Practice and Procedure


PUBLISHED May 14, 2003

A judge was right to impose a life sentence under s.109 Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000, where evidence showed the defendant posed a significant risk to children.Appeal against sentence with leave of the single judge. On 13 September 2002 at Lewes Crown Court the defendant, ('H') was convicted of causing grievous bodily harm with intent. On 24 January 2003 she was sentenced to life under s.109 Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 with a specified term of one year. On 25 August 2001 an ambulance was called to H's address where paramedics found H's two year old daughter with serious scalding to her chest, stomach, thighs and feet. H had poured boiling water from a saucepan over the child. She was arrested and in interview said she had placed the child's wrist on the edge of the pan to show her it was hot before tipping the water over her. The child had screamed and H took her to the shower to cool her down. H had one previous conviction, in 1991, for causing GBH with intent, she had deliberately burnt her son by putting an iron on his leg, at the time of the offence her son was also two years old. She was sentenced to four years imprisonment reduced on appeal, to two and a half years. Psychiatric reports were prepared for the Crown and for the defence. The defence report stated that H had a borderline personality disorder and she posed a risk to her children. The Crown's report stated she had Munchausen's syndrome by proxy and presented a significant risk to her children but it was unclear whether she posed a risk to other children. It also mentioned that the children had been hospitalised on numerous occasions, although no action was taken. Between 1998 and 1999 one child was taken to hospital 43 times. Another was taken to accident and emergency on eight separate occasions. The family doctor noted bruising and marks on the children's legs on several occasions. H had always denied responsibility for any other injury. H appealed sentence on the ground that, under s.109(2) of the 2000 Act, the judge should have concluded that there were exceptional circumstances justifying not imposing a life sentence. A determinative sentence in the region of six years was appropriate. H did not pose a significant risk because: (i) the offences were separated by ten years; (ii) they were committed against her own children when they were two years old; (iii) H had six children in all, the youngest two were in the care of the local authority and had been freed for adoption; and (iv) H had been sterilised and had no opportunity to have any more children. The judge accepted those facts but could not avoid the possibility of H coming into contact with young children through her extended family.HELD: (1) The approach of the judge was entirely correct. There was a real risk that H would come into contact with young children in the future. That contact would present a significant risk to those children. (2) Counsel were unable to explain why the judge came to the conclusion to specify a term of one year and it was not clear why he had done so. However, the court would not interfere with that specified term.