The maximum sentence for causing the death of a child or vulnerable adult is set to increase from 14 years’ imprisonment to life imprisonment. The legislative amendments have been tabled to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which is currently making its way through Parliament.
The government has also announced the introduction of ‘Harper’s Law’. This would carry an automatic life sentence where an emergency worker is killed during the commission of an offence.
Longer Sentencing For Causing Death
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Under the current law, the maximum sentence for causing or allowing the death of a child or vulnerable adult is 14 years’ imprisonment. The maximum sentence for causing or allowing serious physical harm to a child, and cruelty to a person under 16, is 10 years’ imprisonment.
The adoptive parents of Tony Hudgell have been campaigning to extend the sentencing range. Tony Hudgell was left severely disabled after he was abused by his birth parents. They were both sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment.
Now, ‘Tony’s Law’ has been proposed. This would increase the maximum available sentence to:
- Life imprisonment, for causing or allowing the death of a child or vulnerable adult;
- 14 years’ imprisonment, for causing or allowing serious physical harm to a child, and cruelty to a person under 16.
The name ‘Tony’s Law’ is slightly misleading, as it is not actually a new offence. Rather, it is an increase to the maximum sentence. The same is true for Harper’s Law, which is another legislative amendment announced by the government. It is named after PC Harper who died while responding to a burglary. He was dragged behind the getaway vehicle when he attempted to stop three offenders from taking a quad bike.
Currently, a life sentence does not automatically follow a conviction for manslaughter as it does with murder, although it is an option. The men accused of killing PC Harper were convicted of manslaughter, meaning the judge did not consider a life sentence suitable as this was outside the sentencing range. This was actually tested at the Court of Appeal and the sentencing judge’s decision was upheld.
Now, the government wants a mandatory life sentence to be given to anyone who kills an emergency worker whilst committing a crime – regardless of whether it is classed as murder or manslaughter. An ‘emergency worker’ includes police officers, National Crime Agency officers, prison officers, firefighters, paramedics and custody officers. Where an offender is convicted of manslaughter, a judge will not have to impose a life sentence if it is unjust to do so.
What happens next?
The proposed changes will be tabled to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. The Bill is already at an advanced stage, so will be subject to less scrutiny than other legislative amendments.
If the new ‘laws’ are implemented, it will have implications for those found guilty of killing an emergency worker while committing a criminal offence, and those who cause death or serious harm to a child/vulnerable adult.
Changes To Sentencing
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