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Punishment for child cruelty must reflect the crime

3 min read

The maximum sentence for child cruelty must be extended. It’s time we gave judges discretion to award an appropriate penalty for this heinous offence, writes Tom Tugendhat

Shortly after he was born, Tony’s biological parents beat him. They lashed out so violently that he was left with broken legs and toes, fingers and hands. His suffering must have been horrific but they didn’t take him to hospital. For ten days they left him in agony.

Tony’s case a few years ago is one of hundreds reported every year. Last December, according to the NSPCC, the Police recorded almost 17,000 child cruelty and neglect offences in 2017-18.

Baby Tony was so cruelly treated by his biological parents that he lost both his legs and his hearing was badly damaged. That evidence of violence is terrifying.

That’s why I’m introducing a 10 Minute Rule Bill on 12 February calling for the maximum sentence for child cruelty to be extended. It is currently 10-years but the limit is wrong. In cases like Tony’s, who nearly died at the hands of those he should have been able to trust the most, it cannot be right that a serious assault on an adult would get a tougher sentence than an attack on a child.

Tony’s real parents, the people who took him in and love him, agree. They fought for the CPS to review the decision not to prosecute and are now campaigning to extend the sentences possible for cases like his. His mum, Paula, collected 12,000 signatures on a petition that I presented to Parliament in January, with Tony and the family watching from the Gallery. They will be there again on 12 February.

Tony remains severely disabled. He will be wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life but supported and cared for. Others will not be so lucky. The Library tells me that for the same offences in 2017 839 cautions were issued, 784 offenders prosecuted, and 609 offenders were convicted – a very high conviction rate of 78%. The average sentence of the 150 offenders given immediate custody was just over two years.

Not all would deserve the maximum tariff so it is appropriate that judges should have the discretion to sentence appropriately. The bill I’m introducing wouldn’t do that, instead it would allow judges in the most extreme cases, like Tony’s, to make sure they were able to reflect the horror of the crime in the punishment.

To do this I propose amending two Acts, the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 and the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 extending the term of the relevant sentences. These amendments are not intended to be used often. I hope they will never be needed at all, but when abuse is better described as torture, how can we allow grievous bodily harm to have a maximum tariff of life or 16 years and child cruelty 10 years?

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