Sexual Offences Guidelines Consultation

Closed 13 Aug 2021

Opened 13 May 2021


Why these amendments to the sexual offences guidelines?

The current definitive sexual offences guidelines were published in 2013 and came into force in 2014. This consultation seeks views on a number of proposed amendments to existing sexual offences guidelines to provide greater clarity and to reflect Court of Appeal case law, and also seeks views on a new draft guideline for the relatively new offence of sexual communication with a child.

The case of Privett and Others [2020] EWCA Crim 557 provided the courts with guidance about how to approach the assessment of harm in cases where there is no actual child victim. These will often occur in the context of undercover “sting” operations. The case of Privett involved arranging or facilitating the commission of a child sex offence where there was no child, but the Sentencing Council has decided also to update the relevant guidelines to set out the approach the courts should take when sentencing cases where sexual activity was incited but ultimately did not take place. This accords with the recent approach of the Court of Appeal in Reed and Others [2021] EWCA Crim 572, which confirmed that the same approach applied to other relevant offences, not just section 14.

The Council is also consulting on a new guideline for the offence of sexual communication with a child (section 15A of the Sexual Offences Act 2003). This is a relatively new offence, with a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment, created by the Serious Crime Act 2015 and in force since 2017.

Following the findings of the 2018 assessment of the sexual offences guidelines, the Council is also consulting on some minor amendments to several guidelines to provide extra clarity on some harm and culpability factors. Finally, the Council is consulting on minor changes to the wording of its guidance on sentencing historic sex cases better to reflect Court of Appeal case law.

What is the Sentencing Council?

The Sentencing Council is the independent body responsible for developing sentencing guidelines for the courts to use when passing a sentence. The Council consults on its proposed guidelines before they come into force and makes changes to the guidelines as a result of consultations.

What is the Council consulting about?

The Council has produced this consultation paper in order to seek views from as many people as possible interested in the sentencing of sexual offences.

However, it is important to clarify that the Council is consulting on the sentencing guidelines for these offences and not the legislation upon which such offences are based. The relevant legislation is a matter for Parliament and is, therefore, outside the scope of this exercise.

Through this consultation process, the Council is seeking views on:

  • the addition of principles and guidance to existing guidelines for situations where no sexual activity has taken place;
  • the addition of further explanations and guidance for sentencers across various existing sex offence guidelines;
  • the principal factors included within the new draft guideline that make section 15A (sexual communication with a child) offences more or less serious;
  • the additional factors that should influence the sentence in these cases;
  • the types and lengths of sentence that should be passed; and
  • anything else you think should be considered.

What else is happening as part of the consultation process?

This is a three month public consultation. During the consultation period, the Council will host a number of exercises to test the draft amendments and new guideline and consider whether any changes are needed. Once the consultation exercise is over and the results considered, a final guideline will be published and used by all courts.

Alongside this consultation paper, the Council has produced an online questionnaire.  The Council has also produced a resource assessment for the guideline, along with a statistical bulletin and data tables showing current sentencing practice for these offences. The online questionnaire, resource assessment, statistical bulletin and data tables can be found on the Sentencing Council’s website:

In the following sections the proposed guidelines are outlined in detail and you will be asked to give your views. You can give your views by answering questions on just the areas which you are interested in or all of the questions below, either by email to or by using the online questionnaire.


  • Citizens
  • Voluntary organisations
  • Litigants
  • Voluntary organisations
  • Government departments
  • Legal professionals
  • Judiciary
  • Police
  • Prosecutors
  • Offenders
  • Victims
  • Legal professional bodies
  • VCSE/Charity/Mutual
  • Think tanks
  • Academics
  • UK policy institutions
  • UK politicians


  • Courts
  • Criminal justice
  • Judiciary