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Plans for new sentencing guidelines in wake of surging public order offences


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Use of social media in hate crimes should be considered, says Sentencing Council.

Plans for new sentencing guidelines in wake of surging public order offences

Attacks on police officers or public duty animals, use of masks and disguises and ignoring warnings will become aggravating factors in public order sentences if proposals are rubber-stamped.

Today (Wednesday) the Sentencing Council unveiled its draft guidelines for riot, violent disorder, affray and hate crime plus Section 4, 4A and 5 of the Public Order Act 1986.

Currently there is no guidance for offenders being sentenced in the Crown Court and magistrates rely on brief references to violent disorder, affray and disorder in the Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Guidelines.

Public order offences are some of the highest volume offences seen by courts. In 2016 there were 22,500 adult offenders sentenced for these offences (83 per cent were dealt with in the magistrates’ courts, and 17 per cent in the Crown Court).

Home Office statistics show in 2016/17, there were 80,400 offences recorded by the police in which one or more hate crime strands were deemed to be a motivating factor. This was an increase of 29 per cent compared with the 62,500 hate crimes recorded in 2015/16.

The consultation document said: “The new guideline will provide sentencers across the Crown Court and magistrates’ courts with guidance for all of the offences listed below, which will assist in achieving the council’s objective of consistent sentencing, and provide transparency for the public regarding the possible penalties for these offences.

“Public order is essential for the safe functioning of society, and the law seeks to protect the public from behaviour which undermines this. This issue came into prominence in the 2011 riots which started in London and spread throughout the country, causing widespread disorder and criminal activity. In a case dealing with riot related offending, the then Lord Chief Justice stated “there  is an overwhelming obligation on sentencing courts to do what they can to ensure the protection of  the public”.

The scale of the disorder, use of petrol bombs, whether the offender could be considered a ringleader and the level of planning involved will be considered when sentencing for riot (35 people were convicted in 2006-2016).

In religiously and racially aggravated offences, the offenders' use of social media, timing of the incident, whether their actions caused serious fear and distress to the community, the vulnerability of their audience and volume of publications distributed will be considered.

Injury to service animals, attacks of police and taking steps to prevent emergency services carrying out their work will be considered in riot and violent disorder offences.

Low level involvement, previous good character, age or maturity and mental disorders of learning disabilities will be mitigating factors for all public order offences.

The guideline also sets out a step-by-step decision-making process for the court to use when sentencing each type of offence to ensure all sentencers adopt a consistent approach.

Sentencing Council member Her Honour Judge Sarah Munro said: “Our courts need to help ensure the protection of the public from these violent offences.

“The guidelines we are proposing will ensure that courts have comprehensive guidance for dealing with the great range of offending from large-scale riots to low-level disorder.”

A consultation on the draft guidelines will run until August 8. The full document can be accessed here.

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