19:08, February 21 108 0 theguardian.com

2018-02-21 19:08:05
Perpetrators of domestic abuse more likely to go to jail

Perpetrators of domestic abuse are more likely to be sent to prison – even if they inflict emotional or psychological rather than physical harm alone – under new guidelines being published by the Sentencing Council.

Existing rules recommend that convicted offenders whose actions result in serious violence “will warrant a custodial sentence in the majority of cases”. The fresh advice for judges released on Thursday extends that principle to include cases where “the emotional/psychological harm caused is severe”.

The Sentencing Council for England and Wales promotes greater consistency in sentencing across the courts by issuing and updating guidelines for judges while aiming to increase public understanding of the decision judges make.

Its new guidelines also say that domestic violence and threats should be subject to greater punishments than if the offence occurred outside of a relationship. “The domestic context … 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,” the six-page document states.

It also suggests that pleas for clemency by the victim should generally be disregarded because there is a risk these may have been induced by threats or volunteered through fear.

“Domestic abuse comes in many forms such as harassment, assault and sex offences,” said Jill Gramann, a magistrate and member of the Sentencing Council. “The increasing use of technology in offending has meant that it has also evolved in its scope and impact. 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.”

There is no specific crime of domestic abuse, but it can be a feature of many offences and the new guidelines cover a wide variety of crimes, including so-called “honour” killings, female genital mutilation and forced marriage. Abuse is not limited to physical contact but may also be delivered through threatening telephone calls, text messages, email, social media or via GPS tracking devices.

The Sentencing Council says the guideline changes are likely to lead to an increase in sentence severity. It cautions, however, that judges and magistrates should also consider the most appropriate sentence.

“Where the custody threshold is only just crossed,” the guideline says, “the court will wish to consider whether the better option is instead to impose a community order, including a requirement to attend an accredited domestic abuse programme or domestic abuse specific intervention.”

Women’s Aid supported the updated guidelines. Its chief executive, Katie Ghose, said: “We have long been calling for the sentencing for domestic abuse offences to reflect the severity of this crime.

“Only by putting a stop to lenient sentencing for domestic abuse offences, can we send out the clear message that domestic abuse is unacceptable and that perpetrators will be held accountable for the abuse.”