The Court of Appeal released last week their decision in R v AM. The individual decision about MA is not of as much interest as the fact the Court has used the case to quite radically change the way courts assess what term of imprisonment should apply.
Rape has a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment and in 1994 the Court of Appeal in R v A ruled that the starting point was 8 years, and there was a large number of factors which could push that up or down.
The result of R v A is that almost all sentences tended to cluster around the starting point, and relatively few got near the maximum, or at the other end, got near the minimum. It also led to some lack of consistency.
In R v AM, the Court of Appeal has devised for bands of offending for rape, and three for unlawful sexual connection. They are:
- Rape 1 – 6 to 8 years
- Rape 2 – 7 – 13 years
- Rape 3- 12 – 18 years
- Rape 4 – 16 – 20 years
- USC 1 – 2 to 5 years
- USC 2 – 4 to 10 years
- USC 3 – 9 to 18 years
Before I detail what qualifies for each band, I have to say I think the decision is a significant improvement for sentencing. It has bee frustrating that no matter how vile the crime, very few people ever get close to the maximum sentence. This should result in the very worst rapes getting sentences close to the 20 year maximum.
The decision gives a lot of examples of how existing cases would fit into each band, and whether they would be at the lower or upper ends. It is a very detailed sentencing guide. To some degree it shows why there is no need to have a Sentencing Council, as legislated by the last Government. The Court of Appeal looks to be filling that niche quite nicely.
The description of the activity which falls in each band is summarised here:
- Rape Band 1 (6 to 8 yrs) – offending at the lower end of the spectrum where there are no aggravating factors, no serious violence, no abduction, the victim is not very young or very old.
- Rape Band 2 (7 to 13 yrs) – involves moderate violence, pre-meditation, a rape involving more than one offender, or an especially vulnerable victim
- Rape Band 3 (12 to 18 yrs) – offending with serious additional violence, wit multiple (three or more) aggravating factors. For particularly cruel, callous or violent rapes.
- Rape Band 4 (16 to 20 yrs) – for multiple offending over considerable periods of time, gang or pack rape.
These guidelines are binding on all lower courts from the 31st of March. It will be interesting to see how it impacts sentencing. The Court has said it does not expect the average term of imprisonment to increase (it has already increased from 7 yrs 3 mths in 1996 to 8 yrs 3 mths) but that there will be a greater variety of sentences – more at the top end, and more at the lower end.
It is worth noting that the above focuses on the initial sentence for the offending. Courts also then take into account the circumstances of the offender. Also if an offender pleads guilty their setence is normally reduced by 10% to 33% depending on how early in the process they plead guilty.
The case judgement, from a legal point of view, is a very interesting one. On an emotional front, it was pretty gruesome reading the summarised details of around 52 rape and unlawfu sexual connection cases. I can only imagine what the trauma must have been like for the victims.