Court of Appeal Allows Appeal in Bassaragh v R, Replacing 5-Year Custodial Sentence with 2-Year Suspended Sentence

Citation: [2024] EWCA Crim 20
Judgment on

Introduction

The case of Maya Tiger Leelee Bassaragh v R ([2024] EWCA Crim 20) reviews the appeal by the defendant, Bassaragh, against a 5-year custodial sentence for possession of a prohibited firearm under the minimum sentence provisions of the Sentencing Code. This article presents a structured analysis of the case, highlighting key facts, legal principles applied, and the resulting outcomes.

Key Facts

Bassaragh’s appeal hinged on new evidence showing she was unaware of her pregnancy at the time of her original sentencing. The Court of Appeal was tasked with deciding whether the facts of her pregnancy and related health risks constituted ‘exceptional circumstances’ that justified a departure from the statutory minimum sentence.

The key facts of the case involve the defendant’s possession of a loaded, converted Zoraki 917 self-loading 9mm pistol, categorized as a Type 1 weapon under the Sentencing Guideline. Bassaragh admitted to holding the firearm for her then-boyfriend and cooperated with the police upon discovery. The appellant was considered of Medium culpability, as she had not used the weapon but was holding it with live ammunition for a third party.

The legal principles considered by the court in determining the outcome of this appeal include:

  1. Exceptional Circumstances Justifying Deviation from Statutory Minimum Sentences: The appeal court reviewed whether ‘exceptional circumstances’ existed, referring to the principles outlined under paragraphs 6 and 9 to 12 of the Sentencing Guideline. The court considered both the circumstances of the offence and the offender, assessing whether a statutory minimum sentence would be arbitrary and disproportionate.

  2. Impact of Pregnancy on Sentencing: The appellant’s pregnancy was central to the appeal. The case considered how this personal circumstance, when combined with her health risks and other mitigating factors, impacted the appropriateness of the custodial sentence. The court also referred to the R v Charlton ([2021] EWCA Crim 2006) and R v Stubbs ([2022] EWCA Crim 1907) cases for guidance on sentencing pregnant offenders, emphasizing that pregnancy should be considered significant personal mitigation.

  3. The Role of Personal Mitigation and Guilty Plea: Other than pregnancy, the appellant had personal mitigating factors such as positive good character, cooperation with the police, evidence of naivety, low risk of reoffending, and high chances of rehabilitation, which were all taken into consideration. The court acknowledged the importance of a guilty plea and its impact on sentence reduction.

  4. Proportionality and Justness of Sentence: The court examined whether, given the exceptional circumstances, the statutory minimum sentence of 5 years would be proportionate and just in the context of the individual case. Ultimately, the aim was to impose a sentence appropriate to the individual case, not necessarily tied to the standards of the Sentencing Guideline’s typical ranges.

Outcomes

Upon evaluation of the appellant’s individual circumstances and newly presented evidence, the Court of Appeal found ‘exceptional circumstances.’ Consequently, the court allowed the appeal, quashed the 5-year imprisonment sentence, and replaced it with a 2-year suspended sentence, with a rehabilitation activity requirement for up to 20 days.

Conclusion

The Court of Appeal’s ruling in Bassaragh v R provides significant insight into how the judiciary applies the concept of ‘exceptional circumstances’ to deviate from the statutory minimum sentences for possession of a prohibited firearm. Notably, it reinforces the position that pregnancy, particularly with attendant health risks and potentially traumatic impacts on the offender, can fulfill the threshold for ‘exceptional circumstances.’ The judgment also highlights the court’s discretion in sentencing where it is in the interest of justice to account for individual circumstances, such as personal mitigation and prospects for rehabilitation, thereby endorsing a case-by-case analysis over rigid adherence to sentencing guidelines.

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