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Burglary crime views sought by Sentencing Council

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Media captionThe Corson family confronted an armed burglar in their home

Courts would have to take more account of victims' feelings in burglary cases under planned new sentencing guidance.

The Sentencing Council for England and Wales is launching a three-month public consultation on its proposals.

For domestic burglary it suggests only least serious offences should escape a custodial sentence, with three to six-year jail terms for the most serious.

But the Criminal Justice Alliance said community sentences might be more appropriate in some cases.

Victim harm

The council's guidelines would be the first overall advice for sentencing for the different types of burglary offences - domestic, non-domestic, and those committed with a weapon, known as aggravated burglary.

The proposed guidance for non-domestic burglary ranges from a fine to a maximum of four years in prison depending on the circumstances.

The proposals have taken account of the views of the public and victims, who thought domestic burglary should generally result in a custodial sentence but not in every case.

Council chairman Lord Justice Leveson said: "We do not recommend every single burglar in every circumstance should go to jail. We advise, consistent with the law, that judges should consider harm and culpability: greater harm and greater culpability always jail, but lesser harm and lesser culpability, not necessarily."

The council said the lowest level of offenders, for whom a non-custodial community sentence might be appropriate, could include those with no previous convictions who did not force entry and took goods of low value.

Lord Justice Leveson emphasised the impact on the victim should be taken into account, as even the theft of low-monetary items could cause a lot of harm, for example a laptop containing family photos.

"The crime of burglary is not simply a crime against property, it is a crime against the person," he said.

The council said the Sentencing Advisory Panel (SAP) "consulted specifically on whether a community order starting point, where no factors indicating greater culpability or harm are present, was appropriate".

"There was broad agreement with the approach, though some responses expressed grave concerns that any sentence for domestic burglary should be non-custodial," the Sentencing Council said.

"However, the SAP identified that even those responding in this way seemed to be content for a non-custodial sentence to result following consideration of mitigating factors applying either to the offence or to the offender."

Addiction cause

Lord Justice Leveson said: "The guideline does not reduce the severity of sentences being given to those convicted of burglary.

"Rather, it reinforces current sentencing practice that burglars targeting people's homes can expect a custodial sentence."

The council released figures showing that 17,387 burglars were sentenced in 2009, costing the prison service £210m and the probation service £20m.

Of these, 9,670 were for domestic burglary, 7,452 for non-domestic burglary and 265 for aggravated burglary.

Gemma Lousley, from the Criminal Justice Alliance which represents more than 50 organisations, said: "As the draft guideline acknowledges, many offenders convicted of acquisitive crimes are motivated by an addiction.

"Community sentences are more effective than short prison sentences in addressing these problems and helping individuals to turn away from crime, and we would urge that this is more clearly reflected in the guideline."

Javed Khan, chief executive of Victim Support, said he hoped the guideline would "make sentencing more transparent as well as strengthen the voice of victims by taking into account the impact of burglary".

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