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Judges to consider intended harm in Child Sexual Offences

The Sentencing Council has today published revised guidelines for child sexual offences.

The new guidelines clarify what courts should do in cases where no sexual activity occurred or where the targeted child does not exist.

Judges and magistrates will need to consider the intended sexual harm to a child regardless of whether the sexual activity took place or whether the child existed or not, for example in police ‘sting’ operations.

The revisions come following requests from the Court of Appeal, and arise from two cases which provided guidance on how to assess the harm in a case where there is no actual child victim.

The current guidelines, published in 2013, had been interpreted in some cases to assess the harm level low in these types of cases, or used the absence of actual harm as a mitigating factor.

Now the category of harm should be identified by the activity that was intended, before a downward adjustment is applied to reflect the fact that no or lesser harm actually resulted. The adjustment will depend, however, on the reason why the activity didn’t take place - if it was due to a police intervention, for example, a small reduction would be applied.

Arranging or facilitating the commission of a child sex offence, regardless of whether it takes place or whether the child exists or not, could reach a maximum sentence of life imprisonment depending on the activity being arranged.

The revised guidelines will come into effect on 31 May this year.

The Sentencing Council has also published guidelines for the offence of sexual communication with a child, which previously had not existed. Offenders will face a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment for sharing images, or causing psychological harm. Abuse of trust and the use of threats or bribes will also be considered within culpability.

This will come into effect from 1 July.

The Council has further clarified that offences committed to victims overseas should be treated as seriously as offending against victims in England and Wales, as well as published detailed guidance on how to assess psychological harm, the “abuse of trust” and certain mitigating factors.

Sentencing Council member, Her Honour Judge Rosa Dean, said “The sentencing guidelines published today bring greater clarity to the courts on how to deal with cases of arranging or facilitating child sexual offences, even in cases where no actual child exists, or no sexual activity took place.

“Judges and magistrates will impose sentences that reflect the intended harm to the child, even where that activity does not ultimately take place, to protect children from people planning to cause them sexual harm.”

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