New sentencing guidelines target young knife criminals who film offences

Young knife criminals who film offences to post them on social media could face tougher punishments under new sentencing proposals.

Offenders in a group or gang when carrying a blade could also be handed more severe penalties.

The scenarios are among a number of "aggravating factors" for judges and magistrates to take into account when sentencing defendants convicted of possessing a bladed article or offensive weapon in public, or of using one to make threats.

New draft guidelines are being published by the Sentencing Council to take into account a number of changes in the law and court judgements.

The proposals do not cover offences where a knife or other weapon is actually used to harm a victim, nor the use or possession of firearms.

The guidelines list a number of possible aggravating factors which can be taken into account by judges and magistrates when weighing up sentences.

For youth offenders, these include "deliberate humiliation of victim, including but not limited to filming of the offence, deliberately committing the offence before a group of peers with the intent of causing additional distress or circulating details/photos/videos etc of the offence on social media or within peer groups".

The council said this was included because it is "aware aware that through the use of social media, the recording and sharing of photographs and video footage has become increasingly common", adding: "This sort of behaviour is often used to embarrass or humiliate the victim."

Such circumstances could also be taken into consideration in cases involving adults.

Other factors listed in the guidelines, which will now be subject to consultation, also include offenders being in a group or gang, attempting to hide their identity, or targeting victims due to a vulnerability.

Courts see a relatively high number of bladed article and offensive weapon cases, the consultation document said, with approximately 7,800 adult offenders sentenced for the offences in 2015.

Last year the government introduced a new "two strikes" regime meaning adults caught with a blade more than once face a minimum custodial sentence of six months.

Courts should impose the minimum punishment unless there are particular circumstances that make doing so unjust.

Figures released last month showed that nearly half of repeat offenders avoided jail in nearly a year after the change took effect. Overall, the proportion of knife possession offenders sentenced to immediate custody is rising, while average prison terms have also gone up.

Under the draft proposals those convicted of offences involving knives or particularly dangerous weapons, as well as repeat offenders, will receive the highest sentences.

The council said the introduction of the guidelines, which would cover England and Wales, may therefore lead to some increases in sentence levels - most likely in relation to adults convicted of possession offences.

In cases involving youths, courts will be encouraged to look in greater detail at their age and maturity, background and circumstances.

Sentencing Council member and District Judge Richard Williams said: "If people carry knives, there is always the risk that they will be used, and with tragic consequences.

"As the Court of Appeal has stated, too many people are carrying knives and it only takes a moment of anger or drunkenness for one to be pulled out with fatal results or serious injury.

"Through these guidelines, we want to provide courts with comprehensive, up to date guidance to ensure that sentences reflect the seriousness of offending."

Justice Minister Sam Gyimah said: "Knife crime ruins lives. Our crackdown is working - under this Government more people are being sent to jail for carrying a knife, and for longer.

"I want those who carry knives to feel the full force of the law. These new guidelines will help ensure sentences reflect the devastation caused to families and communities."