Home Affairs Committee Press Notice

Session 2005-06 / PN No. 43

HOME AFFAIRS COMMITTEE PUBLISHES REPORT ON DRAFT SENTENCING GUIDELINES

The Home Affairs Select Committee today, Wednesday 28 June 2006, publishes its report into the Sentencing Guidelines Council's draft sentencing guidelines on domestic violence and breach of a protective order.

The Select Committee supports the explicit recognition in the draft guidelines that the courts should treat domestic violence no less seriously than other violent crime. The Committee endorses the general approach in both the domestic violence and breach of protective order guidelines.

However, the Committee calls for changes on the use of 'perpetrator programmes' as part of sentencing.

The Committee concludes that the evidence on the success of perpetrator programmes is not yet sufficiently strong to rely on them as an alternative to custody. Offenders should not be sent on perpetrator programmes as an alternative to custody in cases where custody would previously have been used.

The Committee also opposes the idea of offenders being sent on perpetrator programmes as an alternative to custody on the ground of an offender showing 'genuine signs of remorse'. This is inappropriate because there is a recognised cycle of violence, remorse and more violence in domestic violence cases.

The Committee does conclude that, if an offender enters an early guilty plea and voluntarily takes part in a perpetrator programme, their progress could be taken into account in sentencing.

The Committee welcomes the recognition that there is usually a pattern of repeated, often unreported, violence, and the inclusion of the history of the relationship in assessing the gravity of offences and therefore sentencing. However, the Committee says it must be clear that courts should take great care assessing the weight given to this.

The Committee opposes the proposal that 'previous good character' could be taken into account in an isolated incident of domestic violence, given the difficulty of proving that the incident is isolated.

The Committee also suggests some additions to the list of aggravating factors in domestic violence, including the victim being disabled (being pregnant is already included), putting pressure on the victim not to report the violence, interfering with witnesses including the victim after the report has been made, and humiliation of the victim.

Domestic violence accounts for a quarter of all violent crime - one in four women experiences it at some point and two women a week are killed by violent partners. Only 5% of recorded cases of domestic violence result in conviction, but reporting rates themselves are very low: on average women are assaulted 35 times before making a report.

The Chairman of the Committee, John Denham MP, said: "The central message of the guidelines is that the crimes involved in domestic violence are serious and should be sentenced accordingly. But some parts of the guidelines could allow inappropriate sentencing by putting weight on therapeutic programmes and individual remorse that would not be given such emphasis in other violent crime. These aspects of the guidelines should be changed."

Notes to editors:
1. This is the Home Affairs Committee's Third Report of Session 2005-06: Draft Sentencing Guidelines€”Domestic Violence: Overarching Principles and Breach of a Protective Order (HC 1231).
2. The Sentencing Guidelines Council published the guidelines for consultation on 11 April 2006. The Committee's scrutiny of sentencing guidelines is part of the consultation process. The Committee took into account responses to the Sentencing Advisory Panel's consultation on the guidelines, as well as the evidence the Committee received directly.
3. The Home Affairs Committee has undertaken to review draft guidelines produced by the Sentencing Guidelines Council. In its first report to the House on a draft guideline in November 2004, the Committee commented: "We do not envisage our function as being to give or withhold formal approval of each guideline, or to provide extended analysis of its contents, but to focus on particular issues of concern or interest to Parliament or the public. Where we consider that a draft guideline raises major issues, we will make a report to the House on these. In the case of other guidelines we will supply our comments to the Council in the form of a letter from the Chairman, which we will also publish on our website."
4. The full text of guidelines published by the Council can be found at: http://www.sentencing-guidelines.org.uk/

The Committee membership is as follows:
Rt Hon John Denham (Chairman) (Lab) (Southampton Itchen)
Mr Richard Benyon (Con) (Newbury)
Mr Jeremy Browne (Lib Dem) (Taunton)
Mr James Clappison (Con) (Hertsmere)
Mrs Ann Cryer (Lab) (Keighley)
Mrs Janet Dean (Lab) (Burton)
Mr Shahid Malik (Lab) (Dewsbury)
Margaret Moran (Lab) (Luton South)
Gwyn Prosser (Lab) (Dover)
Bob Russell (Lib Dem) (Colchester)
Martin Salter (Lab) (Reading West)
Mr Richard Spring (Con) (West Suffolk)
Mr Gary Streeter (Con) (South West Devon)
Mr David Winnick (Lab) (Walsall North)

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