Government Signals Tough Sentencing Changes
Over the last few days, the government has announced proposals to introduce new offences and increase sentencing for a range of other offences.
One of our criminal law solicitors, Graham Heathcote, explained the proposals on Radio Nottingham on October 16. You can listen to his interview hear about the proposed changes to the road traffic offences and sentences.
Here is his written summary of the proposals.
New laws will make it an offence to deliver a knife sold online to a private residential address. In the future it is proposed that all online purchases will have to be delivered to a collection address. This will allow verification of the age of the purchaser when they collect the item.
The possession of an offensive weapon in a public place is already a criminal offence. Changes in the law will see an additional 19 items, including flick knives and push daggers, banned in private places such as residences as well.
Some limited defences will be allowed by the Government. These will rely on cultural, artistic or religious use of the items. There will also be common sense exemptions such as museum displays.
A new definition of ‘flick knife’ is also proposed. This is intended to broaden the number of weapons that fall into this classification category.
It is already an aggravated offence to possess knives and offensive weapons on school premises.
The definition of ‘school premises’ does not currently cover higher and further education establishments. These might be sixth form colleges or universities. The intention is to change the definition to ensure that such institutions also fall within the legislation.
Threats with blades
The government intends to amend the existing offence of threatening with an article with blade or point or an offensive weapon. This is currently set out in section 139AA of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.
The law as it stands requires the prosecution to prove that a defendant was threatening another with the weapon “in such a way that there is an immediate risk of serious physical harm to that other person”.
The plans will strengthen this offence. An attempt will be made to ensure that if anyone threatens another person with a knife the offence is committed when the victim reasonably fears they would be likely to suffer serious physical harm. This test will be based on how a reasonable person would respond to such a threat. It will not depend on whether the victim was objectively at risk of immediate serious physical harm.
Acid and Corrosive Substances
The perception is that violent attacks using acid and other substances is on the rise. As a result the government argues that a new offence is justified.
The Government proposes to create a new offence of possessing a corrosive substance in a public place. This offence will be modelled on the current offence that can be found in section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. This offence is possessing a bladed article in a public place.
It is envisaged that similar defences to the knife possession offence would also apply to the proposed corrosive substance possession offence. These would include where a person could prove they had a good reason or lawful authority for having the item in a public place.
Additionally, the government proposes to introduce a new offence preventing the sale of the most harmful corrosive substances to those under 18. The intention is to mirror the existing knife legislation. It is in response to the significant proportion of known offenders who are under 18. The introduction of this offence would make it harder for those under 18 to obtain products containing the most harmful corrosive substances. These liquids are of particular concern and are being used as weapons to inflict life-changing injuries.
The government has identified two particular types of firearms that of concern
- large calibre (0.50) rifles; and
- rapid firing rifles
Both types of firearms are currently available for civilian use under general licensing arrangements. There are concerns, however, about their potential for serious misuse and loss of life were they to fall into the wrong hands. The proposal is that these two types of firearms should be subject to the stricter controls under the existing provisions of section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968. These prohibit a number of types of firearms from civilian use.
It is proposed that the maximum penalty for causing death by dangerous driving, or causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs, be increased to a maximum of life imprisonment.
Should this change is implemented it will lead to new sentencing guidelines being issued which will likely increase the typical sentence in all such cases.
Very few cases, however, would ever merit a sentence of life imprisonment.
There is also a proposal to create a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving.
This is likely to be one of the most controversial proposals as there is a stark contrast between the lower level of culpability involved in such offending and the unintended harm that can arise.
The government appears to want to send out a tough message about certain types of criminal behaviour. It must be remembered however that sentencing is a fact-specific exercise where the personal mitigation of the defendant must also be considered.
In cases where a guilty plea is inevitable, or a finding of guilt has been made, it is our job to present to a court the best possible mitigation to ensure the lowest sentence possible.
If you face any criminal proceedings please contact one of our expert solicitors at your nearest office. All of our office numbers operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to ensure that you receive emergency advice when you most need it.
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