The High Court has ruled that detaining a young offender convicted of murder indefinitely is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Jesse Quaye was 18 when he was convicted in 2014 over a stabbing which happened when he was 17. He, along with another young person, was sentenced to detention at Her Majesty’s Pleasure (DHMP). The sanction is obligatory for any offender aged under 18 at the time the murder was committed. The judge specified a minimum term of 15 years.

In Jesse Quaye, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Justice, Quaye claimed that section 128 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, which deals with DHMP sentences, together with sections 27A(1) and 27A(11) of the Crime (Sentences Act) 1997, were incompatible with his convention rights, namely article 5 (the right to liberty and security) and article 14 (prohibition of discrimination), as well as articles 6 and 7.

Lord Justice Williams and Mrs Justice May acknowledged that where a DHMP was imposed on the offender on or after his 18th birthday, the offender would no longer be eligible to apply for a review. Those under the age of 18 at the date of sentence would remain eligible to apply for a review at the halfway point of their sentence. Those offenders would be eligible to apply for a further review only while they remained under the age of 18 at the time of any further application, the joint judgment said.

The judges said the age of the offender when the offence was committed was ‘critical’, adding: ‘The culpability of the offender must be assessed by reference to age at the time of the offence. This principle is made explicit by the statutory basis of the sentence of DHMP. It is to be imposed on an offender who had committed the offence of murder when aged under 18.

‘In our judgment, even with a low level of scrutiny, there is no objective justification for the differential treatment of offenders sentenced to DHMP who are 18 at the date of sentence. There will be a declaration under section 4 of the Human Rights Act 1998 that sections 27A(1) and 27A(11) of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 as inserted by 128 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 are incompatible with articles 5 and 14 of the European Convention.’

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: ‘We remain absolutely committed to ensuring murderers serve appropriate sentences and we will be appealing the High Court’s ruling.’