New Guidelines – “Tightening up the courts’ approach

The Sentencing Council has published new guidelines which came into effect on the 1st October 2018. Now, if you breach an order imposed by the court you will be subject to harsher punishment. The guidelines address breaches such as Community Orders and Suspended Sentence Orders and deals with 8 others, including sexual harm prevention orders, restraining orders and breach of disqualification from acting as a director.

It is vital that you comply with any court order and ensure that you supply any evidence for non-compliance in a timely manner.

What do the guidelines say?

As with most guidelines issued, a table is provided with which to categorise the offence. This looks at compliance, from wilful and persistent non-compliance to high level of compliance.

The guidelines state, for example, that for an individual who has shown wilful and persistent non-compliance with the order, the court should revoke the order and impose a custodial sentence, regardless of whether the original offence merited custody.

What does this mean?

Until now, the court has approached breaches with a good degree of discretion. These guidelines reduce the discretion and force categorisation in line with other sentencing guidelines. Wilful breaches are more likely to result in immediate prison sentences.

What happens if I breach my suspended sentence?

Where a further offence has been committed during a suspended sentence the court must activate the custodial sentence “unless it would be unjust in all circumstances to do so”. The facts and nature of the new offence are the primary consideration when assessing whether there can be any reduction in the original custodial term.

What do the guidelines say about this?

That the suspended sentence should be activated unless there is strong personal mitigation, a realistic prospect of rehabilitation or where immediate custody would have a significant impact on others. Only new and exceptional circumstances which were not present at the time the suspended sentence, should be taken into consideration.

What happens if I breach a Restraining Order or a Non-Molestation order?

The court should consider the intention and motivation for the individual committing the breach and the harm caused or intended.

What do the guidelines say?

For a high-level breach with greater harm and culpability the starting point for this offence is 2 years’ custody with a category range of 1-4 years’ custody. For minor breaches that cause little or no distress the guidelines recommend a starting point of low level community order with a category range of a band B fine to a high-level community order.

This means that even when a low-level breach is committed, which is minor and causes little or no distress the court can impose a fine which is the equivalent of 75% to 125% of your weekly income or a community order. Equally, if the breach is high-level, a custodial sentence is likely to be imposed or an onerous community order.

If you are attending Court due to breach of an order, contact our criminal department for advice today.

Abigail Stephenson

 

Abigail Stephenson is a trainee in our Reading office.