The Sentencing Council has published revised sentencing guidelines for child sexual offences in cases where no sexual activity takes place, or the targeted child does not exist. The revised guidelines clarify how courts in England and Wales should sentence offenders convicted of these offences.
The revised guidelines, which will come into effect on 31 May 2022, specify how judges and magistrates should base the sentence they impose on the intended sexual harm to a child, whether or not a child victim existed or sexual activity took place, for example in cases where the offender was arrested following a police ‘sting’ operation.
The revisions stipulate that where no sexual activity takes place, the court should identify the category of harm on the basis of the sexual activity the offender intended, and then adjust the starting point downwards to reflect what actually happened. The final sentence will be influenced by other aspects of the offender’s culpability, as well as aggravating and mitigating factors specific to the offence and the offender.
Current sexual offences guidelines, published in 2013, had been interpreted in some cases to mean that harm should be considered low in these 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 actually 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 Council is also publishing a new guideline 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. This guideline will come into effect on 1 July 2022.
In other revisions, the Council has clarified that 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.
A press notice can be found on the Sentencing Council website.