17 May 2022
Child sexual offences sentencing guidelines published
Revised sentencing guidelines that clarify how courts in England and Wales should sentence offenders convicted of arranging or facilitating sexual offences against a child were published today by the Sentencing Council following consultation.
Under the revised guidelines, which will come into effect on 31 May 2022, judges and magistrates will consider the intended sexual harm to a child even in cases where no actual child exists or no sexual activity takes place, for example in police ‘sting’ operations.
The revisions follow requests from the Court of Appeal and arise from two cases (‘Privett and Others’ and ‘Reed and Others’) that provided the courts with guidance on how to approach the assessment of harm in cases where there is no actual child victim.
The case of ‘Privett’ involved arranging or facilitating the commission of a child sex offence where there was no child, and ‘Reed’ involved sexual activity that was incited but ultimately did not take place.
Sentencing Council member, Her Honour Judge Rosa Dean, said:
“The sentencing guidelines published today bring greater clarity to the courts on how to deal with cases of arranging or facilitating child sexual offences, even in cases where no actual child exists, or no sexual activity took place.
“Judges and magistrates will impose sentences that reflect the intended harm to the child, even where that activity does not ultimately take place, to protect children from people planning to cause them sexual harm.”
Current sexual offences guidelines, published in 2013, had been interpreted in some cases to mean that harm should be considered low in these types of cases or had placed the absence of actual harm to a child as a mitigating factor in cases where sexual activity was incited but did not actually occur.
The revisions cover:
- Arranging or facilitating the commission of a child sex offence (s14 Sexual Offences Act 2003) even where no sexual activity takes place or no child victim exists. The maximum sentence depends on the activity being arranged but is life imprisonment if the rape of a child under 12 years old is being planned.
- Causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity (s10 Sexual Offences Act 2003) and other similar offences, even where activity is incited but does not take place or no child victim exists. The maximum sentence is 14 years’ imprisonment.
The Council is also publishing a new guideline for the offence of sexual communication with a child (s15A of the Sexual Offences Act). Offenders face a maximum penalty of two years in prison for sharing images, causing psychological harm, abuse of trust or the use of threats or bribes. This guideline will come into effect on 1 July 2022.
In other revisions, the Council has clarified that offences committed against victims overseas should be treated as seriously as similar offending against victims in England and Wales. Sentencers should approach the assessment of seriousness in the same way regardless of whether activity was caused or incited in person or remotely and whether harm was caused to a victim anywhere else in the world.
Notes to Editors
- Other revisions have also been published to provide greater clarity to the existing sexual offence guidelines as set out below:
- Historical Offences: If the offender was very young and immature at the time of the offence, depending on the circumstances of the offence, this may count as mitigation affecting the offender’s culpability.
- Guidance on Sexual Harm Prevention Orders (SHPO) to be added to the offence specific guidelines. A court can order an SHPO when an offender is sentenced for a relevant sexual offence or upon application by the police or the National Crime Agency.
- More detailed guidance on how to assess psychological harm, the interpretation of “abuse of trust” and the mitigating factors “age and/or lack of maturity” and “physical disability or serious medical condition requiring urgent, intensive or long-term treatment”.
- 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.
- Guidelines set sentencing ranges within the maximum for the offence as set out in current legislation. The guidelines are intended to reflect current sentencing practice for these offences.
- 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.
For more information, please contact Kathryn Montague, Sentencing Council Press Office, on 020 7071 5792 / 5788 / 07912301657.