Lord Justice Treacy in his inaugural speech as new Chairman of the SGC on the 11th November 2013 heralded the new sex offences sentencing guidelines to arrive mid-December this year.
Describing the previous approach as mechanistic, the emphasis is now to be put squarely on the experience of victims, particularly psychological.
Tougher sentences now for sex crimes across the board – 50 offences in line with recent AG References which have doubled the original terms – Graham Ovenden and Stuart Hall being the most apt examples.
The sentence for violent rape for a single offence – 15 years with a range of 13-19 years figures- previously reserved for multiple rapes.
Lord Treacy in his speech acknowledged that it has always been understood that guidelines were never tramlines, but there was a need to positively increase sentences particularly at the violent spectrum of rape.
The emphasis on victims echoes the Government’s plan for victims to come into court. As a specialist rape and child abuse practitioner I know these impact statements have always been one of the key elements of such an exercise. My experience is that very often a person does not want to make one even if offered or is content for the prosecutor to either read out or hand up to the Judge, particularly if private matters.
Interestingly Lord Justice Treacy observed this was not “going to change the landscape of sentencing.”
In addition aggravation of an offence caused by the march of technology, so the use of the internet/ mobile phones to groom victims or film or publicise assaults will now be marked by tougher terms, following R V Anibugu .
Specific Culpability is now manipulation, exploitation or coercing the child, by the use of gifts, bribes, alcohol and drugs, the targeting of a vulnerable child and significant disparity in ages and lying about online age and persona – again raises culpability.
Examples of “raised” harm is a child exposed to sexual imagery for the gratification of the offender.
Penetration not ejaculation is the gravity -and abduction or detention is no longer just seen as a stranger street grabbing but refusing to let someone leave their home. In my experience some Judges do not identify the latter scenario in that category they must now.
Possession of indecent images will now have prison sentences at every level- now penetrative activity or that with an animal or sadism are all- the highest graded category. Aggravation is collection of moving images and placing images where there is potential for a high volume of viewers.
Some have raised concern that the balance of focus has wrongly shifted to becoming victim centric as opposed to equally considering the circumstances of the offender and any mitigation. The Howard League for Penal Reform raised this concern and the fact that the draft removed the concept of lower culpability.
Now all rape is extremely harmful and a rapist always has a high level of culpability, they will have to demonstrate factors of mitigation but the Council stated “it was aware of the difficulties and sensitivities concerning the treatment of mitigation in sexual offences”.
The Prison Reform Trust observed that if advancing technology is an impetus for the change, then increased jailing of such offenders will not assist as there are no internet offender programmes run in any prison, further there are occasions where coercion and exploitation can be mitigating factors for an offender.
What of the segregation of such offenders with each other in special units where access to treatment is limited thus where is the work to address the cause of offending.
The recording of offences may need to be considered, on a PNC printout there is only the offence recorded an assault can appear separately. If a violent rape is sentenced then the only indication at first blush to the use of violence will be the term given.
Child offenders who often present with their own particular problems and vulnerabilities; save one area are not included, that work awaits.
This represents a real call to toughen up- many in society believe even these proposals do not go far enough. At the same time it has been announced that the referral of rape cases by the police to the CPS is at a 5 year low. These new guidelines make it plain how high the stakes are.
This article was first published by Law Gazette and is reproduced by kind permission. Click here to view the article.
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