News type:
Press releases

News topic:
Child cruelty

Published on:

7 March 2023

Updates to the sentencing guidelines for offenders convicted of child cruelty offences including causing or allowing death or serious injury in England and Wales, were published today by the Sentencing Council following consultation.

The updated guidelines reflect recent changes in legislation and introduce a new ‘very high culpability’ level for the most serious cases to reflect new maximum sentences introduced by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 for these offences:

The guideline for causing or allowing a child to die has been revised to include a sentencing range of up to 18 years in prison. The new sentencing ranges for causing or allowing a child to suffer serious physical harm and for cruelty to a child go up to 12 years’ custody.

By introducing the new “very high culpability” level, the guidelines take into account the increased statutory maximum sentences and will help the courts take a consistent approach to sentencing the most serious cases of child cruelty.

No changes have been made in either guideline to the factors of the high, medium and lesser culpability levels, the harm factors or the sentence levels for cases not falling into the new very high culpability category. The revised guidelines will come into effect on 1 April 2023. The new maximum penalties will apply only to offences committed on or after 28 June 2022.

Sentencing Council chairman, Lord Justice William Davis, said:

“Child cruelty offences are by their very nature targeted against particularly vulnerable people – children – and it is important that courts have up-to-date guidelines that reflect the penalties set by Parliament.

“The revisions published today will ensure that the courts can reflect the new penalties consistently and transparently and will have available to them the full range of possible sentences when dealing with the worst cases of child cruelty.” 

Notes to editors

  1. The Sentencing Council issued guidelines for these offences in 2018 which came into force on 1 January 2019.
  2. Causing or allowing a child to die or suffer serious physical harm is an offence under section 5 of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004; Cruelty to a child is an offence under section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933.
  3. The statutory maximum penalty for causing or allowing a child to die was raised from 14 years to life imprisonment under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Act 2022. The PCSC Act also raised the statutory maximum penalties for causing or allowing a child to suffer serious physical harm and cruelty to a child from 10 years to 14 years’ imprisonment.
  4. Where a court decides to impose a life sentence on an offender, they will use the sentence levels in the guideline to determine the minimum term to be spent in prison before the Parole Board can consider whether they should be released.
  5. Guidelines set sentencing ranges within the maximum for the offence as set out in current legislation.
  6. Sentencing guidelines must be followed, unless the court is satisfied that it would be contrary to the interest of justice to do so in all the circumstances of a particular case.
  7. The Sentencing Council was established by Parliament to be an independent body, but accountable to Parliament for its work which is scrutinised by the Justice Select Committee. Justice Ministers are accountable to Parliament for the Sentencing Council’s effectiveness and efficiency, for its use of public funds and for protecting its independence. Judicial Council members are appointed by the Lord Chief Justice with the agreement of the Lord Chancellor. Non-judicial council members are appointed by the Lord Chancellor with the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice.
  8. For more information, please contact Kathryn Montague, Sentencing Council Press Office, on 020 7071 5792 / 5788 / 07912301657 or email