On Friday, The Telegraph covered the story of Connor O’Keefe, aged 18.
When aged 17, O’Keefe had had consensual sexual intercourse with a 15-year-old girl following a music festival. The victim – who was “nearly 16” – was part of a group of people who had gone to a supermarket car park after attending a music event. O’Keefe and the victim then had sex in the car park.
O’Keefe had originally been charged with rape, however he offered a plea of guilty to a lesser offence of sexual activity with a child. This is on the basis that the activity was consensual and that O’Keefe did not reasonably believe that the victim was aged over 16.
The judge’s comments
The Telegraph reported that the judge said:
“I don’t know what the world has come to when I am asked to deal with two teenagers who got drunk and had sex.”
“So what I’m dealing with is consensual sex between two teenagers.
“I have to deal with this on the basis that a 17-year-old had sex with a girl who was almost 16, and they had both had too much to drink. What are we doing here?
“But still the prosecution wanted to press on.
“I don’t know what the world has come to when I am asked to deal, in a serious criminal court, with two teenagers who got drunk and had sex.
“If it had been rape, that would have been a different matter.
“I feel extremely sorry for you having to end up in this position.
“Clearly this started as a very serious case, but what it comes to is simply a teenage incident which should never have come near the courts at all.
“These sort of cases have no place in this kind of court.
“I want you to go away with that ringing in your ears and for it not to cast a shadow over the rest of your teenage years.
“You have been through a great deal as a result of this.
“I hope you can now put it behind you. I don’t think this matter should be here at all.”
The judge imposed a conditional discharge of one month. This is way outside of the guidelines, with penetrative activity with no “culpability factors” present attracting a starting point of 12 months’ custody (see page 45 et seq.).
The result of this is that the period for which the notification requirements (the “sex offenders’ register”) apply is two weeks only; this is because for those under 18 the periods are halved. For a conditional discharge, the period is for the length of the discharge, so in this case, that is one month, divided by two.
It is possible that the Attorney General could refer this sentence as being unduly lenient on the basis that the judge should not have sentenced outside of the guidelines. That would, however, appear to be unlikely given the circumstances and the judge’s comments.
As for O’Keefe’s conviction, he pleaded guilty and in so doing, accepted that he had not reasonably believed that the victim was over 16. We’re unaware whether or not there was an application to stay the proceedings as an abuse of process. However, it might be possible to appeal if:
a) there was an application to stay proceedings, and it was refused by the judge. O’Keefe could appeal against the refusal to stay proceedings, or
b) if there was no application to stay proceedings, then O’Keefe could appeal on the basis that there should have been an application. Such a submission would be difficult to maintain at the Court of Appeal and would involve instructing new solicitors (as inherent in the submission is that his legal advice was not appropriate).
As for the CPS’ decision to continue with the prosecution, one has to asked why the decision was made, and on what basis. Surely there are better ways of dealing with teenagers having underage sex after drinking alcohol than this?