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Suzanne Townley

News Editor, Solicitors Journal

Sentencing Council publishes revised child sexual offences sentencing guidelines

Sentencing Council publishes revised child sexual offences sentencing guidelines


The new guidelines will take effect on 31 May 2022

The Sentencing Council has issued revised sentencing guidelines that clarify how courts in England and Wales should sentence offenders convicted of arranging or facilitating sexual offences against a child.  

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.

Guidelines set sentencing ranges within the maximum for the offence as set out in current legislation. The guidelines are intended to reflect current sentencing practice for these offences.

Under the revised guidelines, which will come into force on 31 May 2022, judges and magistrates will consider the intended sexual harm to a child, including in cases where no actual child exists or no sexual activity took place – for example in police ‘sting’ operations.

The revisions follow requests from the Court of Appeal and arise from two cases, Privett and Others [2020] EWCA Crim 557 and Reed and Others [2021] EWCA Crim 572, that provided the courts with guidance on how to approach the assessment of harm in cases where there is no actual child victim.

Privett concerned the arrangement or facilitation of the commission of a child sex offence where there was no child, and Reed involved sexual activity that was incited but ultimately did not take place.

Sentencing Council member, Her Honour Judge Rosa Dean, said: “The sentencing guidelines published today bring greater clarity to the courts on how to deal with cases of arranging or facilitating child sexual offences, even in cases where no actual child exists, or no sexual activity took place.

“Judges and magistrates will impose sentences that reflect the intended harm to the child, even where that activity does not ultimately take place, to protect children from people planning to cause them sexual harm.”

The current sexual offences guidelines, published in 2013, had been interpreted in some cases to mean harm should be considered ‘low’ in these types of cases, or had placed the absence of actual harm to a child as a mitigating factor in cases where sexual activity was incited but did not occur.

The revisions cover:

·       Arranging or facilitating the commission of a child sex offence (s14 Sexual Offences Act 2003) even where no sexual activity takes place or no child victim exists. The maximum sentence depends on the activity being arranged, but is life imprisonment if the rape of a child under 12 years old is being planned;

·       Causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity (s10 Sexual Offences Act 2003) and other similar offences, even where activity is incited but does not take place or no child victim exists. The maximum sentence is 14 years’ imprisonment;

The Sentencing Council will also publish new guidelines for the offence of sexual communication with a child (s15A of the Sexual Offences Act). Offenders face a maximum penalty of two years in prison for sharing images, causing psychological harm, abuse of trust or the use of threats or bribes. These guidelines will come into effect on 1 July 2022.

In other revisions, the Sentencing Council has clarified the following:

·       Offences committed against victims overseas should be treated as seriously as similar offending against victims in England and Wales. Sentencers should approach the assessment of seriousness in the same way regardless of whether activity was caused or incited in person or remotely and whether harm was caused to a victim anywhere else in the world;

·       In relation to historical offences, if the offender was very young and immature at the time of the offence, depending on the circumstances of the offence, this may be considered as mitigation;

·       Guidance on Sexual Harm Prevention Orders (SHPO) is to be added to the offence specific guidelines. A court can order an SHPO when an offender is sentenced for a relevant sexual offence or on application by the police or the National Crime Agency;

·       More detailed guidance has been added on how to assess psychological harm, the interpretation of “abuse of trust”, and the mitigating factors “age and/or lack of maturity” and “physical disability or serious medical condition requiring urgent, intensive or long-term treatment”.