Guilty plea guideline comes into force - will sex sentences increase?

11.08.17 | |

The sentencing council’s definitive guideline reduction for guilty plea came into force on 1st June 2017. If you were already thinking “Can sentences for sexual offending get any longer?” the answer may well be yes. The guideline supersedes all previous authorities, (for example, Caley [2013] 2 Cr.App.R(S) 305) and provides in terms that defendants will only normally be entitled to the one-third discount at the first hearing when an indication of plea is sought and recorded by the court. Which of course ordinarily is the Magistrates court.

 

While the idea itself is not new, the guideline now makes it very difficult for Crown Court Judges to justify giving a third discount at PTPH as many have been still prepared to do.

 

The exceptions to the rule make it clear that

 

“your client knows whether he did it not – you don’t need the text messages/medical evidence/ABE” before he enters a plea”

 

the approach of some crown Court Judges is acceptable – it is only if the evidence is necessary to understand whether the client is in fact and law guilty of the offence that allowing for a delay for evidence to be served and retaining full credit may be permissible.

 

Legal teams will need to be alive to this consideration when seeking out the third discount at PTPH. In cases where counsel are to be instructed seeking an opinion at the pre Crown Court stage is likely to be increasingly important. The reality of advice now has to be that the discount will be 25% at PTPH and that poses all sorts of problems in sex cases where you think there might be a guilty plea. Cases prepared for the Magistrates Court hearing (and any committal for sentence) may not provide the full evidential picture and defendants accused of sexual misdemeanours who are in fact guilty often need time -and quality legal advice - to be prepared to admit their guilt.  The timescale between charge, first appearance in the Magistrates and a potential committal for sentence date in the Crown Court is short with a very small window for assessing the evidence against a defendant

 

We suspect that that there might be some Crown Court Judges – the sort who wouldn’t dream of saying  ‘your client knows whether he did it or not’ who will feel concerned at the loss of their discretion  to give the full discount at PTPH in cases always destined for the Crown Court and who might make adjustments elsewhere in the sentence calculations as a result.

 

Latest case on guilty plea discount

 

R v Campbell [2017] EWCA Crim 272

 

12.5% discount for plea on the first day of trial (and subsequent failed attempt to withdraw it) too generous in offence of assault by penetration

 

More guidelines sex and young defendants

 

The definitive guideline sentencing children and young people is also now in force as of 1st June 2017. It contains both overarching principles and offence specific guidelines for sexual offences and robbery. The new sexual offences guideline applies to all those under 18 at the time of sentence regardless of the date of the offence.

 

Still on the subject of children and young people a section 15A has been inserted into the SOA 2003 making it an offence to have sexual communication with a child, thereby making the sending of sexual messages by adults to children under 16 for the purposes of sexual gratification an offence. As with other grooming offences, there is a need to prove that the defendant did not have reasonable belief that the child was 16 or over.

 

Cautionary tales

 

We’ve noticed lately some surprising comments turning up on the footage of ABE interviews. One recently had ‘Vulnerable witness interview’ superimposed over the screen throughout, and another came back from the editing suite with words “Section Removed” helpfully coming up on the screen every time there was an edit. It can only be a matter of time before one is subtitled “Victim’s interview”.

 

Sarah is widely recognised as one of the leading silks at the Bar specialising in defending sexual allegations. Sarah is available for advice for solicitors and their clients at all stages of proceedings from pre charge to post conviction Click here for more information and to contact her directly. 

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