Decisions of a youth court under s.24 Magistrates' Courts Act 1980 to commit defendants for trial to the Crown Court were quashed where the decisions were outside the range of options available and were wrong in law, but another decision was upheld as the circumstances of the offences made it a real possibility that a sentence under s.91 Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 would be imposed.Applications for judicial review by the claimants ('C', 'D' and 'N') for orders quashing decisions of the defendant court ('S') committing the claimants, all aged 14, for trial to the Crown Court on charges of robbery and attempted robbery. S declined jurisdiction pursuant to s.24 Magistrates' Courts Act 1980 because, taking the prosecution's cases at their highest, the violent nature of the offences was such that the Lord Woolf LCJ's guidelines in Lobban (2002) EWCA Crim 127 would indicate a starting point for sentencing of three years for C and D and local guidelines indicated two years in N's case, although acknowledging that mitigation might lead to shorter sentences. C and D argued that the guidelines relied on by S had not been referred to by the magistrates in open court and they therefore had no opportunity to make submissions regarding their application. N argued that the magistrates' legal adviser failed to repeat in open court the advice he had given to the magistrates, thereby failing to comply with The Consolidated Criminal Practice Direction (2002) 3 All ER 904. N also argued that the reasons given by S were inadequate. The claimants argued that as none of them was a persistent offender the only power to sentence them to detention was under s.91 Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000, which was conferred only on the Crown Court.HELD: (1) Where a youth court determined that a custodial sentence should be available to the sentencing court, it had no discretion in the matter and was bound to decline jurisdiction and commit the defendant to the Crown Court, and questions as to the suitability of the Crown Court for the trial were irrelevant to the youth court's decision as s.24 of the 1980 Act imposed an obligation on the court. R v Devizes Youth Court & Ors, ex parte A (2000) 164 JP 330 applied. (2) In order to decline jurisdiction, the youth court had to consider a custodial sentence pursuant to s.91 of the 2000 Act to be a real possibility. In determining that, it must consider the sentencing powers of the Crown Court and the guidance as to their exercise, and the court should also take into account any undisputed facts put forward in mitigation, although it should ignore any contentious mitigation. R v Thetford Youth Court, ex parte W (2002) EWHC 1252 Admin applied. (3) Youth courts should start with a strong presumption against committing young offenders to the Crown Court unless they were satisfied that committal was clearly required notwithstanding that the trial venue would not be so appropriate as the youth court. The current legislative principle was that very young offenders should not be detained in custody, unless the defendant was a persistent offender or the offence itself was so serious as to merit considering a custodial sentence, namely those cases to which s.91 applied. R v Southampton Youth Court, ex parte W (2002) EWHC 1640 Admin applied. (4) The test to be applied on judicial review of a decision of a youth court under s.24 was whether the decision was wrong in principle or manifestly excessive in terms of being outside the range of possible sentencing options available. (5) Applying these criteria to C and D, S had applied too low a threshold for a sentence under s.91. There was no real possibility of such a sentence given the small amount involved in the alleged robberies, the fact that the victim knew C and D, and their previous good character. S's decision would be quashed. (6) In the case of N, the youth court's decision had not been wrong. The violence was persistent and serious, N had acted with another and the object of the attempted robbery was an item of high value. There was concern locally at the prevalence of such offences and the youth court was entitled to take that into account, as would the Crown Court, although it was a marginal consideration. (7) As for C and D's procedural complaints, magistrates should refer legal representatives to any guidelines relied on but if the guidelines were of marginal, rather than decisive relevance then failure to seek the parties' submissions would not lead to the decision being impugned. (8) As for N's procedural complaints, the failure to comply with the practice direction did not justify quashing the decision as the issue had not been properly pleaded in the claim form and there was no evidence on the point from N. Nor had N's representative raised any objections at the hearing itself, so the inference was that the hearing was not seen to be unfair or impartial at the time. The reasons given by S for its decision were adequate and did not need to be elaborate or detailed.Applications of C and D allowed and S's decisions quashed. Application of N dismissed.

[2003] EWHC 35 (Admin)

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