Reviewing the sentencing for sex offences
The Sentencing Council, which produces guidance for judges and magistrates in England and Wales, is currently reviewing the guidelines for how sex offenders should be sentenced. In this guest blog, Sentencing Council member and District Judge Anne Arnold outlines how things are changing - and how Mumsnetters can have their say on the Council's proposals. Once you've had a read below, do let us know your thoughts on the Talk thread - and post your URL on there if you blog about this subject.
Sex offences have barely been out of the daily headlines in recent months as some truly shocking offences – both current and historical – come to light or offenders are brought before the courts.
The Sentencing Council is currently overhauling the sentencing guidelines for these offences – no small task given the more than 50 offences that we're covering. They include rape, sexual assault, child sex offences, indecent images of children, trafficking and voyeurism, all of which are hugely complex, sensitive and serious.
We feel that a range of changes are needed to the current sentencing guidance, not only in order to bring things up to date to take into account advances in technology, but to more properly reflect what victims have been through and to look in more depth at what the offender has done.
We've published our proposals and are asking people for their views. It's not within our powers to change the law, increase maximum sentences or influence things like reporting of crime, detection and prosecution of offenders – our task is to make sure sentences properly reflect what the victim has suffered and what the offender has done.
While there was some interest on Mumsnet when we announced our plans in December, there are still just under two weeks left for you to have your say.
In relation to victims, we are proposing that courts consider a fuller picture of harm - so that as well as physical harm, the psychological and longer term effects on the victim should be more fully reflected.
We're also proposing an expanded approach to how courts assess offenders, so that they look at the full context of offenders' behaviour and motivation in committing any offence. This means giving focus to important aspects like grooming activity by both individuals and gangs, the targeting of vulnerable victims such as those in care and the abuse of trust and positions of power, so that these are clearly reflected in sentence levels.
Public protection is central to our thinking, so we are aiming to reinforce the importance of firm and proper punishment and the prevention of reoffending, either through significant custodial sentences or treatment programmes that will address the offender's behaviour.
We also want sentencing guidance to reflect the changes in offending in recent years due to the increased use of technology in offences involving indecent images of children, and how the internet is used for grooming and sexual exploitation.
I'll now highlight some of the ways we want to change things in relation to specific offences.
Rape: We know full well that many common perceptions of rape do not reflect the realities. Our proposals therefore aim to cover not just the stranger rapes that generally get reported in the media, but to take into account the reality that most rapes are carried out by someone who the victim knows, and that many occur within families. A number of new aggravating factors are also being proposed such as filming or photographing a rape, and rapes committed by groups of men. Those who target vulnerable victims will also be treated more harshly.
Child sex offences: We want to help courts assess the full impact of these offences on victims, and to increase the focus on the offender's behaviour to look at how children may have been groomed or exploited. We want to ensure courts look at what the offender has done, rather than the actions of the victim.
Indecent images of children: Current guidelines focus solely on the quantity and seriousness of the images an offender is caught with. We want to go further in order to reflect the full context of the offence - for example, by including new aggravating factors related to involvement in paedophile networks, or abuse of a position of trust to create images or videos.
The sorts of things we want people's views on are whether we've got it right in our approach to assessing the harm suffered by victims, and the culpability of their attacker; what the most important aggravating factors are; and the proposed sentencing levels.
Due to the vast size and scope of the consultation, it has been designed so that people can give their views just on particular offences if they want to, and I would advise people interested in responding to do just that. The consultation is flexible, so you can answer as few or as many questions as you wish. You can find it at www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk and it is open until 14 March.
If you have a minute, let them know what you think on their consultation page. And please do let us have your thoughts on our Talk thread - if you blog about it, don't forget to post your URLs.