On 12 December, the Sentencing Council published their new Sexual Offences sentencing guideline, which will come into force in all courts in England & Wales in on 1 April 2014.
The guideline covers 55 offences from rape to voyeurism and will bring about real and significant changes to the way sexual offences are sentenced in courts.
They mark a step forward in how courts take into account the impact of sexual offences on victims. As well as physical harm, the new approach will reflect more fully the longer term and psychological effects on the victim, enabling courts to take into account the true extent of what the victim has been through.
The guideline also takes an expanded approach to how courts assess offenders’ culpability, looking at the full context of offending behaviour and motivation in committing any offence, rather than the more ‘technical’ nature of the offence alone. This means giving more significant emphasis to important aspects like grooming activity by both individuals and gangs, the targeting of vulnerable victims such as those in care and offenders’ abuse of trust and positions of power or status so that these are clearly reflected in sentence levels.
The guideline provides sentencers with the full range of punishments for offenders ranging from life sentences for the most serious offending through to community-based sentences for offences of lower and medium seriousness. Courts in these instances, especially where there is little age difference between offender and victim, will be expected to consider a range of sentencing options which might best protect the public and prevent re-offending. Probation staff will need to be alert to the fact that courts may consider a community order – with suitable restrictive, punitive and rehabilitative requirements.
The PCA responded to the consultation on the guidelines in March 2013, and our submission to the Sentencing Council can be read here. The response was prepared by the PCA’s Sentencing and Courts portfolio group, led by Martin Graham, Chief Executive of Norfolk& Suffolk Probation Trust. The PCA Sentencing portfolio group exists to ensure that the perspective of the leadership of Probation Trusts is factored into decisions on sentencing policy, in recognition of probation’s essential role in giving pre-sentence advice to the courts and delivering the sentence of the courts in the community. To find out more about the broad policy position developed by the PCA Sentencing portfolio group, click here.
The full Sexual Offences sentencing guideline issued by the Sentencing Council is available to download at the Sentencing Council website.