Longer sentences may be imposed on abusive parents in new sentencing proposals.
The Sentencing Council is an independent organisation established to promote greater consistency in the penalties imposed by English and Welsh courts. In new draft guidelines for cases involving child cruelty, it reviews the applicable penalties and suggests that attempts by perpetrators to blame others for the offence should be considered an aggravating factor in sentencing.
An existing offence of allowing or causing serious physical harm to a child or their death is applied when there is insufficient evidence to assess which parent is culpable. But it prevents such parents from being charged with assault, manslaughter or murder.
The draft proposals would address this anomaly the Council explained.
“The guideline reflects the aims of the legislation, including, for example, the aggravating factor of an offender blaming others for the offence. This offence can also be used in its own right: for example if someone in the household is charged with the murder or manslaughter of a child, another member may be convicted of causing/allowing death, if it can be proved that they foresaw or should have foreseen that their co-defendant would commit an unlawful act which risked serious physical harm to the child.”
In addition to child cruelty itself, the proposals cover both permitting exposure to serious physical harm and FGM. Parents who indulge alcohol or drug addictions in the presence of their children, or who allow their homes to become hygienic or to otherwise hazardous to health would also be affected.
An additional aggravating factor would be “developmental harm” – i.e. apparent delays in the normal mental or physical growth of a child which can be linked to abuse or neglect.
Mrs Justice McGowan sits on the sentencing council. She said:
“These offences are committed against particularly vulnerable victims – children – and so we want to ensure that sentencing properly reflects the harm they have suffered. Offences vary greatly: some offenders may be guilty of a one-off lapse of care which puts their child at risk of harm, while others may have inflicted a campaign of deliberate cruelty.”
The consultation can be read here.