A revision that acknowledges the risks prison poses to perinatal women

NWJC Organisational Partners collaborated closely to submit multiple responses to the Sentencing Council consultation that looked at proposed changes to the Imposition guideline, the overarching guideline for general principles around imposing community orders and custodial sentences, and in what circumstances a custodial sentence can be suspended. This is also the main guideline for sentencers on requesting pre-sentence reports and imposing community requirements. Through its consultation process, the Sentencing Council sought expert views on the usefulness, accuracy and clarity of the proposed changes.

The NWJC also wrote directly to the Sentencing Council to summarise and reiterate the key points made by our partners in their submissions.

We were therefore collectively delighted by the Council’s decision to introduce a new mitigating factor, ‘Pregnancy, childbirth and post-natal care’, in the majority of offence specific sentencing guidelines and believe this to be a clear acknowledgement of the risks the prison system poses to pregnant women, mothers and babies. The new mitigating factor, which will apply from 1 April 2024, states that sentencers should address a number of issues ‘when considering a custodial or community sentence for a pregnant or postnatal offender (someone who has given birth in the previous 12 months)’, including the effect of the sentence on the woman’s physical or mental health, and any effect of the sentence on the baby. Courts are directed to address these issues when giving reasons for the sentence decided upon.

Other changes the Council is making include:

  • changes to the manslaughter guidelines introducing references to coercive or controlling behaviour to reflect up-to-date terminology and a new aggravating factor, ‘use of strangulation, suffocation or asphyxiation’ to ensure that the seriousness of strangulation is not overlooked in sentencing and make the guidelines more consistent with those for assault
  • amendments to the Fraud guideline to give more recognition to the impact on victims even where there is no or very little financial loss
  • amendments to the guideline for sentencing individuals for fly-tipping and other environmental offences to give greater emphasis to community orders over fines