Practice and Procedure

R v YL; R v AL (2003)

PUBLISHED April 4, 2003

Where a child suffered neglect at the hands of his parents, custodial sentences were quashed and suspended sentences substituted. Custodial sentences would not be in the best interest of the child and would put obstacles in the way of family proceedings.Appeal against sentence with leave of the single judge. On 4 September 2002 the defendants, ('Y' and 'L') a husband and wife, pleaded guilty to five offences of neglecting a child contrary to s.1(1) Children and Young Person Act 1933. They were committed to Wood Green Crown Court for sentencing and on 17 March 2003 they were each sentenced, by HH Judge Wood QC, to two years imprisonment. The victim ('V') was the defendants' son, who was born on 10 December 2000. On various dates V was left at home alone for between three and six hours whilst Y and L went to work. V was found by the police on 8 May 2002. Family proceedings were commenced and V was made subject to an emergency protection order by the local authority. An interim care order was made on 14 May 2002. Residential assessment was recommended by the community services team and was supported by V's guardian ad litem if Y and L did not receive custodial sentences. Y and L were allowed contact with V twice a week at a contact centre. Y admitted that V had been left alone but denied that he had been at risk and the prosecution accepted that both parents had difficulties in accepting V was in danger. When sentencing, the judge stated that V had been left alone without food and water and had been found in circumstances amounting to "shocking neglect". Y and L chose to ignore the risk of accident, emergency or dehydration, fortunately V came to no physical harm but suffered grave psychological harm. He recognised the devastating effect of a custodial sentence on V in that it could lead to his adoption. Y and L appealed against the sentence on the ground that a custodial sentence was not in V's best interests. Until sentence, Y and L had had over 120 contact sessions with V. V demonstrated a strong attachment to both parents and clearly had a structured routine based around the contact. V could not understand the absence of his parents and his foster parents stated how he became distressed on the days contact should have taken place. V should have the opportunity of rehabilitation with Y and L, their sudden disappearance was very damaging. If it became apparent at a later date that V should be adopted then contact with Y and L should be reduced gradually.HELD: These were exceptional circumstances. The sentences should be quashed and six month sentences suspended for two years should be substituted. These were serious offences, it was disgraceful that a child should be left alone so often. The court was not saying Y and L did not deserve prison sentences but punitive punishment should give way to the needs of the child. The situation had to be worked through in the Family Proceedings Court and the criminal process should not place obstacles in the way.Appeal allowed.