Tougher domestic abuse laws should result in longer prison sentences, campaigners hope
- Credit: Archant
Domestic abuse campaigners in Suffolk have welcomed news that crimes will be treated as more serious if they are committed in a domestic setting under new sentencing guidelines.
People who subject spouses, partners or family members to abuse will face tougher punishments than those who commit similar offences in a non-domestic context.
For the first time official guidance for courts also makes clear that domestic abuse is no longer confined to person-to-person contact as culprits increasingly torment their victims using technology such as social networks or tracking devices.
The approach to severity marks a significant shift from the existing position, which has applied since 2006.
Instructions for judges and magistrates currently state that offences in a domestic context should be seen as “no less serious” than others.
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The new guidelines, published by the Sentencing Council today, say: “The domestic context of the offending behaviour makes the offending more serious because it represents a violation of the trust and security that normally exists between people in an intimate or family relationship.
“Additionally, there may be a continuing threat to the victim’s safety, and in the worst cases a threat to their life or the lives of others around them.”
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Domestic abuse is rarely a one-off incident, the document notes, while it also flags up the potential for victims and their children to suffer “lasting trauma”.
An increase in sentence severity is expected as a result of the new guidance.
It emphasises that crimes involving serious violence, or where the emotional and psychological damage is severe, will warrant a custodial sentence in the majority of cases.
For the first time, the guideline includes a reference to abuse perpetrated through use of technology such as email, text, social networking sites or tracking devices.
Sally Winston, chief executive of the Lighthouse Women’s Aid in Ipswich, a charity provides support to women and their children experiencing domestic abuse said: “This is welcome news. The impact of domestic abuse in all its forms devastates lives. We are pleased to see that the criminal justice system will now be provided with sentencing guidelines recognising the seriousness not only of physical violence but all other types of abuse including the use of technology and coercive control
“It will be interesting to see if these guidelines will now make impactive headway in producing more realistic sentencing for perpetrators and more meaningful outcomes for their victims.”
Tim Passmore, Suffolk’s police and crime commissioner, said: “Since becoming Police and Crime Commissioner a huge amount of work has been done across the county to raise awareness of domestic abuse and the appalling consequences it can have for victims.
“Having met with many victims I now have a better understanding of this terrible crime so I’m very pleased that the sentencing guidelines have been changed so the perpetrators receive tougher and more appropriate sentences.”
Sentencing Council member Jill Gramann said it “comes in many forms such as harassment, assault and sex offences”.
She added: “The increasing use of technology in offending has meant that it has also evolved in its scope and impact.
“The new guideline will ensure that courts have the information they need to deal with the great range of offending and help prevent further abuse occurring.
“The guideline also emphasises that abuse can take place in a wide range of domestic settings and relationships, and that abuse can be psychological, sexual, financial or emotional as well as physical.”
Provocation is no mitigation to an offence within a domestic context, except in rare circumstances, the guideline says.
It urges courts to take “great care” in cases where the offender or victim requests a less severe sentence in the interests of any children.
An estimated 26% of women and 15% of men aged 16 to 59 had experienced some form of domestic abuse since the age of 16, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales for the year to March 2017.
This is equivalent to about 4.3 million female and 2.4 million male victims.