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Consultation on new sentencing guidelines for witness intimidation

In 2020, around 400 offenders were sentenced for perverting the course of justice and 180 for witness intimidation.

The draft guidelines have been released under consultation which will be open from today (March 30) through to June 22.

Currently there are no guidelines for perverting the course of justice, and there is only limited guidelines for witness intimidation in the magistrates’ court.

In 2020, around 400 offenders were sentenced for perverting the course of justice and 180 for witness intimidation.

The proposals include high culpability factors for perverting the course of justice such as conduct over a sustained period of time and the underlying offence being very serious, while category one harm factors include serious consequences for an innocent part(ies) as well as substantial delay caused to the course of justice.

The top of the range in the sentence table for perverting the course of justice is provisionally seven years, despite the maximum sentence being life imprisonment. The Sentencing Council has said this is in part due to the fact that 99 per cent of offenders received a sentence of seven years or less. Parliament has never set the maximum sentence.

There are two sections for witness intimidation legislation, the first S.51 (1) creates an offence for acts against a person assisting in the investigation, (potential) witness or (potential) juror during an investigation or trial and the second section S.51 (2) refers to offences once an investigation or trial has concluded.

Currently there are existing guidelines for the first offence in the magistrates’ court but not for the Crown Court, and no guidelines for the second offence.

The draft guidance covers both offences under the legislation.

According to the consulation high culpability factors would include actual or threat of violence to witnesses and/or their families, as well as deliberately seeking out witnesses.

While a specific aggravating factor for the offence is ‘use of social media.’

The starting point for a category 1 harm, culpability A offence is two years’ custody with a range of one to four years.

The consultation has called in particular for victims, defendants and their families to respond as well as those with protected characteristics.

Sentencing Council member, Mrs Justice Juliet May, said: “Perverting the course of justice and witness intimidation are serious offences that strike at the heart of justice: they can delay or even derail criminal investigations; they can cast suspicion on innocent people; and victims and witnesses can feel too scared to make a complaint about a crime they have suffered, or have witnessed.

“These offences can waste police and courts’ time and cause people wrongly accused of crimes to potentially lose their freedom or suffer reputational damage. In cases of witness intimidation, witnesses can be so terrified they withdraw from proceedings and criminality goes unpunished.”

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