There has been some lively debate on our post about Adam Johnson’s attempt to appeal his six year sentence about how the law should sentence factually consensual but unlawful sexual activity, particularly where the victim is near the age of consent.
On 20th April 2016 another example of this issue was provided by the case of Lauren Cox, a 27 year old teacher who attended Croydon Crown Court to plead guilty to 4 counts of sexual activity with a child in breach of a position of trust (s16 Sexual Offences Act 2003)
At this stage, as is often the case, the facts are limited. We know that Ms Cox befriended the boy when he was 13. There may well have been behaviour that would be described as grooming after that, but nothing sexual happened in January 2015, when it seems that the victim was aged 16.
This started with Ms Cox “sending him explicit pictures and videos of herself” before moving on to other sexual activity, including sexual intercourse.
This ended in September 2015 when the victim’s parents became suspicious and called in the police, leading to Ms Cox’s arrest.
It is not known at what stage of the proceedings the plea was entered, but it appears to have been early. Sentence has been adjourned until May.
What will she get?
The starting point for the Judge will be the Sentencing Guidelines for Sexual Offences (page 67).
It is clearly Category 1 Harm. The question of Culpability is a harder one. On the face of it, there is presumably some planning, and some element of grooming. It may be that the victim was especially vulnerable, but we don’t really know.
The reason for caution is that these aggravating features will be present in many cases of this nature.
As a rough estimate though, we would think that it is a Category 1A offence. This gives a starting point of 18 months, with a range of 1 to 2 years.
There are four offences, which aggravate matters, but there are many worse cases. For that reason we would estimate a starting point of 2 years, or just under. Then there is credit for the plea of guilty which would reduce the sentence to somewhere in the region of 15-18 months.
This is right in the range where the Judge will give consideration as to whether the sentence should be suspended. Depending on the full facts, and Ms Cox’s background, this may well be the outcome.
Why will she get so much less than Adam Johnson?
The key is that this offence is aimed at protecting people over the general age of consent (which is 16) from people who are in one of a defined positions of responsibility over them.
The maximum sentence for this s16 offence is 5 years imprisonment. This is presumably to reflect the fact that the victims are over the age of consent.
If the victim is under 16, then there are the ‘general’ criminal offences that can (and would) be charged, with a much higher penalty of 14 years (as Adam Johnson found out).
The fact that there is a 5 year maximum is the reason why the guidelines for this offence are much lower.
I think her sentence is too low – can it be appealed?
Of course we will have to wait for the sentence to see if that is the reaction, but given previous experience, that will be the outcome.
But the answer is ‘no’. As was discussed in the case of Stuart Kerner – a teacher who got 18 months suspended for ‘an 18 month affair’ with a pupil, the s16 offence is not one that the Attorney-General can refer to the Court of Appeal.