New domestic abuse sentencing guideline published

By Agencies
February 23, 2018

A new domestic abuse sentencing guideline was published on 22 February 2018, giving courts up to date guidance which emphasises the seriousness of this kind of offending.

The guideline identifies the principles relevant to the sentencing of cases involving domestic abuse, outlines how the seriousness of offences should be assessed and highlights other factors that should be taken into account.

There is no specific crime of domestic abuse – it can be a feature of many offences, such as assault, sexual offences or harassment. (There is an offence of controlling and coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship for which the Council is working on a guideline and will be published in the summer). The guideline aims to ensure that the seriousness of these offences is properly taken into account when offenders are being sentenced and that sufficient thought is also given to the need to address the offender’s behaviour and prevent reoffending.

The new guideline replaces a domestic violence guideline which was published in 2006. A great deal has changed since then in terms of societal attitudes, expert thinking and terminology. Guidance for courts was therefore in need of revision to bring it up to date. ‘Domestic abuse’ is now the term used, rather than ‘domestic violence’, to reflect that offences can involve psychological, sexual, financial or emotional abuse as well as physical violence.

The new guideline brings a distinct change in emphasis in relation to seriousness. The previous guideline stated that offences committed in a domestic context should be seen as no less serious than those in a non-domestic context, whereas the new guideline emphasises that the fact an offence took place in a domestic context makes it more serious. This is because domestic abuse is rarely a one-off incident, it is likely to become increasingly frequent and more serious the longer it continues, and may result in death. It can also lead to lasting trauma for victims and their children.

For the first time, the guideline also includes a reference to abuse which is perpetrated through use of technology, such as email/text, social networking sites or tracking devices fitted to a victim’s car, since these are increasingly common methods by which domestic abuse can occur.

The guidelines recognise that these offences can affect people of all backgrounds and the guideline is also clear that abuse can occur between family members as well as between intimate partners.

The publication of the guideline follows a public consultation and a number of changes were made to the guideline as a result. In particular, there is now additional guidance on restraining orders, along with new guidance on Victim Personal Statements.

In relation to restraining orders, the guideline now includes additional guidance to assist the court with a renewed focus on keeping the victim safe, particularly for those who continue or resume their relationship with the offender.

The guideline further reminds courts to take any Victim Personal Statement (VPS) into account, but that where there is no VPS, this is not an indication of any lack of harm to the victim.

The consultation also covered proposed new guidelines for a variety of ‘intimidatory’ offences, such as harassment, stalking, disclosing private sexual images, controlling or coercive behaviour, and threats to kill. The definitive guidelines for these offences will be published separately this summer.

Sentencing Council member Jill Gramann said, “Domestic abuse comes in many forms such as harassment, assault and sex offences. The increasing use of technology in offending has meant that it has also evolved in its scope and impact. The new guideline will ensure that courts have the information they need to deal with the great range of offending and help prevent further abuse occurring.”

“The guideline also emphasises that abuse can take place in a wide range of domestic settings and relationships, and that abuse can be psychological, sexual, financial or emotional as well as physical.”

The guideline will apply to all offenders aged 16 and older who are sentenced on or after 24 May 2018.

The domestic violence charity Refuge welcomed the new guideline. Survivors of domestic abuse who have accessed Refuge’s services, together with expert frontline staff, met the Sentencing Council in 2017 to discuss and develop the guidelines, and Refuge believes these go a long way to help women and children fleeing abusive relationships.

Sandra Horley, CEO of Refuge, said, “These new sentencing guidelines are a huge step forward for women escaping domestic violence. Refuge has long campaigned for crimes committed in a domestic context to be treated as seriously, if not more seriously, than any other.

“Domestic violence is a gross violation of trust. Countless women and children are terrorised and brutalised in their homes – how would you feel if a violent attacker had the key to your front door? I am glad that the courts will be encouraged to recognise that everybody has the right to feel safe in their own home.

“Refuge also welcomes the new recognition of how abusers exploit modern technology to track and torment women. We recently launched our new tech abuse programme to keep women safe and empower them in an increasingly online world. These sentencing guidelines better reflect the reality of domestic violence today.”

* Read Overarching Principles: Domestic Abuse Definitive Guideline here

* Sentencing Council

* Refuge


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