Monday, 17 July 2017

Acid attacks ~ government plan ~ sensible review or knee-jerk reaction?

The use of acid to inflict terrible injury is a growing phenomenon - see Acid Violence Organisation - where it is said that in 2016, in London alone, there were 454 crimes involving corrosive substances. On Thursday 13th July there were 5 attacks in London (Telegraph 14th July) followed by calls for greater punishment of offenders.

In September 2015, The Guardian reported that acid attack hospital admissions had almost doubled in 10 years - The Guardian 30th September 2015.

The government has announced an "action plan" to tackle such attacks - Government: 16th July 2017

As part of the action plan, the Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) guidance to prosecutors will be reviewed to ensure it makes clear that acid and other corrosive substances can be classed as dangerous weapons, and what is required to prove intent.

In addition, the Poisons Act 1972 will be reviewed to assess whether it should cover more acids and harmful substances, and the Home Office will work with police and the Ministry of Justice to assess whether the powers available to the courts, including sentencing, are sufficient to deal with these serious offences.

Offences against the person:

Existing criminal law is principally in the Offences against the Person Act 1861.   The most likely offences to be charged for acid attacks are section 18, section 20 or section 47.   Other possibilities include section 23 and section 29.   The section 18 offence already has a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

The 1861 Act has been much criticised.  Even at the time of its enactment it was castigated as "singularly fragmentary and unsystematic" - Greaves, The Criminal Law Consolidation and Amendment Acts (2nd ed., 1862).  As recently as 2015, the Law Commission completed a review of the Act and proposed major reform - Law Commission Report 2015.

Sentencing - a note:

Sentencing Guidelines are also of major importance - see Sentencing Council - Assault: Definitive Guidelines where the principal offences against the person are addressed.  The Council has undertaken an assessment of this guidance -  HERE - and will be reviewing the assault guideline as part of its 2015-18 work plan, giving consideration to the issues highlighted, as well as bringing the guideline up-to-date.

Consider an offender convicted under section 18.  There can be little doubt that an acid attack would usually be what the guideline refers to as Category 1 (Greater harm and higher culpability) and this leads to a sentencing starting point of 12 years imprisonment with a range from 9 to 16 years.  Whether that is adequate is something on which opinion legitimately differs.  The guidance requires a guilty plea to be taken into account and this will lead to a sentence reduction of up to one-third depending on the timing of the guilty plea.

Sentencing law does not necessarily stop there because there are "Dangerous Offender" provisions in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 - as inserted by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.  These are not considered further here save to note that the 2012 Act replaced earlier controversial provisions in the 2003 Act.

Sentencing of offenders under the age of 18 presents additional issues - Sentencing Council: Sentencing Children and Young People   It is reported that a "teenager" accused of a number of acid attacks will be tried at the Crown Court - The Guardian 17th July.  The defendant pleaded not guilty to one count of wounding, as well as five counts of attempted grievous bodily harm. He also denied two robberies, four attempted robberies and one charge of possession of a weapon.  The district judge, Jonathan Radway, sent each of those charges to Wood Green crown court for trial, with the first hearing set for 14 August, while two more unrelated charges are to be tried at Stratford youth court at a later date.

Use of acid (or other corrosive substances) is clearly a problem that has been growing for some years and it seems entirely sensible that the proposed review covers the whole legal area in this context.  Acid attacks result in lifetime disfiguration of the victim.  They merit severe punishment and punishment is, after all, one of the legitimate aims of sentencing law.

Read the House of Commons Adjournment Debate of 17th July.

Other links:

Stop Acid Attacks - Treatment

No comments:

Post a Comment