Sentencing for assault: consultation launched on changes to judges’ guidelines

Today the Sentencing Council launches a 12-week public consultation, proposing changes to the guidelines that judges and magistrates use to sentence people for offences of assault.

The consultation also proposes key changes to the way that guidelines are structured, both to ensure a consistent approach to sentencing by judges and magistrates, and to make them more easily understood by the public.

There have been a number of concerns with the existing guideline which is based on a description of the offence rather than on the harm caused to the victim and the culpability of the offender.  So, for example, a description of three of the four categories of assault occasioning actual bodily harm include premeditated assault with different levels of injury whereas the experience of judges is that many assaults are spontaneous – such as drunken violence in the street – and do not easily fit into those categories. The proposals seek to address these concerns.

The Chairman of the Sentencing Council, Lord Justice Leveson, said:

“Our revisions set out a proposed guideline that means any offence of assault can be met with a proportionate sentence based on a consistent framework. This will make it easily applied by judges and readily understood both by victims and the public.  We have tried to present the guidelines in a way that everyone can understand.

“During the consultation period we would like to hear from victims and any member of the public, as well as from judges, lawyers and others in the criminal justice system.  We want to make sure that both the structure and the content of what will be our first guideline is informed by the views of everyone who has an interest in sentencing.”

Submissions to the consultation can be made by email or post to the Sentencing Council any time between 13 October 2010 and 5 January 2011. All consultation documents can be found on the current consultations page.

Following the consultation, a definitive guideline will be produced, which will be used in both the Crown Court and magistrates’ courts.