The Justice Committee, a parliamentary group set up to examine the policies, spending and administration of the Ministry of Justice and related public bodies, published a report on 3rd July, which recommends reworking the current criminal law guidelines for sentencing around child cruelty offences, including the need to obtain expert evidence on psychological harm, and developmental harm on a child.
The recommendations were made after the government floated a consultation on the topic. Respondents included judges, criminal justice organisations, local government, members of the public, lawyers and NHS bodies.
The report tells us that 623 offenders were sentenced for child cruelty crimes, in 2016, with 6 offenders sentenced for causing or allowing the death of a child, and 23 for causing or allowing serious physical harm to a child. To date, there have been no convictions under Section 3A of the FGM Act 2003.
The report also confirms that more women than men have been sentenced for these offences.
Cruelty to a Child can be broken down into four categories; assault and ill-treatment, neglect, abandonment and failure to protect.
- The addition of two further offences: causing or allowing a child to die or suffer serious physical harm, and failing to protect a child from the risk of female genital mutilation (FGM);
- Setting a lower starting point for offenders who have failed to protect a child from cruelty, as opposed to inflicting it;
- Engaging expert evidence to determine psychological harm/developmental harm
- A new range of aggravating factors: for example, those in positions of power, such as a teacher or priest;
- A new range of mitigating factors, such as remorse and good character
- Looking at ways to clarify the law around failing to protect a child and committing an act against that child. The guidelines currently combine the two elements when the perpetrator of direct harm in the household is not known;
- Taking into account the complex cultural and social context which leads parents to mistakenly believe that FGM is in a girl’s best interests, during the sentencing process
The report’s findings and recommendations are likely to engage child abuse campaigners and family law reformers, who would like to see tougher sentencing for child abusers and a great deal more solid evidence in risk of future harm cases.