The Justice Committee broadly welcomes the guidelines for arson, criminal damage and public order offences set out by the Sentencing Council, but has a few comments and concerns.
Comments and concerns
The concerns and comments are raised in a letter from the Chair of the Justice Committee Bob Neill MP to the Chair of the Sentencing Council, Lord Justice Holroyde, published in today’s report.
- Resource assessments: The Committee notes the limited data available to the Council, so that that assumptions have had to be made in assessing the impact of the new guidelines on sentencing practice. The Committee recognises that the Council makes remarkably effective use of its limited research resources but - given the current pressures on prison and probation services – considers that it would be better to provide more robust resource assessments to inform the public consultation process.
- The risk of sentence inflation: The Committee has concerns about the potential for these new guidelines to cause unintended sentence inflation. The Council should take steps to monitor the impact of the definitive guidelines for arson/ criminal damage and public order offences as soon as it is practicable to do so.
- Lack of maturity affecting the responsibility of the offender: The Committee welcomes the inclusion of “age and/or lack of maturity where it affects the responsibility of the offender” as a mitigating factor in relation to all arson/criminal damage and public order offences. For young adults, a high proportion of these offences may be linked to the impulsive behaviour and inability to engage in consequential thinking that is often associated with this age group.
- Consideration of equality impact: The consultation paper on public order offences sets out the demographics of offenders and explains what the Council has done to fulfil its legal obligations under the Public Sector Equality Duty. For arson and criminal damage, the consultation merely seeks the views on any possible equality impact of the new guidelines. The Committee considers the former approach to be preferable and it hopes that this is the model that the Council will adopt in future.
The Committee also makes some specific comments on the two individual draft guidelines.
Chair of the Justice Committee, Bob Neill MP, said:
“We have concerns about the risk of these guidelines causing unintended sentence inflation, and we urge the Council to monitor their impact as soon as it is practicable to do so.
We particularly welcome the inclusion of lack of maturity as a mitigating factor: young adults in the criminal justice system was the subject of a major report we published earlier in the year.
However, we are pleased with the overall approach to the guidelines, and as always we are grateful for the opportunity to comment.
We were also grateful to receive a detailed response from the Chairman of the Sentencing Council.”