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Proposed sentencing guidelines for youth offenders target the use of social media in crime

The Sentencing Council for England and Wales has published proposed guidelines for the sentencing of youth offenders.  Currently open to a public consultation, the draft guidelines suggest that the use of technology to document or glorify criminal activity be considered an aggravating factor that judges and magistrates should take into account when sentencing.

The proposed guidelines will allow the courts to impose tougher sentences where offenders between the ages of 10 and 17 use social media to deliberately humiliate or blackmail their victims by sharing details, photographs or videos.  The recommendations also reference criminal activity deliberately committed in front of a group of peers.

The proposals follow the murder of Angela Wrightson whose attackers, aged 13 and 14, beat her to death whilst sharing photos through the mobile application Snapchat.

If the proposed guidelines are adopted, it will be the first time that use of social media in criminal activity will have been explicitly addressed in respect of young offenders.  There are currently no specific social media citations in adult sentencing guidelines, though one would expect them to follow suit.

It is suggested that judges and magistrates would also have to consider mitigating factors such as early exposure to pornography, failure to attend school, familial criminal behaviour and being a victim of neglect or abuse.

Lord Justice Treacy, the chairman of the Sentencing Council, has emphasised that the primary aim of the propsoed guidelines is to prevent re-offending and to ensure that young people are “sentenced fairly and proportionately.”.  He expanded on this by commenting that “sentencing must play its part in fostering a sense of responsibility and helping [young people] reintegrate rather than becoming alienated.”

The draft sentencing guidelines are open for public feedback and a finalised version will be published following the closure of the consultation on 3 August 2016.

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Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice.