Draft sentencing guidelines for assault and attempted murder offences published

Proposed revised sentencing guidelines for seven assault offences, including common assault and attempted murder, and a new guideline for assault on emergency workers, were published for consultation today by the Sentencing Council.

The proposed guidelines, which apply to adult offenders, will help courts in England and Wales take a consistent approach to sentencing assault offences, make an effective assessment of the seriousness of those offences and impose appropriate and proportionate sentences.

The draft guidelines propose:

  • Specific guidance for sentencing assaults against emergency workers, to reflect legislation introduced in 2018 to increase sentences for these offences.
  • A new high-culpability factor in common assault offences of “Intention to cause fear of serious harm, including disease transmission”, and inclusion of “spitting or coughing” as an aggravating factor.
  • Revised guidance for attempted murder – the most serious form of non-fatal assault – to ensure the guideline reflects changes to legislation in respect of sentences for murder where weapons are taken to the scene, and to bring the guideline into line with the Council’s stepped model.
  • The introduction of a greater number of seriousness categories and sentence starting points in guidelines for sentencing ABH and GBH to provide sentencers with more specific factors to help assess seriousness and ensure appropriate sentences that accurately reflect culpability and harm.

The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 introduced a higher statutory maximum sentence of 12 months for offences of common assault against people specified as emergency workers. The proposed new guideline reflects the intention of the legislation: all but one offence category provides for a custodial sentence to be imposed and half the categories include custodial starting points.

In revising the existing guidelines, the main change the Council is proposing is to the way in which the seriousness of assault offences is assessed. Currently, the assessment of seriousness includes factors that indicate only higher or lower culpability and greater or lesser harm. In the revised draft guidelines, the culpability and harm factors are more specific, where possible, and there is a greater number of offence categories and sentence starting points and ranges.

The Council’s aim is to provide guidelines that allow for an effective assessment of the seriousness of individual assault offences and for appropriate and proportionate sentences to be imposed.

The Council is inviting views from judges, magistrates, legal practitioners and the public during the consultation, which is open until 15 September 2020. The consultation has been extended beyond the usual three months in recognition of the changes to many consultees’ working circumstances. Following consultation, definitive guidelines are expected to come into force in 2021.

In response to the current circumstances, the Council has published interim guidance to assist the courts in sentencing common assault offences in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. The interim guidance clarifies that, when sentencing common assault offences involving threats or activity relating to transmission of Covid-19, courts should treat this as an aggravating feature of the offence.

Sentencing Council spokesperson, Mr Justice Julian Goose, said:

“Assault offences can be very personal crimes. It is important that sentences should be appropriate and proportionate, and reflect the harm caused to victims. 

“These guidelines will provide the courts with a framework for sentencing a range of offences, from high-volume common assault to attempted murder. When in force, they will provide protection in the years ahead for the public and the people who serve them by providing public services or as emergency workers.”

Notes to editors

When published (00:01 Thursday 16 April), the consultation will be available at: https://www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk/consultations/assault-offences-consultation

1. The draft guidelines cover the following offences:

  1. Common assault – section 39 Criminal Justice Act 1988; Racially/religiously aggravated Common assault – section 29 Crime and Disorder Act 1998
  2. Assault or battery committed against an emergency worker – section 1 Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018
  3. Assault with intent to resist arrest – section 38 Offences Against the Person Act 1861
  4. Assault occasioning actual bodily harm – section 47 Offences Against the Person Act 1861; Racially/religiously aggravated ABH – section 29 Crime and Disorder Act 1998
  5. Inflicting grievous bodily harm/Unlawful wounding – section 20 Offences Against the Person Act 1861; Racially/religiously aggravated GBH/Unlawful wounding – section 29 Crime and Disorder Act 1998
  6. Causing grievous bodily harm with intent to do grievous bodily harm/Wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm – section 18 Offences Against the Person Act 1861
  7. Attempted murder – s1(1) Criminal Attempts Act 1981

2. The existing offence of assault on a police constable in the execution of his duty contrary to section 89 of the Police Act 1996 has effectively been replaced by the 2018 legislation. Crown Prosecution Service charging guidance confirms it is unlikely this offence will continue to be charged so it has not been included in the revised guideline.

3.Sentencing guidelines must be followed, unless the court is satisfied that it would be contrary to the interest of justice to do so. If a judge or magistrate believes that a guideline prevents the correct sentence from being given in an exceptional case, he or she can sentence outside of the guideline.

4.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 Phil Hodgson on 020 7071 5788 or email.