Sentencing guidelines and offences involving corrosive substances

Reports of assaults and robberies involving the use of acid or other corrosive substances have increased in profile recently, with questions being asked as to how offenders who attack or threaten people with such substances are dealt with by the courts.

In its guidelines for judges and magistrates, the Sentencing Council is clear that use of a corrosive substance is a factor that shows high culpability on the part of the offender.

In the assault guideline, the use of acid as a weapon is specifically mentioned as a factor indicating higher culpability, which would indicate a greater level of offence seriousness. This factor is included in relation to all assault offences, from common assault to GBH with intent.

In the robbery guideline, use of a weapon, which would include corrosive substances,  to inflict violence would place the offender in the highest category of culpability.

All guidelines also consider the harm to the victim, whether this be physical or psychological and so an offender who has high culpability, and causes high levels of harm would be facing the highest sentence levels.

As well as these guidelines that are already in force, following a consultation which ended earlier this year, the Council is also developing guidelines covering offences involving weapons and threats to use them. These guidelines also take into account offences involving acid, which would be categorised as a highly dangerous weapon given that the harm likely to be caused by it is significant and lasting. Possession of, or threats to use a highly dangerous weapon would place the offender in the highest category of culpability. The guideline is being finalised, but the draft guideline can be accessed here.