On 19 April 2016, the Daily Mail ran a story about a 15-year-old girl who, having pleaded guilty to an offence of violence, was told by the judge that if anyone “tried to force” her to pay the statutory surcharge (a mandatory order flowing from conviction for a criminal offence) the judge would pay it himself.
The girl cannot be named as the anonymity provisions of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 apply – accordingly we’ll refer to her as X.
X – then aged 8 – had been sexually assaulted by the victim, V. V was convicted of sexual assault of a child under 13 and inciting a child to engage in sexual activity and sentenced to a community order.
X subsequently armed herself with a large kitchen knife, confronted V at his house saying “I am going to kill you” and stabbed him in the chest. The knife entered his chest wall and cut through the artery supplying blood to the right ventricle of his heart. The attack happened in front of V’s two young children. V required treatment in intensive care and a blood transfusion. She handed herself in to the police and commented that she had “just killed someone”. X had originally been charged with attempted murder but a plea was accepted to s.18 causing GBH with intent.
The judge said it would be a “disgrace” to impose an immediate custodial sentence on “a survivor like you”, instead imposing a youth rehabilitation order for two years. The news reports state that he refused to impose the statutory surcharge order and then commented that if anyone tried to force her to pay the statutory surcharge order, he would pay it himself.
This is an interesting case presenting a number of issues.
First, is the judge correct to offer to pay the surcharge? Well, no, he isn’t. The law requires him to impose the order and so the judge may well be receiving an email or a phone call from the someone on behalf of the Judiciary. That said, the judge clearly felt it was not appropriate to impose the order. Many will regard his decision as the correct one – morally – but it is likely to land him in a bit of hot water.
The second issue concerns the original sentence for the sexual assault. We dont know any facts but on today’s standards it is below what would be imposed if the new guidelines were followed.
The third issue is the sentence imposed upon X – Very lenient given that the offence was close to murder, however this is clearly an exceptional case and for this reason judges are given sufficient discretion to do justice in a particular case. Without knowing more about her mental health and any other issues it is difficult to comment but one what is in the news reports this sentence strikes me as a sensible disposal. Too infrequently, it appears that courts do not turn their mind appropriately to the issue of the custody threshold – does the defendant actually need to be sent to prison? In this case, I’m inclined to agree with the judge in that the best course of action is to keep her out of custody in the hope it will help her put her life back together.
A sad – and difficult – case. But this seems to be a fair result.