The Sentencing Council has published a new guideline for how those guilty of child cruelty offences should be sentenced. It covers three offences:
Publication of the guideline marks the first time that there has been sentencing guidance for the offences of causing or allowing a child to die or suffer serious physical harm and failing to protect a girl from the risk of FGM. The guideline also provides revised guidance for the offence of cruelty to a child, replacing previous guidance issued in 2008.
Child cruelty offences are complex and can vary greatly so the guideline has been designed to assist with an effective assessment of each case that comes before the courts to help ensure consistent and proportionate sentencing.
Some offenders may be incompetent parents, while others may deliberately inflict harm on children in their care. Offences could include parents or guardians leaving children home alone, neglecting them or putting them at risk through alcohol or drug abuse or subjecting them to sustained and deliberate ill-treatment and violence that leads to serious injury or death. Offences can also involve a parent or guardian having failed to act to protect their child from ill-treatment by someone else in the household, which can be due to them being victims of violence and intimidation from the same person themselves.
In assessing harm to victims, as well as physical and psychological harm, the guidelines for cruelty to a child take into account for the first time the developmental and/or emotional harm that such offences can cause to a victim. This may for example be manifested in developmental milestones that a child has not met.
The guidelines also introduce a new aggravating factor of an offender blaming others for an offence. This is because such cases will frequently involve one parent or carer/guardian seeking to blame the other for what happened in order to avoid prosecution.
The guideline can be downloaded from www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk and will come into force in courts in England and Wales on 1 January 2019