The new Sexual Offences sentencing guideline has been published today by the Sentencing Council. The guideline will come into force in all courts in England and Wales 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 by the courts.
They mark a step forward in how courts take into account the impact of sex offences on victims. As well as physical harm, the new approach will reflect more fully the psychological and longer term 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 full guideline is available to download from the Sentencing Council website.