Judges would assess the developmental harm caused to a child when sentencing those convicted of child cruelty under proposals published by the Sentencing Council today.

The council is consulting on guidance for the offences of child cruelty, 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 (FGM). 

The consultation paper states that psychological and physical harm are common factors across the council's guidelines, which judges are used to interpreting. 'Developmental harm is unique to this guideline but there are strong correlations between child abuse, particularly neglect, and developmental harm being caused to children,' the paper says.

Last year 623 people were sentenced for child cruelty. Six people were sentenced for causing or allowing death, and 23 people were sentenced for causing or allowing serious physical harm.

Today's guidance introduces a new aggravating factor of an offender blaming others for an offence. The council says such cases frequently involve one parent, carer or guardian seeking to blame the other to avoid prosecution.

The paper states: 'As with the cruelty to a child guideline a person failing to protect a child from certain actions is treated as the same level of culpability as the person who actually commits the action.'

Legislation was designed to close a loophole created when there is not enough evidence to determine who, when more than one person is present in the household, caused the harm or death.

Today's paper states: 'In such circumstances, this offence will be charged and there is no onus on the prosecution to prove which of the offenders caused or allowed the harm. Therefore, if the guideline determined that allowing harm was less serious than causing it, in such a case, both offenders would have to be sentenced on the basis of allowing harm, rather than causing it.'

The World Health Organisation estimates that 137,000 women and girls are affected by FGM in England and Wales. However, no one has been convicted under the FGM Act 2003. Under today's proposals, those convicted could be jailed for up to a maximum of seven years. 

The council says it is particularly keen to hear views on the proposed sentence levels for FGM cases due to the absence of sentencing data.

Sentencing Council member Mrs Justice Maura McGowan said: 'These offences are committed against particularly vulnerable victims - children - so we want to ensure that sentencing properly reflects the harm they have suffered.

'The proposed guidelines set out a clear approach to deal with such a range of offending and ensures that cases involving significant force, a weapon or multiple incidents of cruelty are always treated as being in the highest category of culpability.'

The consultation closes on 13 September.