JSC Assaults261007

26 October 2007

Sentencing for Assault and Other Offences Against the Person

We were pleased to receive the consultation guideline on sentencing assaults and other offences against the person and the related specific consultation on assaults on children and cruelty to a child.  The offences in this area cover a very broad range of injuries caused and intent to harm and present the sentencer with significant challenges.

The Council’s approach was broadly endorsed by the evidence we have received.  However, there were matters that we would like to draw to your attention.

The first is that there seems to be a degree of confusion over how the sentencing proposals for common assault will work.  Although organisations support the approach of defining thresholds for fines, community and custody sentences there appears to be some uncertainty about how to apply aggravating factors to reach the different thresholds.

Secondly, some organisations commented on the degree of overlap between the offences of common assault, assault occasioning actual bodily harm and assault occasioning grievous bodily harm.  Designing a sentencing framework that covers the range of circumstances that these offences cover is a challenge, particularly given inconsistencies in interpretation of the different offences.  Organisations emphasised the need for a range of sentences to cater to the wide variety of circumstances and discretion for sentencers to impose the appropriate sentence for the particular situation.  In that context, we had concerns that placing a starting point for assault occasioning actual bodily harm, which applies to an offender without previous convictions, at 12 weeks custody would be limiting.

The Committee also considered how to increase confidence in alternatives to custody for violent offences such as through community orders which specified Restorative Justice elements.  The Committee has a strong interest in how such programmes are developed and supported at a national level so as to make them a feasible option for sentencers and is likely to take up this point in its Towards Effective Sentencing Inquiry.

Yours sincerely

Rt Hon Alan Beith MP
Chairman, Constitutional Affairs Committee