Judge says sentences for juveniles inadequate

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The Independent Online
A JUDGE made a plea to Parliament yesterday over the problems of not being able adequately to punish a boy who took part in a rape attack because he is too young.

Mr Justice Holland said at Durham Crown Court: 'I can only hope that those responsible for the legislation that governs the powers of criminal courts appreciate the problems posed by this type of case.'

At an earlier hearing the boy, now 14, from Newcastle upon Tyne, admitted indecently assaulting a 15-year-old girl who was dragged into a churchyard in the city by a gang of four youths and raped in January last year.

The attack took place just after the boy's 13th birthday. Mr Justice Holland yesterday deferred sentence for four months after hearing the youngster had been found a place in a residential school.

The judge said the boy's offence was so serious that only a custodial sentence would have been satisfactory had he been old enough to be given one. The victim 'had an awful experience at the hands of this young person and she should have the satisfaction of knowing, through his sentence, that a court recognises that experience for what it was', he said.

The court was told that the punishment options open for the boy were very limited. Brian Forster, for the prosecution, said they comprised a supervision order (the boy is already subject to one), deferring sentence, a fine, an attendance centre order and a conditional discharge.

The judge pointed out that he would only have been able to send him to a secure unit if he had been convicted of an offence carrying a maximum penalty of 14 or more years. In the case of indecent assault the maximum was 10 years.

The only other way would be for Newcastle council to seek an order from a family court judge for the boy to be placed in a secure unit, but such orders were only made for the child's protection.

Mr Forster said the boy had also been charged with a large number of offences arising from 16 separate incidents between October and last month, two of them after he admitted the indecent assault charge at Newcastle Crown Court 17 days ago.

Yesterday's hearing had been delayed for a week because the boy had run away from home, but Glen Gatland, for the defence, said there had been 'a significant change' in the boy's behaviour since he was arrested for failing to attend last Friday's hearing and brought before the judge for a ticking-off on Monday.

'He has kept out of trouble . . . there is a certain degree of respect for your lordship,' he said.

He said the boy's parents had done 'everything possible to stop him offending . . . they are worn out by his offending. No criticism can be levelled at them.'

Sentence was deferred until July for a progress report to be prepared on the boy's behaviour.