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Blackmail, kidnap and false imprisonment: proposed sentencing guidelines published

Proposed guidelines for sentencing offenders convicted of blackmail, kidnap or false imprisonment, were published by the independent Sentencing Council today.

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 are able to take a consistent approach when sentencing these offences, which can range in severity and can cause serious harm to victims.

Currently, courts sentencing such cases will follow case law that has developed over time to sentence the offences and the Council’s General guideline, which provides guidance to 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 is proposing a range of sentences from a community order to 12 years’ custody for the most serious offences.

False imprisonment which generally occurs when a person restrains another from leaving a place against their will.

Kidnap which occurs when a person takes a victim by force, or threats, to another place without their consent and without lawful excuse.

The Council is proposing a single guideline covering both kidnap and false imprisonment offences with a range from six months to 16 years’ custody for the most serious offences.

Sentencing Council member, Mrs Justice Juliet May, said:

“Blackmail, kidnap and false imprisonment are serious offences, and there are currently no guidelines for courts. The offences cover a wide range of offending and, in some of the cases, victims suffer substantial harm at the hands of the offenders.

“The draft guidelines aim to reflect the considerable impact these cases can have on victims, promote consistency of approach in this area of sentencing and bring together information that will assist the courts to pass appropriate sentences when dealing with these offenders.”

The Council is seeking views on the draft guidelines from the judiciary, legal professionals who use the guidelines, and organisations or members of the public with an interest in this area. The consultation runs from 31 January 2024 to 24 April 2024.

Notes to editors:

  1. There are currently no sentencing guidelines for blackmail, kidnap or false imprisonment offences, which are some of the last serious offences without sentencing guidelines.
  2. Blackmail is contrary to section 21 of the Theft Act 1968, with a maximum sentence of 14 years’ custody and heard in the Crown Court only.
  3. Kidnap and false imprisonment are both common law offences with a statutory maximum of life imprisonment and heard in the Crown Court only.
  4. Sentencing guidelines must be followed, unless the court is satisfied that it would be contrary to the interests of justice to do so in all the circumstances of a particular case.
  5. The Sentencing Council was established by Parliament to be an independent body, but accountable to Parliament for its work which is scrutinised by the Justice Committee.
  6. Justice Ministers are accountable to Parliament for the Sentencing Council’s effectiveness and efficiency, for its use of public funds and for protecting its independence.
  7. Judicial Council members are appointed by the Lady Chief Justice with the agreement of the Lord Chancellor. Non-judicial council members are appointed by the Lord Chancellor with the agreement of the Lady Chief Justice.
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