Victims to be protected through Sentencing Reforms

The Government has confirmed that domestic abusers will continue to face jail, and judges will have full discretion to lock up any tormentor who puts an individual at significant risk of psychological or physical harm.

Changes to shorter jail stints also won’t apply to those in front of the court for breaching a court order such as a restraining or stalking prevention order. This will keep the safety of women and girls at the heart of the criminal justice system.

The announcement comes as the Sentencing Bill, which was set out in the King’s Speech, is introduced in the House of Commons. As part of this bill, the Government will bring in a raft of measures to better protect the British public from the worst offenders.

Under the plans, the most heinous murderers will spend the rest of their lives locked up, including for any murder involving sexual or sadistic conduct. With Whole Life Orders being handed down in the worst cases, and judges only able to not impose one in exceptional circumstances, life will mean life.

The new legislation will also mean rapists and criminals who commit other serious sexual offences spend their full custodial term in prison behind bars, making the average sentence for rape up 50% when the Government came to power in 2010. Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Alex Chalk KC said:

“We want domestic abuse victims to know this Government is on their side, so we will do everything possible to protect them from those who cause harm, or threaten to do so. That’s why we are ensuring that judges retain full discretion to hand down prison sentences to domestic abusers  – to give victims the confidence to rebuild their lives knowing their tormentors are safely behind bars.”

What’s more, through the Sentencing Bill, there will be a presumption on the courts to suspend custodial sentences of twelve months or less. This is backed by government statistics which show over 50% of offenders serving a sentence of 12 months or less go on to commit another crime compared to 58% of those serving six months or less.

Where suspended sentences are given, offenders will be punished in the community, repaying their debt to society by cleaning up our neighbourhoods and scrubbing graffiti off walls. They will also be strictly overseen by the Probation Service and subject to license conditions which could include state-of-the-art electronic monitoring tags and curfews.

They will also be able to better access drug and alcohol rehab, mental healthcare and other support that properly addresses the root causes of their offending. In order to reduce the number of offenders trapped in the revolving prison door, the Sentencing Bill will:

  • Introduce a presumption to suspend prison sentences of 12 months or less in certain circumstances.
  • Expand the use of Home Detention Curfew (HDC) to suitable offenders serving sentences of four years or more.

Judges will retain their discretion to hand down custodial sentences where they feel it is right in the circumstances of the case. The Victims’ Commissioner, Baroness Newlove, commented:

“Victim safety is paramount, so I welcome today’s announcement that the presumption against shorter sentences won’t apply to those who are assessed as presenting a high risk of psychological or physical harm. This will only work effectively if judges are provided with sound risk assessments as part of a pre-sentence report. It is important the government makes sure the Probation Service is resourced to deliver these reports and that staff are trained and experienced in making good risk assessments.

We must acknowledge victim confidence in community orders is low: all too often compliance is perceived as poor and enforcement weak. I welcome the plan that offenders who breach the conditions of a community order will still face the prospect of a prison sentence. However this requires the Probation Service and the courts being equipped to make this prospect a reality. I have also called on the government to listen to victims’ concerns when deciding on the conditions attached to a community order. It is important that victims’ concerns are heard and considered. This approach, successfully applied in parole hearings, will bolster victims’ confidence that justice is being done and their needs are taken into account.”

The Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, said:

“The criminal justice system needs to improve its response to domestic abuse as a matter of urgency. Just 4% of domestic abuse offenses reported to the police result in a conviction. Public trust in the police is at an all-time low following a series of reports of horrendous domestic abuse and sexual violence crimes perpetrated by police officers themselves. The government must utilise the criminal justice bill and the sentencing bill to live up to its commitment to tackling domestic abuse and violence against women and girls. That includes robust legislation to address police-perpetrated domestic abuse.

It is absolutely right that the Justice Secretary has committed to ensuring victims of domestic abuse do not lose out on the justice and protection they need in the Sentencing Bill. Perpetrators of domestic abuse are often repeat offenders and their sentences often do not reflect the severity of harm and the risk they pose. No victim of domestic abuse should go through the justice system only to see their perpetrator given a sentence which fails to hold them to account and does not keep them safe. I want to see a specific exemption of perpetrators of domestic abuse and sexual violence from the government’s presumption against short sentences.

Government must also ensure that the probation service is funded and trained to provide robust pre-sentencing reports, risk assessment, and appropriate rehabilitative orders for domestic abuse perpetrators, including sufficiently funded perpetrator programmes to prevent future harm. Renewed emphasis on tougher sentencing for perpetrators of domestic homicide and a new crime for intimate image abuse are steps in the right direction.  For too long sentencing has not reflected the fatal harm posed by perpetrators of domestic abuse.

I am calling for the introduction of the full suite of recommendations in the Wade Review into domestic homicide sentencing, so that perpetrators of domestic abuse who kill their partners are appropriately held to account.”

Ellie Butt, Head of Policy, Public Affairs, and Research at Refuge, commented:

“While we are yet to see the details, Refuge is pleased to see the important exemption of domestic abuse perpetrators announced in the sentencing measures announced by the Ministry of Justice today. We have been urgently calling for clarification around prison sentence reforms since they were announced last month, due to our concerns that survivors could be put at risk by perpetrators being spared of custodial sentences for their crimes. 

At Refuge, we often see perpetrators of domestic abuse receiving short custodial sentences, of 12 months or less, despite the serious nature of their crimes. Perpetrators are dangerous and often repeat offenders, who pose a very real threat to the safety of survivors if they aren’t behind bars. On average, 2 women a week are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales. This is a harrowing statistic and shows little chance of changing unless increased protections are put in place for survivors, and issues around the criminal justice system are addressed. 

The Government have recognised that short custodial sentences are largely ineffective for most crimes, and rightly recognised the need to enforce custodial sentences for dangerous offenders such as perpetrators of violence against women and girls. We agree these offenders should not evade prison and urge the government to go further and use the Sentencing Bill to increase the sentences for domestic abuse crimes and strengthen protections for survivors.” 

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