News type:
Press releases

News topic:
Sexual offences

Published on:

13 May 2021

Proposals to revise sentencing guidelines for child sexual offences in cases where no sexual activity takes place or the targeted child does not exist, have been published for consultation by the Sentencing Council today. The revised guidelines will clarify how courts in England and Wales should sentence offenders convicted of these offences.

Under the proposals, judges and magistrates will base the sentence they impose on the intended sexual harm to a child, whether or not a child victim existed or sexual activity took place, for example in cases where the offender was arrested following a police or concerned citizens operation. The consultation will close on 13 August 2021.

Sentencing Council member, Lord Justice Fulford, said:

“The changes we are proposing today will make sure the courts give the proper weight to the harm intended by those who commit offences against children.  When an offender intends sexual activity with a child, that must be reflected in the sentence imposed, even where that activity does not ultimately take place.

“We are asking judges, magistrates and other interested parties for their views on the proposed guidelines to help us protect children from people planning to cause them sexual harm or inciting sexual activity with them.”

The main revisions for consultation, which aim to bring consistency to sentencing following recent Court of Appeal judgments, apply to the offences of:

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.

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 revisions to the guidelines stipulate that where no sexual activity takes place, the court should identify the category of harm on the basis of the sexual activity the offender intended, and then adjust the starting point downwards to reflect what actually happened.

 The final sentence will be influenced by other aspects of the offender’s culpability, as well as aggravating and mitigating factors specific to the offence and the offender.

Current sexual offences guidelines, published in 2013, had been interpreted in some cases to mean that harm should be considered low in these 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.

In addition, a new draft guideline for the offence of sexual communication with a child (s15A of the Sexual Offences Act has been published.  Offenders face a maximum penalty of two years in prison for sharing images, causing psychological harm, abuse of trust or the use of threats.

Amongst other changes, the Council is also proposing that child sexual offence guidelines make clear the position that remote offending committed against victims overseas is to be treated as seriously as similar offending against victims in England and Wales.

National Police Chiefs Council lead for online child sexual exploitation, Dan Vajzovic, said:

“We welcome the Sentencing Council’s approach, which recognises the dreadful harm intended by sexual predators, and which should see prison sentences handed down for harm to a child which are more proportionate, consistent and better reflect the abhorrent nature of child abuse. Sex offenders are a very real threat to children, and their offending, whether online or in person, has the potential to cause serious and long-lasting damage to victims.”

Notes to Editors

  1. The draft guidelines apply to adult offenders.
  2. The consultation seeks views on amendments to various existing child sexual offence guidelines, as well as a new guideline for the offence of sexual communication with a child.
  3. There will also be other revisions proposed to bring greater clarity to the existing sexual offence guidelines as set out below:
    • Historic Offences: If the offender was very young and immature at the time of the offence, depending on the circumstances of the offence, this may significantly reduce 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 being 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”.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. For more information, please contact Kathryn Montague, Sentencing Council Press Office, on 020 7071 5792 / 5788 / 07912301657.