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Thursday, 22 February 2018

Domestic abuse crimes will face tougher punishments under new guidelines

Written by Hayden Smith

Crimes will be treated as more serious if they are committed in a domestic setting under new sentencing guidelines.

People who subject spouses, partners or family members to abuse will face tougher punishments than those who commit similar offences in a non-domestic context.

For the first time official guidance for courts also makes clear that domestic abuse is no longer confined to person-to-person contact as culprits increasingly torment their victims using technology such as social networks or tracking devices.

The approach to severity marks a significant shift from the existing position, which has applied since 2006.

Instructions for judges and magistrates currently state that offences in a domestic context should be seen as "no less serious" than others.

The new guidelines, published by the Sentencing Council on Thursday, say: "The domestic context of the offending behaviour makes the offending more serious because it represents a violation of the trust and security that normally exists between people in an intimate or family relationship.

"Additionally, there may be a continuing threat to the victim's safety, and in the worst cases a threat to their life or the lives of others around them."

Domestic abuse is rarely a one-off incident, the document notes, while it also flags up the potential for victims and their children to suffer "lasting trauma".

An increase in sentence severity is expected as a result of the new guidance.

It emphasises that crimes involving serious violence, or where the emotional and psychological damage is severe, will warrant a custodial sentence in the majority of cases.

For the first time, the guideline includes a reference to abuse perpetrated through use of technology such as email, text, social networking sites or tracking devices.

These have become increasingly common in recent years.

There is no specific crime of domestic abuse.

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

She added: "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."

Provocation is no mitigation to an offence within a domestic context, except in rare circumstances, the guideline says.

It urges courts to take "great care" in cases where the offender or victim requests a less severe sentence in the interests of any children.

An estimated 26% of women and 15% of men aged 16 to 59 had experienced some form of domestic abuse since the age of 16, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales for the year to March 2017.

This is equivalent to about 4.3 million female and 2.4 million male victims.

The new sentencing guideline will apply to offenders aged 16 and older sentenced in England and Wales on or after May 24.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Niall Carson / PA Wire.