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Sentencing: Parents

Question for Ministry of Justice

UIN HL3231, tabled on 20 October 2021

To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have to issue sentencing guidelines to prevent harm to dependent children of those being sentenced, particularly mothers; and what plans they have to table amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill for that purpose.

Answered on

3 November 2021

Sentencing guidelines are issued by the Sentencing Council for England and Wales, which is independent of Parliament and Government. When sentencing, courts are required by law to follow any relevant guidelines, unless satisfied that it would be contrary to the interests of justice to do so.

Reflecting the principles established by the Court of Appeal in R v Petherick, the Council’s Imposition of Community and Custodial Sentences sentencing guideline is clear that, where an offender is on the cusp of custody, imprisonment should not be imposed where there would be an impact on dependants which would make a custodial sentence disproportionate to achieving the aims of sentencing. Even where the impact on dependants would not make a custodial sentence disproportionate, the Imposition guideline makes clear that the court should determine the shortest custodial sentence commensurate with the seriousness of the offence and also requires sentencers to consider whether a sentence can be suspended. The factors for sentencers to consider which might indicate circumstances in favour of suspending a custodial sentence include ‘realistic prospect of rehabilitation’, ‘strong personal mitigation’ and ‘where immediate custody will result in significant harmful impact upon others’.

Sentencing guidelines also specify that being a ‘sole or primary carer for dependent relatives’ is a mitigating factor, which can be taken into consideration by the courts when determining a sentence. In 2019, the Council issued an expanded explanation for this factor which clarifies that where custody is unavoidable, consideration of the impact on dependants may be relevant to the length of the sentence imposed and whether the sentence can be suspended. It also makes clear that when a court is sentencing an offender who is pregnant, relevant considerations may include the effect of the sentence on the health of the offender and the unborn child.