximum level of reduction (one-third), a defendant must indicate a guilty plea at the first court hearing. Those who plead guilty after the first hearing will have a quarter taken off their sentence, which reduces to one-tenth on the day of trial.
However, the guidance provides exceptions to ensure vulnerable defendants are not penalised if they need more information or advice before they plead.
Treacy said victims and witnesses would be spared the stress of a trial, while the police, prosecutors and courts can out their resources into the cases that do go to trial.