On 23rd May 2014 the UK Sentencing Council announced new sentencing guidelines for fraud, bribery and money laundering offences to bring an increased focus to the impact of the crimes on victims.
The new guidelines apply to all individual offenders ≥ 18yrs old and to organisations who are sentenced on or after 1st October 2014, regardless of the date of the offence.
They take a staged approach to determine a ‘Starting Point’ for sentencing, with a sentence ‘range’ appropriate for each type of offence and a ‘category’ which reflects the seriousness after assessing culpability and harm to the victim. The starting point applies to all offenders irrespective of plea or previous convictions and only after this is established can further consideration be given to issues such as assistance to the prosecution, reduction for guilty pleas, etc.
So, how will it work in practice?
Take the example of two offenders, let’s call them ‘Mr E’ and ‘Mr F’. They are convicted of conspiracy to commit fraud after over-charging someone £26,000 for carrying out building work. They are both jailed for 12 months. That may or may not seem like quite a light sentence given the amount involved?
But let’s look a bit deeper and consider the victim; a 76-year-old man who lives alone at home and suffers from dementia. Now the sentence looks seriously light, but that is exactly what happened in a recent case. ‘Mr E and Mr F’, i.e. Phillip Edington and Joseph Featon, charged a vulnerable pensioner £29,000 for work that an expert later estimated to be worth just £2,590 and even then it was carried out to a poor standard. They preyed on their victim with numerous visits over a three-year period. Edington and Joseph Featon were convicted in January 2014 and each received a sentence of 12 months imprisonment.
What difference would the new sentencing guidelines make in this case?
Applying the staged approach we could assume ‘High Culpability’ as their fraudulent activity was conducted over sustained period of time; a ‘Category 3 loss’ (£20,000 – £100,000); and ‘High Impact’ which moves it up a category as the victim was particularly vulnerable due to age and mental capacity. This leaves us with a Category 2A sentence, i.e. a Starting Point of 5 years’ custody, surely a more appropriate sentence given the circumstances and victim impact?
The new document also marks the first time that there have been guidelines for the sentencing of money laundering offences. The staged approach is again used to determine the sentence, with a proviso that the court should take into account the level of harm associated with the underlying offence.
The guidelines are restricted to the three principal money laundering offences (PoCA s327, s328 & s329) however there is a curious comment when deciding the level of harm. ‘For offences of money laundering the appropriate figure will normally be the amount laundered or, alternatively, the likely cost avoided by failing to put in place an effective anti-money laundering programme if this is higher. It remains to be seen how this will be interpreted by the Courts!
I have seen first-hand the devastating effect that fraud has on victims. It can destroy confidence; lead to a lifetime of suspicion and mistrust of others; and on tragic occasions lead to someone taking their own life.
I don’t think that we will ever reach the situation in the United States, where someone was sentenced to 845 years imprisonment for fraud! But I do believe the guidelines are a move in the right direction, recognising that even relatively small sums lost can leave victims badly affected.
The Guidelines can be accessed here