The Sentencing Council has published a new definitive guideline on sentencing child cruelty. It covers three offences – cruelty to a child, causing or allowing a child to die or suffer serious physical harm, and failing to protect a girl from the risk of female genital mutilation. This is the first time that there has been a sentencing guideline for the latter two offences. The guideline provides revised guidance for the offence of cruelty to a child, replacing previous guidance issued in 2008.
The guideline for cruelty to a child takes into account for the first time the developmental and emotional harm that such offences can cause to a victim. The guidelines also introduce a new aggravating factor of an offender blaming others for an offence, because cases will frequently involve one parent or guardian seeking to blame the other for what happened in order to avoid prosecution. Another factor that has been added that indicates high culpability is 'offender with professional responsibility for the victim'. The guideline also contains additional guidance in considering whether to impose custody in cases where the offender has parental responsibility and is the sole or primary carer for the victim and other children, reminding courts to consider the impact that a custodial sentence would have on the victim.
The new guideline will come into effect on 1 January 2019.