Getting Tough on Breach of Court Orders
The Sentencing Council has published new guidelines tightening up the way courts deal with offenders who have not complied with a wide range of orders such as suspended sentence orders, community orders, restraining orders and sexual harm prevention orders. It is the first time there have been comprehensive guidelines in this area, which will come into effect in courts on 1 October 2018.
All courts will be required to follow the guidelines which define more clearly appropriate court responses to breaches. For example, in relation to suspended sentence orders, legislation states that if breached offenders must be sent to prison unless it would be unjust to do so. Under the guidelines, offenders will be less able to avoid their custodial sentence being activated. New and exceptional circumstances, not present at the time the initial order was imposed, for example the offender taking on caring for a disabled relative which greatly affects their ability to comply with an unpaid work requirement, would be required to establish that imposing the custodial sentence would be unjust.
The guideline also covers breaches of orders such as sexual harm prevention orders and restraining orders. The guidelines require courts to look at an offender’s motivation in connection with any breach, any harm caused as well as the risk of further harm being caused. The focus on the risk of harm is intended to help ensure appropriate sentences are imposed where a breach presents a serious risk of harm to the public, without any actual harm needing to have occurred. This could include for example a sex offender who fails to comply with notification requirements with the intention of evading detection in order to commit further offences.
Sentencing Council member Julian Goose said: “Court orders are there to protect individuals and the wider public from particular types of offending or continuing criminal behaviour by offenders. Making sure that offenders comply with court orders is crucial in reinforcing public confidence in sentencing. Where offenders do not comply, the public have a right to expect that this is properly addressed by the courts. 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.”
The Sentencing Council conducts research to assess the impact of its guidelines on future sentencing practice – specifically, whether more people will end up going to prison. Whilst their research suggests that there are not examples where the results of the guidelines is likely to result in an increase in sentencing, in our experience changes in sentencing guidelines often do lead to unintended rises in sentence length.
If you need further advice in respect of any potential criminal matter, including in connection with the breach of any court order, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0845 200 3367.