The Sentencing Council, and independent body responsible for developing sentencing guidelines for the courts in England and Wales, has proposed amendments to existing sentencing guidelines for child cruelty offences, to reflect recent changes to the statutory maximum penalties.
These offences are:
• Causing or allowing a child to die or suffer serious physical harm (contrary to section 5 of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004); and
• Cruelty to a child (contrary to section 1(1) of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933).
The maximum penalty for cruelty to a child has been raised from 10 to 14 years in custody. The maximum penalty for causing or allowing a child to suffer serious harm has been raised from 10 to 14 years in custody. The maximum penalty for causing or allowing a child to die has been raised from 14 years to life in custody.
The consultation document offers some key data, a selection of which we are adding below:
- In 2019 and 2020, all offenders sentenced for causing or allowing a child to die received immediate custody – for causing or allowing a child to die, the average custodial sentence across 2019 and 2020 was 6 years 7 months.
- Over the same period, 50 percent of offenders sentenced for causing or allowing a child to suffer serious physical harm received immediate custody – for these cases, the average custodial sentence was 3 years 9 months.
- In 2019 and 2020, where the sex of offenders was known, 75 percent of adult offenders sentenced for the offence of causing or allowing a child to die were female, while female offenders made up slightly under half (44 per cent) of those sentenced for causing or allowing a child to suffer serious physical harm.
The document says:
“The Council considers that the revised maximum penalties were intended by Parliament to capture the worst cases of child cruelty, rather than as a means of increasing sentences imposed across the board. For example, the Council is unaware of any suggestion that sentencing is too low in lower culpability cases where the offender has been coerced, has a mental disorder, took some steps to protect the child, or where the offence resulted from a brief lapse of judgement.”
The Council has also commissioned an independent party to review its work for any potential gaps which could cause unfairness or discrimination in sentencing across demographic groups.
The Council now wishes to gather views from interested individuals and organisations as to what extent a perpetrator of these crimes should be held responsible and as a result, what level of punishment they should receive. The Council hopes to receive feedback on its revised “culpability” and “sentence levels” charts, to understand better whether it has weighted the factors in these crimes appropriately.
The five questions in the consultation are:
- What are your views on the proposed approach to reflect the statutory changes, by creating a new very high level of culpability?
- What are your views on the proposed sentence levels for very high culpability cases?
- Are there any aspects of the revisions that you feel may cause or increase disparity in sentencing?
- Are there any existing disparities in sentencing of the offences covered in this guideline that you are aware of, which the draft revisions could and should address?
- Are there any other matters relating to equality and diversity that you consider we ought to be aware of and/or that we could and should address in making the proposed revisions?
The Council says the consultation is open to everyone including members of the judiciary, legal practitioners and any individuals who work in or have an interest in criminal justice.
The consultation opened on 4th August and closes on 27th October 2022.
Responses should be sent to: Ollie Simpson at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would like to send your response in confidence, the Council asks that you contact them before you submit your feedback.
For any questions or queries, you can contact the Office of the Sentencing Council via telephone: 020 7071 5793 or Email: email@example.com
The consultation document can be accessed here.