New guidelines for sentencing breaches of court orders.
The Sentencing Council has published new guidelines for Courts when sentencing those who have breached Court orders. These guidelines will come into effect on 1st October 2018.
You can view the guidelines here:
The guidelines deal with breaches of not only community orders and suspended sentence orders, but eight other orders, including restraining orders and sexual harm prevention orders.
The guidelines are designed to assist Courts in assessing the seriousness of a breach, with the Sentencing Council describing the guidelines as “tighten[ing] up courts’ approach”.
Suspended Sentence Orders
A good example of this ‘tightening up’ is the guidance relating to a breach of a suspended sentence order. Legislation provides that the starting point for any breach of a suspended sentence order is that it should be activated, “unless it would be unjust in all the circumstances to do so.”
This new guideline provides a table of examples for the sentencing Court to follow when they are considering activating a suspended sentence following the commission of a new offence during the operational period. Examples include full activation where there are “multiple and/or more serious new offence(s) committed”, along with activation but with a reduction to the original custodial term in cases where there has been a new offence but a “medium or high level of compliance” with the community elements of the order.
A further table of examples is provided for breach of a suspended sentence order by the non-compliance of the community requirements of the order.
The main factors in determining whether it would be unjust to activate a suspended sentence order are:
1. The level of compliance with the order so far;
2. The circumstances of any new offence.
The guideline provides an easy reference guide for Courts when considering the above two factors, distinguishing between “no/low level of compliance” or “medium/high level of compliance” whilst considering, where applicable, the nature of any new offence. The guideline further provides that when assessing the level of compliance, the Court should consider:
i) the overall attitude and engagement with the order as well as the proportion of elements completed;
ii) the impact of any completed or partially completed requirements on the offender’s behaviour;
iii) the proximity of breach to imposition of order; and
iv) evidence of circumstances or offender characteristics, such as disability, mental health issues or learning difficulties, which have impeded the offender’s compliance with the order.
“Unjust in all the circumstances to do so”
When deciding if there are other reasons which may result in any activation of the order being unjust, the Court can consider factors including:
• any strong personal mitigation;
• whether there is a realistic prospect of rehabilitation;
• whether immediate custody will result in significant impact on others.
Sentencing Council member Julian Goose has commented: “We are giving Courts clear guidance on what action should be taken against those offenders who ignore Court orders so that they are dealt with robustly and consistently.”
If you are subject to a Suspended Sentence Order and are attending Court due to a breach, contact our criminal department for advice today.