The sentencing guidelines currently in use allow a court to sentence an offender accused of child abuse on the basis of actual harm caused to a child.
This approach has meant that those who intend to abuse but are prevented from doing so can expect to receive shorter sentences than those who actually carry out their intention and harm a child.
The issue is highlighted in some recent cases where the sentences imposed in the Crown Court were reviewed by the Court of Appeal. The Court said that the intentions of the offenders should be the key starting point. As a result, the Sentencing Council said that “the changes that we are proposing will make sure the Courts give the proper weight to the harm intended by those who commit offences against children.
When an offender intends sexual activity with a child, that must be reflected in the sentence imposed, even where activity does not ultimately take place”. This will include, for instance, where an offender engages with a police officer posing as a child on social media and sets out to commit an offence which, in fact, could never have been completed.
The change reflects growing concern to safeguard children from those who either abuse them or intend to do so.