As of the 1st October 2018 the Sentencing Council issued guidelines for those convicted of breaching Sexual Harm Prevention Orders (SHPOs) including Sexual Offences Prevention Orders (SOPOs) and failing to comply with the notification requirements.
No guidelines had been in existence prior to October so this is the first time there has been an attempt to categorise different breaches.
How does the court decide on sentence for breach of SHPO?
The maximum sentence for each offence is 5 years imprisonment and the range of sentences is a financial penalty to 4 years six months for breach of SOPOs and 4 years for failing to comply with notification requirements.
As with all guidelines the crucial factors are culpability and harm, although the real difference here is that harm includes risk of harm as well as actual harm. This is almost inevitable since these orders are imposed to regulate behaviour (usually in a sexual context) and breaches are disobeying a court order and not necessarily a separate criminal offence. The actions that lead to more serious breaches usually constitute a separate criminal offence, which is why sentences for stand alone breaches are usually measured in months rather than years.
Why was the original Sexual Harm Prevention Order imposed?
Interestingly there is an additional factor that when assessing harm the court should consider the reason why the original order was imposed. This is effectively a potential aggravating feature despite the breach being unconnected to the original offence.
There are the usual statutory aggravating features such as previous convictions and offences whilst on bail and the standard mitigating features that are present in other guidelines such as age/ lack of maturity/ carer for relatives etc.
A combination of a number of mitigating or aggravating features can move the starting point up or down within the range and even into a different category.
In all there are no great surprises within the guidelines. They reflect the sentencing practices prior to October, but it makes sentences now more transparent and sentencers more accountable. This can only be good, not only for those receiving the sentence but also for the general public, particularly with the emotive issues that surround sentencing sex offenders.