Courts will have to take into account more fully ‘the longer-term effects’ on victims in sex offence cases, under sentencing guidelines due to come into force in England and Wales from next April.

The guidelines from the Sentencing Council, the body responsible for promoting consistency in sentencing, are intended to bring about 'significant changes' to how offences are considered.

They will replace existing guidance which was issued by the Sentencing Council’s predecessor body the Sentencing Guidelines Council, following the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

The new guidance covers more than 50 crimes including rape, child sex offences, offences related to indecent images of children, trafficking and voyeurism.

Changes include ensuring the ‘good character’ of offenders is treated as an aggravating factor when it has facilitated an offence, such as when it leads a child to trust the offender and makes it harder for them to report wrongdoing.

Lord Justice Treacy (pictured), chairman of the Sentencing Council, said: ‘This approach will enable sentences that reflect what the victim has been through and take in a full profile of what the offender has done, such as grooming victims or abusing trust. 

‘No one wants more people falling victim to offenders who come before the courts, and public protection is central to this guideline, whether this is by jailing offenders or, where appropriate, imposing a rigorous treatment order and other restrictions to prevent reoffending.’

Maryam Syed, a criminal and family barrister at 7 Bedford Row, says the new guidelines will provide a clear signpost to practitioners and judges.

‘The march of technology as a tool to offend again is marked as a signal for higher sentences. These guidelines comprehensively review the scheme of sexual offence sentencing saying to all that courts will be vigilant to examine the full effect of this type of crime.’

However defence lawyer Nick Freeman warned that celebrities accused of a sexual offence could find their high-profile status works against them. Freeman, founder of Manchester firm Freeman & Co and known as ‘Mr Loophole’, said: ‘The message is simple – celebrities beware. Whereas your status was once irrelevant it may now increase your sentence.’ The 'celebrity status' tag might extend to MPs, church leaders and high profile businessmen, he said.   

Other changes include:

  • allowing proper consideration of the vulnerability of the victim such as through age or disability or a background of physical or emotional abuse;
  • broadening the wording of various aggravating factors to ensure they cover the great range of offending;
  • adding new aggravating factors;
  • increasing some of the sentencing ranges for particular offences such as sexual assault and trafficking offences.