New guidance will see sentencing tightened up for sex offenders who flout court orders
More criminals including sex offenders and stalkers could be locked up for flouting court orders under new sentencing rules.
Judges and magistrates are being issued with the first comprehensive guidance on dealing with breaches of measures such as those imposed in relation to harassment and sexual crimes.
The new approach seeks to tighten up the handling of cases of non-compliance with court orders after the Sentencing Council identified that some breaches were attracting penalties well below the maximum allowed under law.
Orders covered in the guidelines include sexual harm prevention orders (SHPOs), which place restrictions on people convicted of sex offences, and restraining orders, which can be imposed in stalking cases.
For the most serious cases of non-compliance with an SHPO, courts will be expected to impose a sentence ranging from between two and four and a half years, while the equivalent range for breaching restraining and non-molestation orders is one to four years.
In both cases the statutory maximum sentence is five years.
The Sentencing Council acknowledged there could be some inflation to the prison population for the most serious breaches, where the culprit poses a continuing risk to individuals or the public.
In another step, courts will be told that those on suspended sentence orders should be sent to prison in the event of a breach “unless it would be unjust in all the circumstances to do so”.
The guidelines give clearer detail of this consideration, and offenders will not get opportunities to avoid their sentence being activated, the Sentencing Council said.
For activation to be considered unjust, there would need to be new and exceptional circumstances – not present at the time the order was imposed – that prevented the person from complying.
This might involve, for example, the offender caring for a disabled relative, which greatly affects their ability to comply with an unpaid work requirement.
For the first time, judges and magistrates will be encouraged to look at the risk of harm resulting from a breach, without any actual harm needing to have occurred.
An example could be where a sex offender fails to comply with requirements to notify authorities of a change of address with the intention of evading detection to commit new crimes.
Sentencing Council member Julian Goose said: “Making sure that offenders comply with court orders is crucial in reinforcing public confidence in sentencing.
“Where offenders do not comply, the public have a right to expect that this is properly addressed by the courts.
“We are giving courts clear guidance on what action should be taken against those offenders who ignore court orders so that they are dealt with robustly and consistently.”
The guideline, which covers 10 types of breach, will come into effect in courts in England and Wales on October 1.
Justice Minister Rory Stewart said: “For the justice system to work we need both a good prison system and good community sentences.
“That means we have to ensure that offenders comply with the court orders, and that if they don’t they will face clear consequences.
“This is vital to build public and judicial confidence in community orders – which if properly enforced can reduce reoffending and protect the public.”
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