New robbery sentencing guidelines put emphasis on seriousness of robberies involving knives and guns

Today, the Sentencing Council has announced new sentencing guidelines for robbery offences which will help courts to sentence all types of offender, from a street mugger to a gang guilty of a major heist.

The guidelines have been introduced to ensure courts have comprehensive guidance covering all types of robberies committed by adults in England and Wales. These comprise:

  • Street robbery and less sophisticated commercial robbery, which make up by far the largest proportion of offences. They cover crimes committed in public places generally, such as parks, stations, public transport, small businesses and shops.
  • Professionally planned commercial robbery, which would include crimes such as a sophisticated heist at a luxury jewellers or a security depot.
  • Robbery in a home, which is committed for example, when an offender who has been invited into someone’s house then steals property from them whilst using violence or threats of violence.

It is important to note the distinction between robbery and other kinds of acquisitive offences such as theft and burglary. Robbery always involves the use or threat of force. Theft involves taking someone’s property but does not involve the use or threat of force. Burglary means illegally entering a property in order to steal property from it.

The previous guidelines did not include any detailed guidance on robberies in people’s homes or professionally planned commercial robberies and so the new guidelines will be used to sentence a much wider range of offending.

While the Council has not set out to increase sentence levels, the new guidelines reflect the increases in sentence levels that have occurred over recent years. The increases have come about as case law has made clear that offences involving knives must focus on deterrence.

This approach also reflects society’s concerns about the problem of robberies involving the use of knives and guns, emphasising the seriousness of these offences and aiming to ensure that robbers who use these weapons – or threaten people with them – get the longest sentences.

The use of any weapon to commit violence and use of significant force whether with or without a weapon are also considered to be factors that put the offence at the highest level of culpability.

The guideline also aims to ensure that the full impact of robbery on victims is taken into account, directing sentencers to take into account both physical injuries and psychological harm. Robbery is inherently a violent crime, with effects greater than just the loss of property. Serious harm to the victim will put an offender in the highest possible category of harm.

The Council consulted on the guideline and asked members of the public, Judges, people who work in the criminal justice system and other interested parties about whether the guidelines were right in terms of how people committing robberies should be sentenced.

The consultation asked questions about the main factors that make any of the offences more serious or less serious, the structure and format of the guideline and the types and lengths of sentences that should be passed.

The Council’s proposals were generally positively received by those responding to the consultation. As a result of the consultation, some changes were also made to the guideline. For example, in the version put to consultation there were separate guidelines for street robbery; commercial robbery; and dwelling robbery. However, some respondents felt that it was unclear whether some robberies that take place on the street, but targeting commercial property, such as the robbery of a pizza delivery driver, would fall under the street or commercial robbery guideline. The Council therefore amended the structure so that street robbery and less sophisticated commercial robbery are combined and professionally planned commercial robbery and dwelling robbery are separate.

Chairman of the Sentencing Council, Lord Justice Treacy, said:

“We want to ensure that judges have comprehensive guidelines that help them sentence the great variety of offenders they have to deal with, which can include anything from a street mugging to a major robbery by an organised gang.

“Through these guidelines, we want to reflect the public’s concerns about crime involving guns and knives, so we are emphasising that those robbers who use such weapons to commit offences will face the longest sentences.

“We also aim to ensure that the impact on victims is properly taken into account – robbery is not just about losing property. Victims can be seriously injured or traumatised, so we want an assessment of the level of harm to the victim to be central to judges’ decisions about what sentence an offender should get.”

The guideline will be used in courts in England and Wales from 1 April 2016.