Child Cruelty – Sentencing Changes
Updates to sentencing guidelines for offenders convicted of child cruelty offences including causing or allowing death or serious injury in England and Wales, were published this week by the Sentencing Council following consultation.
Why have the guidelines been revised?
Under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Act 2022, for offences committed on or after 28 June 2022, the statutory maxima have increased from 10 years’ custody to 14 years’ custody for both cruelty to a child and causing or allowing a child or vulnerable adult to suffer serious physical harm, and from 14 years’ custody to life imprisonment for causing or allowing a child or vulnerable adult to die.
The updated guidelines reflect these recent changes in legislation and introduce a new ‘very high culpability’ level for the most serious cases to reflect new maximum sentences introduced by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 for these offences:
- Causing or allowing a child to die, or causing or allowing a child to suffer serious physical harm; and
- Cruelty to a child including ill-treatment, abandonment or neglect.
The guideline for causing or allowing a child to die has been revised to include a sentencing range of up to 18 years in prison. The new sentencing ranges for causing or allowing a child to suffer serious physical harm and for cruelty to a child go up to 12 years’ custody.
By introducing the new “very high culpability” level, the guidelines take into account the increased statutory maximum sentences and will help the courts take a consistent approach to sentencing the most serious cases of child cruelty.
No changes have been made in either guideline to the factors of the high, medium and lesser culpability levels, the harm factors or the sentence levels for cases not falling into the new very high culpability category.
The revised guidelines will come into effect on 1 April 2023. The new maximum penalties will apply only to offences committed on or after 28 June 2022.
What will be the overall effect?
Causing or allowing a child to die, or causing or allowing a child to suffer serious physical harm:
Given that almost all offenders already receive immediate custody, the guideline is not anticipated to change the proportion of offenders who receive immediate custodial sentences. It is likely that there may be a very small number of offenders at the highest level of culpability across both offences who will receive longer custodial sentences under the guideline. However, these increases in sentence levels are driven by the recent legislative changes, which have been reflected in the guidelines.
Cruelty to a child including ill-treatment, abandonment or neglect:
The analysis suggested that under the revised guideline, there may be a very small impact on prison and probation resources as a subset of those currently categorised within the ‘High culpability’ level may receive longer sentences under the guideline if sentencers find the new ‘Very high culpability’ category is more appropriate. This new category has a starting point three years higher for harm levels 1 and 2 and two years higher for harm level 3, reflecting the increase in statutory maximum sentence. However, as there is no indication that the guideline will lead to a change in sentencing outcomes for child cruelty offences; the majority of offenders are expected to continue receiving a suspended sentence order or a community order, rather than immediate custody, since the guideline remains largely unchanged. This means only a small subset of cases should be impacted by the revised guideline.
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