2. General guidance - domestic context

When sentencing an offence committed in a domestic context, refer to the Sentencing Guidelines Council’s definitive guideline Overarching Principles: Domestic Violence, published 7 December 2006. The guideline emphasises that:

  • as a starting point for sentence, offences committed in a domestic context should be regarded as no less serious than offences committed in a non-domestic context;
  • many offences of violence in a domestic context are dealt with in a magistrates’ court as an offence of common assault or assault occasioning actual bodily harm because the injuries sustained are relatively minor. Offences involving serious violence will warrant a custodial sentence in the majority of cases;
  • a number of aggravating factors may commonly arise by virtue of the offence being committed in a domestic context – see the list of aggravating factors – domestic context;
  • since domestic violence takes place within the context of a current or past relationship, the history of the relationship will often be relevant in assessing the gravity of the offence. A court is entitled to take into account anything occurring within the relationship as a whole, which may reveal relevant aggravating or mitigating factors;
  • in respect of an offence of violence in a domestic context, an offender’s good character in relation to conduct outside the home should generally be of no relevance where there is a proven pattern of behaviour;
  • assertions that the offence has been provoked by conduct of the victim need to be treated with great care, both in determining whether they have a factual basis and in considering whether the circumstances of the alleged conduct amounts to provocation sufficient to mitigate the seriousness of the offence;
  • where the custody threshold is only just crossed, so that if a custodial sentence is imposed it will be a short sentence, the court will wish to consider whether the better option is a suspended sentence order or a community order, including in either case a requirement to attend an accredited domestic violence programme. Such an option will only be appropriate where the court is satisfied that the offender genuinely intends to reform his or her behaviour and that there is a real prospect of rehabilitation being successful. A pre-sentence report should be requested to assess the suitability of such an option.

Refer to paragraphs 4.1 to 4.4 of the domestic violence guideline (see link above) for guidance regarding the relevance of the victim’s wishes as to sentence.