New sentencing proposals emphasise seriousness of knife and gun robberies

Today, the Sentencing Council has published its proposals for how robbers should be sentenced by the courts.

A new sentencing guideline is being produced so judges have comprehensive guidance to ensure consistent and proportionate sentences for the great variety of offenders that come before them.

The draft guideline covers all robbery offences committed by adults: street robbery, commercial robbery and robberies in the home. Street robbery, which makes up by far the largest proportion of offences, covers crimes committed in public places generally, such as parks, stations or public transport, while commercial robbery covers offences targeting any business. This could include banks, shops and security vehicles. Robbery in a home is committed for example, when an offender who has been invited into someone’s house then robs them.

The Council’s proposals expand existing guidance for judges to include robbery in people’s homes or for professionally planned commercial robberies – these are not covered by the current guideline.

The new guideline will therefore be used to sentence a much wider range of offending including for example a highly sophisticated gang heist at a security depot. The new guideline also reflects society’s concerns about the problem of knife and gun robberies. The Council is proposing that any offences where a knife or gun is used, or their use is threatened, will be considered to be the most serious in order to ensure the longest sentences are given to offenders who arm themselves with weapons. Under existing guidance, use of a weapon does not automatically mean offenders are put in the top category of seriousness; the draft guideline proposes that they will be in the category which attracts the highest sentences.

The guideline also increases the focus on the effect on the victim to emphasise not only physical injuries but also psychological harm. This means that the full impact on the victim is at the centre of sentencing considerations.

This is because robbery not only means taking someone’s property: it is an intrinsically violent crime. Victims of robbery may have been threatened with violence or actually been assaulted and injured, which means these offences can be a terrifying experience.

In addition to any physical injury, victims may suffer other effects which stop them getting on with their lives. They may feel unable to use public transport, walk home from school or go to a local park if that is where they were attacked. When an offence happens in the home, a place where someone should feel safe, effects can be profound and long-lasting. In cases where the victim is particularly vulnerable the impact of the offence can be life-changing. When a business is targeted, as well as loss of stock or cash, owners or staff can be injured or traumatised.

The proposed guideline is now subject to consultation and the Council is keen to hear from members of the public, people who work in the criminal justice system like the police and other interested parties about issues such as:

  • the principal factors that make any of the offences included within the draft guideline more or less serious;
  • the additional factors that should influence the sentence;
  • the approach taken to structuring the draft guidelines; and
  • the sentences that should be passed for robbery offences.

People can respond to the whole consultation or just focus on specific issues or offence types that are of particular interest to them. The consultation closes on 23 January 2015.

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

“Robberies can leave victims injured or traumatised as well as losing property, so we are ensuring that the full impact of these offences is at the forefront of judges’ considerations about the length of sentence a robber should get.

“Our proposals will give judges comprehensive guidance to help them sentence the great range of offenders who come before them, from a street mugger to gang members responsible for a major heist.

“We are also reflecting public concerns over the carrying of knives, guns or imitation firearms.

“This consultation is open to everyone – we want both criminal justice professionals and members of the public to give their views about our proposals.”