Courts set to consider ethnicity when sentencing under-18s

By Neil Puffett

| 07 March 2017

Courts will be required to take into account the overrepresentation of black and ethnic minority children in the youth justice system when they sentence children, under new guidance coming into force this summer.

New guidelines issued by the Sentencing Council will come into effect for courts on 1 June.

Guidelines published by the Sentencing Council today, which come into effect on 1 June, state that although the factors contributing to ethnic disproportionality within the youth justice system are complex, one factor is that a significant proportion of looked-after children and young people are from a black and minority ethnic background.

It adds that 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 black and minority ethnic children and young people need to be taken into account," the guidance states.

A Ministry of Justice report published in November on black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) disproportionality in the criminal justice system in England and Wales found that during 2014 BAME boys aged 10 to 17 were 35 per cent more likely to be arrested than young people of white ethnicity.

They were also five per cent more likely to be charged by the Crown Prosecution Service, and 75 per cent more likely to be tried at Crown Court, where sentencing powers are greater, rather than at magistrates' court.

Most recent youth custody statistics show that 349 of the entire under-18 secure estate population of 829 are BAME - equating to 42.1 per cent.

The guidelines also look with far greater detail at the age and circumstances of each child or young person, while also meeting the legal requirement to consider their welfare.

The Sentencing Council said the aim is to reach the most appropriate sentence that will best achieve the goal of preventing reoffending.

They also reflect changes in offending that have occurred since the previous guidelines were produced, including ensuring that sentences take into account the use of technology and social media in offending.

The Sentencing Council said offences may be filmed or photographed on smartphones and circulated via social media, which can have a great effect on victims.

The guidelines also cover reductions to sentences that young people can expect if they make an early guilty plea.

Sentencing Council chairman, 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."

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