The Sentencing Council, who are responsible for producing guidelines to assist Judges and Magistrates’ with sentencing, are proposing tougher sentences for sexual offences following a 14 week consultation.
The consultation follows increasing concerns about sentences not accurately reflecting the potential long term effects suffered by victims of sexual offences, rather than concentrating predominantly on the physical act of the crime.
Not only do the proposals include greater consideration being given to the psychological impact that such crimes have on their victims, they will also allow the Courts to give longer sentences where there is evidence that the use of technology, such as the filming and distribution of an attack, would increase the victim’s suffering.
Under the current law, sentences of up to 19 years are only available for repeat offenders. It is now, however, being suggested that those convicted of ‘one off’ incidents of rape could also be looking at similar sentences. This will certainly offer victims of rape a greater sense of justice, but appears to offer no distinction between offenders who regularly attack women and those for whom the act would ordinarily be totally out of character. It also offers little assurance to those wrongly accused of the offence.
Other potential changes include consideration being given to the behaviour of an offender prior to the commission of any sexual offence. Those who use drugs or alcohol to their advantage prior to an attack could receive longer sentences too, as could those who abuse a position of trust, which is perhaps all the more poignant in light of recent high profile allegations of sexual assault.
Sentencing Guidelines Council
Lord Justice Tracey of the Sentencing Guidelines Council has said, ‘The perspective of victims is central to the Council’s considerations. We want to ensure sentences reflect everything the victim has been through and what the offender has done’.
There is currently no confirmation of if and when these proposals will come into force. It is clear, however, that the situation for a person accused of a sexual offence, and indeed the proposals consider 54 such offences, not just matters of rape, will become all the more serious in the future.