Friday, 13 December 2013

New sentencing guidelines - April 2014.

"The Sentencing Council has published a new sentencing guideline for sexual offences which will help ensure appropriate and consistent sentences for sex offenders.
The guideline covers more than 50 offences including rape, child sex offences, indecent images of children, trafficking and voyeurism, and brings significant changes to how offences are considered by the courts."

"The guideline makes it clear that victims are not responsible for what has happened to them. This is particularly emphasised in relation to offences committed against children. In the previous guideline there were child sex offences labelled as involving ‘ostensible consent’ – that is, where a child over 13 has apparently agreed to sexual activity. The Council believes that this is the wrong way of looking at these offences as children do not consent to their own abuse. The new guideline therefore looks more at the offender’s actions and behaviour towards the victim."

"The new guideline also brings increases in sentencing starting points and sentencing ranges for some offences. For example, in relation to rape, the new guideline allows top category sentences with a starting point of 15 years. The previous guideline only allowed sentences with this starting point for multiple rapes. Sentences of 20 years and above are also now recommended for campaigns of rape. In addition, the worst cases of assault by penetration can now receive the same sentences as rape.
The guideline simplifies the system for assessing indecent images of children which will make analysis of imagery much easier when evidence is being compiled against someone being prosecuted. The new guideline moves away from concentrating on just the number of images and gives more emphasis to what the offender is doing with the images – possessing, distributing or creating – to help assess the offending behaviour and appropriate sentence level. "

"The guideline will come into force in courts in England and Wales in April 2014 and replace existing guidance which was issued by the Sentencing Council’s predecessor body following the Sexual Offences Act 2003.  Sentencing levels for sexual offences have been increasing since the Act, and existing sentencing guideline, came into force, and the new guideline reflects these increases. They do not include any reductions in sentences from current sentencing."

So, a step forward it seems in sentencing guidelines for child sexual abuse crimes.

Some good bits that stand out for me:

 - Ostensible Consent. Where a child over thirteen "consents" to their own abuse. Hopefully this will mean an end to the stories like this here and here - children under the age of consent cannot consent, simple as that. It will be interesting to see if the excuse of consent is used after April 2014 in child sex abuse cases. If it is - it will be challenged - I will make sure of that.

 -  Good character being redefined as an aggravating factor, not a mitigating one. By redefining this as an aggravating factor, shows that the Sentencing Council seem to be swaying to the notion that paedophiles, have previously groomed the judicial system into reducing sentences on the basis of their previous good character & good deeds - hopefully no more as from April 2014.

 - Abuse of Trust, especially relating to high profile paedophiles. At last. Are people waking up to the fact that some paedophiles become "famous" (or infamous), with the probability that they can and do have unfettered access to children. Not the other way around. Less of the "famous becoming a paedophile" and getting a lesser sentence. More of the "paedophile deliberately becoming famous in order to get access to children" and getting a longer sentence. Common sense!

 - Addition of todays online technology such as webcams, grooming via social media, getting children to share indecent photos of themselves, and subsequent future technological advances. Longer sentences for encryption and recording of offenses.

 - Simpler definitions for accessing IIOC.

I do however have a couple of questions of my own.

 - Regarding IIOC, are the new guidelines going to make much of an impact on the sentences given and the length (if any) of any custodial sentences. We keep reading about Chris Graylings "toughening up" of this crime, yet more and more we see offenders getting fines, community orders and suspended sentences. If he wants to get tough on offenders of this crime, sentences need to increase as well. No deterrent at the moment. Increase the sentence, make the crime Indictable Only, then let the public appeal ULS for "slap on the wrist" sentences. As it stands (from an e-mail I received today from SPPU),
"The taking, making, permitting to take, possessing, possessing with intent to distribute, distributing or advertising indecent photographs or pseudo-photographs of children under 18 are offences under section 1 of the Protection of Children Act 1978 and section 160 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.  These are indictable offences, but not indictable only offences, meaning that they are triable both in the magistrates' courts and the Crown Court and either the court or the defendant can choose the which court hears the case.  Where the magistrates' court considers that it has insufficient sentencing powers to deal with a triable either way case it can send the case to the Crown Court"

Is this good enough? Why is it not "indictable only"? This is not a "pixels on a screen" crime with no victims! Children are sexually exploited and abused to create these for the benefit of paedophiles and child sex abusers, and the crime should be equally as serious as all other child sexual abuse crimes, and in my eyes should be an indictable only offense.

 - As the sentencing guidelines are going to be more victim orientated, will this mean that there may be a chance that the Sexual Offenses Act 2003 will be updated to reflect this? If so, what chance that they replace the prejudicial wording in it relating to children being involved in pornography and being child prostitutes with something more akin to the actual crimes, namely child sexual exploitation, and children being prostituted? What chance of this being amended? I have e-mailed to find out & will keep you updated. Chance of this, 0.00% I think, but if you don't ask questions and don't try, you will never know.

But, nevertheless all in all, a step forward in the right direction by the Sentencing Council.

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