The UK government has recently introduced a new law that changes how certain types of sentences, specifically community orders and suspended sentence orders (SSOs), are managed. This law, known as “The Sentencing Act 2020 (Special Procedures for Community and Suspended Sentence Orders) Regulations 2023“, is set to come into force on 26th June 2023. The main innovation here is that it allows for regular reviews and potential changes to the conditions of these sentences in certain cases. This is a new approach aimed at tailoring the sentencing process to better suit individual circumstances. Benjamin Knight explains.
Understanding Suspended Sentence Orders (SSOs)
Before we delve into the changes, let’s understand what SSOs are. A Suspended Sentence Order is a type of sentence that a court can give. It means that the offender is given a prison sentence, but they don’t have to go to prison immediately. Instead, the sentence is ‘suspended’ and they can stay in the community, under certain conditions. If they break these conditions or commit another crime, they can be sent to prison. Before this new law, these conditions were set at the time of sentencing and were not subject to regular reviews or changes. For more information on SSOs, you can visit the Sentencing Council’s page on Suspended Sentences. That site was not, at time of writing, updated with the effects of the Sentencing Act 2020 Special Procedures Regulations 2023.
Key Changes Introduced by the New Law
Regular Reviews and Amendments
The new law allows certain courts to require regular reviews of community orders and SSOs. This means that the court will periodically check on how the offender is doing. Based on these reviews, the court can make changes to the conditions of the sentence. This could help in better managing the offender’s rehabilitation process.
The law specifies that only certain courts can make these special orders. These are the magistrates’ court in Birmingham, the Crown Court in Liverpool, and the Crown Court at the Teesside Combined Court Centre.
Eligibility of Individuals
The law also outlines who can be made subject to these special orders. The individual must be 18 or over, and in the Birmingham Magistrates’ Court, they can only be a female person. People who are required to register as sex offenders are not eligible for these special orders.
The law specifies certain types of offences where these special orders cannot be used. These include sexual offences and weapons offences. However, there is an exception for first-time offences related to possession of knives or bladed weapons, provided the offender has not previously been convicted of a similar offence.
The Rationale for Treating Women Differently
The decision to apply these new procedures specifically to women in the Birmingham Magistrates’ Court is based on a recognition of the unique challenges and circumstances that women in the criminal justice system often face. Research has shown that women in the criminal justice system are more likely than men to have experienced issues such as domestic abuse, mental health problems, and caring responsibilities for children. These factors can contribute to their offending and also make the experience of punishment more severe. For more information on the unique challenges faced by women in the criminal justice system, you can visit the Women’s Aid page on Domestic Abuse (https://www.womensaid.org.uk