Court of Appeal Addresses Admissibility of Anonymous Hearsay Evidence and Sentencing Provisions for Young Offenders in R v Kyi-Riece Sylvester

Citation: [2023] EWCA Crim 1546
Judgment on

Introduction

In the case of R v Kyi-Riece Sylvester ([2023] EWCA Crim 1546), the England and Wales Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) addresses central topics related to the admissibility of anonymous hearsay evidence in a criminal trial and the sentencing provisions applicable to young offenders convicted of murder. This article examines the legal principles applied by the Court, emphasizing their significance to current legal practice.

Key Facts

Kyi-Riece Sylvester appealed against a murder conviction and sought leave to appeal against his sentence. He was sentenced to detention at His Majesty’s Pleasure with a minimum term determined under section 321(2) of the Sentencing Act 2020. A crucial piece of evidence discussed was the “anonymous hearsay” regarding the deceased acting aggressively and wielding a knife before the stabbing by Sylvester.

Admissibility of Hearsay Evidence

The key legal principle at stake was the admissibility of hearsay evidence under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, specifically under section 114(1)(d), which allows a court to admit hearsay evidence if it is in the interests of justice. Section 114(2) outlines various factors the court must consider when making this decision, including the evidence’s probative value, the importance of the matter it addresses, and the ability to challenge the statement.

In assessing whether the anonymous hearsay should have been admitted, the Court of Appeal reviewed the factors within section 114(2), recognizing the credibility issues arising from the maker of the hearsay statement’s anonymity, as well as their failure to come forward to the police. This aligns with precedent from R v Brown ([2019] EWCA Crim 1143), where the court indicated that the inability to probe the credibility of an anonymous hearsay maker could strongly influence a decision against admitting such evidence.

Sentencing Provisions for Young Offenders

The sentencing principles discussed stem from Schedule 21 of the Sentencing Act 2020 and Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), integrated into domestic law by the Human Rights Act 1998. Sylvester’s defense argued that applying the new paragraph 5A of Schedule 21, which prescribes an increased starting point for sentences, violated Article 7 of the ECHR which prevents retrospective application of heavier penalties.

The Court of Appeal applied principles from R v SK ([2022] EWCA Crim 1421) and R v Patel ([2021] EWCA Crim 231), noting that changes in sentencing laws with increased starting points do not violate Article 7 of the ECHR if the maximum sentence remains unchanged.

Outcomes

The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal against conviction, finding that the trial judge conducted a proper evaluation of the admissibility of the hearsay evidence and concluding that the judgment could not be shown to be wrong. In regard to sentencing, the Court refused the renewed application for leave to appeal, holding that there was no violation of Article 7 ECHR because the sentence imposed remained a life sentence and only the starting point for the minimum term had increased.

Conclusion

The Court of Appeal’s decision in R v Kyi-Riece Sylvester confirms the judiciary’s cautious approach towards admitting anonymous hearsay evidence in criminal proceedings. It reaffirms the necessity for the evidence to be adequately credible and the potential challenges it must be susceptible to, ultimately emphasizing the importance of a fair trial for both parties.

On sentencing matters, this case clarifies the application of the revised sentencing provisions for young offenders under Schedule 21 of the Sentencing Act 2020. It establishes that starting points for minimum terms can be adjusted without violating the protections against retrospective punishment as set forth in Article 7 of the ECHR, provided that the ultimate penalty does not increase. This serves as crucial guidance for legal practitioners in understanding the nuanced limits of retrospective penal provisions in relation to young offenders in the UK legal system.

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