Sentencing guidelines for certain sexual offences involving children have been revised and are currently in the draft stage. The proposed changes relate to cases in which no sexual activity occurred, perhaps because the child did not exist and was in fact decoy.

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We offer specialist legal representation to those accused of sexual offences, including child sexual offences. If you are released under investigation or you have been charged, please contact us at Ashmans Solicitors. We offer free police station representation and are available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Draft revised sentencing guidelines

When someone is convicted of a criminal offence, sentencing guidelines help the court decide what sentence to impose. These guidelines should be followed unless it would not be in the interests of justice to do so.

The judiciary has revised the sentencing guidelines in relation to certain child sexual offences. This was deemed necessary, as there are concerns that the current sentencing guidelines are being misinterpreted. This has resulted in several cases being taken to the Court of Appeal, which has produced judgments on the matter. The revised guidelines intend to reflect these judgments, which relate to the lack of actual harm to the child as a mitigating factor.

What revisions are proposed?

The main revisions apply to the offences of:

  • Arranging or facilitating the commission of a child sex offence; and
  • Causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity

Both these offences can occur even if no sexual activity takes place. This typically happens where a police officer uses a decoy or dummy account to catch sex offenders in a chat room. Where no sexual activity occurs, the revised guidelines state that the court should determine the sentence by:

  1. Identifying the category of harm on the basis of the sexual activity the offender intended; and then
  2. Adjusting the starting point downwards to reflect what actually happened

Therefore, the offender would be unlikely to receive the maximum sentence of 14 years’ imprisonment, as the lack of actual harm would be a mitigating factor.

Further revisions have also been put forward, including:

  • A maximum of 2 years’ imprisonment for sharing images, causing psychological harm, abuse of trust, or the use of threats. The court’s assessment of psychological harm will be assisted with detailed guidance on interpretations of “abuse of trust”, “age and/or lack of maturity”, and “physical disability or serious medical condition requiring urgent, intensive, or long-term treatment”.
  • Consideration is given to the age of the offender in the case of historic offences. A young and immature individual at the time of the offence may have reduced culpability.
  • Clarification that child sexual offences that take place remotely with an overseas victim is just as serious as offending against a child in England and Wales.
  • Detailed guidance relating to the use of Sexual Harm Prevention Orders.

What happens next?

The revised guidelines are currently in the draft stage. They are subject to consultation, which will close on 13th August 2021. We will keep you up to date with any changes in legislation and case law so that we are always best placed to advise you properly.

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