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Non-fatal strangulation and suffocation offences: proposed sentencing guideline published

A draft sentencing guideline for sentencing offenders convicted of non-fatal strangulation and non-fatal suffocation offences in courts across England and Wales, was published for consultation by the Sentencing Council today.

Under the proposals, judges and magistrates will – for the first time – have a dedicated guideline to follow that will help ensure courts take a consistent and proportionate approach when sentencing these offences.

All offences of strangulation and suffocation are very serious, and the proposed guideline includes sentences that reflect this. The offences were introduced by the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 and came into force on 7 June 2022. The offences do not only apply in a domestic abuse context, and include similar acts carried out in non-domestic situations.

Non-fatal strangulation occurs when a person intentionally strangles or affects their victim’s ability to breathe in an attempt to control or intimidate them, for example using a headlock or a ligature around the neck.

Non-fatal suffocation occurs when a person uses unlawful force on a victim, whether intentionally or recklessly, that affects the victim’s ability to breathe, for example by putting a hand over the victim’s mouth or compressing the chest. No physical injuries need be caused for the offences to be committed. 

Her Honour Judge Rosa Dean, Sentencing Council lead for the guideline, said:

“Strangulation or suffocation are very serious offences and can create a real and justified fear of death, causing the victim to experience a high degree of psychological harm from the encounter, even where no physical injuries are visible.

“The proposed guidelines will ensure that courts have the most up-to-date guidance so that all cases where strangulation or suffocation has occurred are sentenced in an appropriate and consistent manner.”

There are currently no offence specific sentencing guidelines for these offences and courts apply principles from a recent Court of Appeal judgment when sentencing these offences. The guideline consolidates aspects of that judgment into a guideline format, using the Council’s stepped approach to sentencing to determine the seriousness of offences and appropriate sentences.

The Council is seeking views on the draft guideline – which applies to adult offenders only – from judges, magistrates and others with an interest in this area. The consultation will run from 15 May 2024 to 14 August 2024.

Notes to Editors

  1. The Government introduced specific offences of non-fatal strangulation and suffocation under the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 to ensure perpetrators could be charged and prosecuted with a sufficiently serious offence even in the absence of physical injuries.
  2. The offences were introduced as part of the Government’s Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy 2021 came into force on 7 June 2022.
  3. All new sentencing guidelines follow more recent Council guideline models and include a stepped approach to sentencing.
  4. Sentencing guidelines must be followed, unless the court is satisfied that it would be contrary to the interest of justice to do so in all the circumstances of a particular case.
  5. Guidelines set sentencing ranges within the maximum for the offence as set out in current legislation.
  6. 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 Select Committee. 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. Judicial Council members are appointed by the Lord 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.
  7. For more information, please contact Kathryn Montague, Sentencing Council Press Office, on 020 7071 5792 / 5788 / 07912301657 or email
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