Published 9th February 2024

High Court rules Government breached young people’s human rights over sentences

The High Court has ruled that new legislation which ignored the welfare principle in sentences for young people convicted of murder is arbitrary and disproportionate. A declaration of incompatibility under the Human Rights Act has been made in relation to this legislation.

Anyone convicted of a murder committed when they were under the age of 18 receives a mandatory sentence of detention at Her Majesty’s Pleasure with a minimum term that must be served in full before release can be considered by the Parole Board.  This sentence was first introduced in 1908 in recognition of the difference in culpability between children and adults. In order to take account of the development and maturation of young people, a review is carried out half-way through the minimum term to see if there are any exceptional grounds for a reduction. In April 2022, the Government passed new legislation which removed that right for anyone who had reached the age of 18 by the time they were sentenced.

The High Court noted that there are many reasons why people who commit crimes at the same age might be sentenced at different times, not least because of the endemic delays in the criminal justice system.

In their judgment, Lord Justice William Davis and Mrs Justice May held that that there was no objective justification for the difference in treatment and commented that: Differential treatment resulting from random events cannot be objectively justified.”

Simon Creighton of Bhatt Murphy acted for the claimant, with Counsel Edward Fitzgerald KC and Pippa Woodrow of Doughty Street Chambers.

See full judgment here.

Simon Creighton at Bhatt Murphy said: “This judgment confirms the long-standing principle introduced in 1908 that there is a difference in culpability for crimes committed by children and by adults. It also confirms that children should not be subject to arbitrary detention for a period longer than is necessary to promote their rehabilitation”

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