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Proposed sentencing guidelines published: perverting the course of justice and witness intimidation

Proposed sentencing guidelines published: perverting the course of justice and witness intimidation

The Sentencing Council has launched a consultation which will run until 22 June 2022

The Sentencing Council has today (30 March) published for consultation new proposed sentencing guidelines for perverting the course of justice contrary to common law and revised guidelines for witness intimidation under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

At present, there are no guidelines relating to perverting the course of justice and only limited guidance in the magistrates’ courts relating to witness intimidation.

Under the proposed guidelines, judges and magistrates will have, for the first time, comprehensive guidelines to sentence adult offenders in relation to these offences. The new guidelines aim to enable the courts to take a consistent approach to sentencing these offences.

Guidelines set sentencing ranges as set out in legislation. The guidelines are intended to reflect current sentencing practice for relevant offences. Sentencing guidelines must be followed, unless the court is satisfied it would be contrary to the interest of justice to do so in all the circumstances of a particular case.

In 2020, around 400 offenders were sentenced for perverting the course of justice and around 180 offenders were sentenced for witness intimidation.

Perverting the course of justice offences cover a wide range of conduct, from giving false information to police officers at a traffic stop to avoid prosecution, to fabricating evidence designed to incriminate an innocent person. 

Witness intimidation offences include pressuring witnesses to withdraw allegations or witness statements, or not to give evidence in court. Victims and their families may be too scared to give evidence because of acts of violence or threats of violence, physical harm or mental distress.

Sentencing Council member, Mrs Justice Juliet May, said: “Perverting the course of justice and witness intimidation are serious offences that strike at the heart of justice: they can delay or even derail criminal investigations; they can cast suspicion on innocent people; and victims and witnesses can feel too scared to make a complaint about a crime they have suffered, or have witnessed.

“These offences can waste police and courts’ time and cause people wrongly accused of crimes to potentially lose their freedom or suffer reputational damage. In cases of witness intimidation, witnesses can be so terrified they withdraw from proceedings and criminality goes unpunished.”

The Sentencing Council is seeking views from judges, magistrates, criminal justice professionals and as many people as possible interested in the sentencing of these offences. It would like to hear from anyone who uses sentencing guidelines in their work or who has an interest in sentencing.

It would also like to hear from individuals and organisations that represent anyone who could be affected by the proposals including victims and defendants and their families; those under probation supervision or youth offending teams/supervision, and those with protected characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

It is particularly interested to hear views on:

·       the principal factors that make any of the offences included within the draft guidelines more or less serious;

·       the additional factors that should influence the sentence;

·       the types and lengths of sentence that should be passed;

·       whether there are any issues relating to disparity of sentencing and/or broader matters relating to equality and diversity that the guidelines could and should address; and

·       any other issues that should be considered.

The consultation runs from 30 March 2022 to 22 June 2022.

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