New sentencing guidelines for offenders convicted of child cruelty come into effect on 1 January 2019 across England and Wales. The guidelines, published by the Sentencing Council, cover three offences:
- cruelty to a child;
- 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 new guidelines mark the first time guidance has been issued for the offences of causing or allowing a child to die or suffer serious physical harm and failing to protect a girl from the risk of FGM. The guidelines also provide revised guidance for the offence of cruelty to a child, replacing previous guidelines issued in 2008.
The guidelines introduce a new aggravating factor of an offender blaming others for an offence as such cases frequently involve one parent or carer/guardian seeking to blame the other to avoid prosecution.
Child cruelty offences are complex and can vary greatly. Some offenders may be incompetent parents, while others may deliberately inflict harm on children in their care. Offences could include parents or guardians leaving children home alone, neglecting them or putting them at risk through alcohol or drug abuse or subjecting them to sustained and deliberate ill-treatment and violence that leads to serious injury or death.
Offences could also involve a parent or guardian having failed to act to protect their child from ill-treatment by someone else in the household, which could be due to them being victims of violence and intimidation from the same person themselves.
The guidelines are available at: www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk