Domestic abuse sentences 'likely to increase' under new guidelines

Joe Lepper
Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Sentences for perpetrators of domestic abuse, particularly where a child has been affected, are set to get tougher under new guidance being issued to courts.

The Sentencing Council guidance covers a range of crimes, including assault, sexual offences, harassment and criminal damage, as there is no specific offence of domestic abuse.

The fresh guidance emphasises the seriousness of this kind of offending to judges and magistrates, and details a raft of aggravating factors that should now be taken into account when sentencing. Among these is the impact on children, especially in terms of long-term trauma.

Other factors courts should take into account include the victim's vulnerability and whether contact with a child was used to instigate an offence.

The Sentencing Council said that, overall, it is likely there will be an increase in sentence severity as a result of the introduction of the guidance.

However, it points out that the guidance emphasises the need to consider the most appropriate sentence to prevent further reoffending and protect victims, which may be a community order.

"Domestic abuse can inflict lasting trauma on victims and their extended families, especially children and young people who either witness the abuse or are aware of it having occurred," the guidance states.

According to latest Office for National Statistics figures, 130,000 children in England and Wales live in homes where there is a "high risk" of domestic abuse.

Department for Education figures released in November revealed that domestic violence is the single most common problem experienced by children in need and is prevalent in around half of all cases (49.9 per cent).

Ofsted is among children's sector organisations to recently call for improvements in preventing domestic abuse.

The inspectorate's 2017 annual report criticised children's services responses to such incidents, saying that social workers are too focused on victims and need to do more early intervention work with perpetrators to prevent abusive behaviour.

Earlier this month, the Local Government Association called for independent domestic violence advisers to be deployed in hospitals to help victims access support far more quickly. Currently, only one in 10 hospitals have these advisers in place.

The government has also pledged to do more to tackle domestic abuse. Last year's Queen's Speech revealed plans to bring in a Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill to ensure support services focus on early intervention and prevention.

The sentencing guidelines will apply to all offenders aged 16 and older who are sentenced for domestic abuse offences on or after 24 May.

The guidance also emphasise that the term "domestic abuse", rather than "domestic violence", should be used in courts to reflect that such offences can involve psychological, financial and emotional abuse as well as violence.

In addition, the guidance emphasises that domestic abuse can be perpetrated through technology, social media and tracking devices.

"Domestic abuse comes in many forms such as harassment, assault and sex offences," Sentencing Council member Jill Gramann said.

"The increasing use of technology in offending has meant that it has also evolved in its scope and impact. The new guideline will ensure that courts have the information they need to deal with the great range of offending and help prevent further abuse occurring.

"The guideline also emphasises that abuse can take place in a wide range of domestic settings and relationships, and that abuse can be psychological, sexual, financial or emotional as well as physical."

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