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15 May 2024

A consultation paper on sentencing non-strangulation and suffocation offences.

Why non-fatal strangulation and suffocation offences?

Strangulation and suffocation are both forms of assault.

When the Council was developing the revised assault offences guidelines that were published in 2021, we had taken into consideration research highlighting the seriousness of strangulation as a form of assault. As a result, the revised guidelines provided for the culpability of the perpetrator of any assault involving strangulation, suffocation or asphyxiation to be assessed at the highest level of seriousness.

Subsequently, the Government decided that specific offences of non-fatal strangulation and suffocation were necessary to ensure perpetrators could be charged and prosecuted with a sufficiently serious offence even in the absence of physical injuries.

Section 70(1) of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 created an offence of non-fatal strangulation and a separate offence of non-fatal suffocation. The offences were introduced as part of the Government’s Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy 2021 and came into force on 7 June 2022.

The legislation does not provide definitions of strangulation or suffocation, but CPS charging guidance for prosecutor’s states that: ‘the word should be given its ordinary meaning which is the obstruction or compression of blood vessels and/or airways by external pressure to the neck impeding normal breathing or circulation of the blood.’ The guidance provides common examples of acts which may be charged as non-fatal strangulation as:

  • one or two hands held around the neck of a person;
  • chokehold or head lock – external pressure applied by an arm around the neck;
  • ligature – for example a scarf or belt tightened around the neck;
  • pressure on the neck from a foot or knee.

CPS prosecution guidance also provides a definition of non-fatal suffocation, confirming this has a wider ordinary definition and is to ‘deprive a person of air which affects their normal breathing.’ Common examples of suffocation are given as:

  • putting a hand over the mouth and nose;
  • compressing the chest;
  • any other force or suppression applied to a person to cause a restriction of breath.

While the assault guidelines provide for offences involving strangulation, suffocation or asphyxiation and that these be assessed at the highest level of culpability, the harm assessments in the assault guidelines are better suited to assessing actual harm caused rather than the high risk of harm inherent in these offences.

The new guideline seeks to ensure appropriate sentences for these offences, which are often committed in a domestic context, as well as proportionality and relativity with sentences for related offences and other sentencing guidelines.

Who should respond?

We would like to hear from anyone who uses sentencing guidelines in their work or who has an interest in sentencing. We would also like to hear from individuals and organisations representing anyone who could be affected by the proposals including:

  • victims and their families;
  • defendants and their families;
  • those under probation supervision or youth offending teams/supervision;
  • those with protected characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

What is the Council consulting about?

The Council has produced this consultation paper in order to seek views from as many people as possible interested in the sentencing of non-fatal strangulation and suffocation offences.

However, it is important to clarify that the Council is consulting on sentencing guidelines for these offences and not the legislation upon which such offences are based. The relevant legislation is a matter for Parliament and is, therefore, outside the scope of this exercise.

What do we want to know?

Through this consultation process, the Council is seeking views on:

  • the principal factors that make any of the offences included within the draft guidelines more or less serious;
  • the additional factors that should influence the sentence;
  • the types and lengths of sentence that should be passed;
  • whether there are any issues relating to disparity of sentencing and/or broader matters relating to equality and diversity that the guidelines could and should address, and;
  • anything else you think should be considered.

When and how to respond

The consultation closes on 14 August 2024. See About this consultation for how to respond and our policies on Freedom of Information and privacy.

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