02 February, 2024
Draft guidelines for sentencing offenders convicted of blackmail, kidnap or false imprisonment were published by the independent Sentencing Council.
Under the proposals, judges will, for the first time, have dedicated guidelines to follow when sentencing these offences. The new guidelines will ensure that the courts can take a consistent approach when sentencing these offences, which can range in severity and cause serious harm to victims.
Courts sentencing such cases will follow case law developed over time to sentence the offences and the Council's General guideline, which guides judges when sentencing offences for which there is no relevant offence-specific guideline.
The proposed guidelines, which apply to all adults being sentenced in the Crown Court of England and Wales, cover the following offences:
Blackmail, where cases generally involve demands for money coupled with a threat to do something against the victim's interests if they don't pay. The Council proposes a range of sentences from a community order to 12 years' custody for the most serious offences.
False imprisonment generally occurs when a person restrains another from leaving a place against their will.
Kidnap occurs when a person takes a victim by force or threats to another place without their consent and lawful excuse.
The Council proposes a single guideline covering kidnap and false imprisonment offences ranging from six months to 16 years custody for the most serious offences.
Overall, the kidnap and false imprisonment combined guideline is anticipated to increase custodial sentence lengths for these offences and may, therefore, result in a total requirement of around 80 additional prison places (around 20 prison places for kidnapping and approximately 60 for false imprisonment).
For blackmail, it is also anticipated that sentence lengths imposed will increase under the draft guideline. The guideline is estimated to result in a total requirement of around 50 additional prison places.
In 2022, around 110 offenders were sentenced for kidnap; this is an indictable only offence and can only be sentenced at the Crown Court.
Most offenders were sentenced to immediate custody (82 per cent). A further 10 per cent were 'Otherwise dealt with' (see the 'Further information' section for more details), and 6 per cent of offenders received a suspended sentence order. The remaining offenders received either a community order (1 per cent) or a discharge (1 per cent).
For those sentenced to immediate custody in 2022, the average (mean) custodial sentence length (ACSL) was five years nine months, after any reductions for guilty plea, with 82 per cent receiving a sentence post guilty plea of up to and including eight years. The statutory maximum sentence for this offence is life imprisonment.
Around 110 offenders were sentenced for false imprisonment in 2022, broadly consistent with the number of offenders sentenced over the previous five years. This is an indictable only offence and can only be sentenced at the Crown Court. The majority of offenders (82 per cent) received immediate custody. A further 7 per cent were 'Otherwise dealt with', and 6 per cent received a suspended sentence order. The remaining offenders received a community order (4 per cent) or a discharge (1 per cent).
For those sentenced to immediate custody in 2022, the average (mean) custodial sentence length (ACSL) was four years six months, after any reductions for guilty pleas, with just over three quarters (77 per cent) receiving a sentence of up to and including six years. The statutory maximum sentence for this offence is life imprisonment.
In 2022, around 140 offenders were sentenced for blackmail. This is an indictable only offence and can only be sentenced at the Crown Court. Most offenders sentenced for blackmail receive a custodial sentence. Around 73 per cent of offenders were given an immediate custodial sentence, and 24 per cent were given a suspended sentence order. A further 1 per cent of offenders received a community order, and the remaining 2 per cent were 'Otherwise dealt with'.
The statutory maximum sentence for this offence is 14 years custody. For those sentenced to immediate custody, the average (mean) custodial sentence length in 2022 was two years and ten months after any reductions for guilty pleas. This is broadly consistent with previous years. Around 95 per cent of offenders sentenced to immediate custody received a sentence length of up to 6 years.
Final guidelines for these offences will likely be effective towards the end of 2024.
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