2023 was a busy year for criminal law.  Major legislative changes made during the year will have a major and long-lasting impact on the way the police and government deals with certain crimes and the way offenders are treated but what were the major changes in UK criminal law in 2023?

In this blog we will summarise the three changes to criminal law we believe will prove most influential.

1. The Criminal Justice Bill 2023        

The Criminal Justice Bill was presented to and received its second reading in the House of Commons in November 2023.

The Bill has introduced a range of measures the Government believes will afford the public greater protection and, at the same time, improve public confidence in the police.  It gives the police additional powers to help them cut crime rates and reduce anti-social behaviour.  It has also introduced tougher sentences for violent and sexual offenders and increased the level of supervision of offenders on release from prison.

These new measures include:

  • Increased police powers to test suspects in custody for drugs and to search for and seize weapons and stolen goods.
  • New criminal offences relating to the use of certain items whilst committing serious crime, theft, or fraud.  These items include 3D printed firearms, the devices used for online theft and SIM farms as well as knives and offensive weapons.
  • New offences relating to the taking of intimate images without consent.
  • A broader definition of encouraging or assisting serious self-harm.
  • Amended powers to tackle anti-social behaviour.  These include extending the timeframe for which a dispersal order can be put in place, lowering the minimum age for a Community Protection Notice to 10 years old and increasing the maximum penalty for breaching orders to £500.
  • Making raising awareness of anti-social behaviour in their areas a duty for the police.
  • An extension of the current corporate criminal liability laws to include entire organisations rather than just individual senior managers.
  • More provisions for suspending and preventing the use of IP address and domain names when it is suspected these IP addresses and/or domain names may be being used for criminal purposes.
  • More freedom for police and law enforcement officers to access driver licence records.
  • Greater powers for the courts to order offenders to attend offenders at sentencing hearings and greater penalties if they fail to attend.
  • An increase in the seriousness of child sex offences involving grooming.
  • An increase in the seriousness of murders connected to the end of a relationship with the victim.
  • Provisions that will automatically place those convicted of coercive or controlling behaviour under multi-agency public protection arrangements.
  • New provisions to enable English and Welsh prisoners to be transferred to cells rented by the UK government in other countries.
  • Changes to the current confiscation regime in England and Wales including the introduction of a Suspended Accounts Scheme.
  • Changes to the law on serious crime prevention orders which both extend the circumstances under which orders can be applied for and permit the use of electronic monitoring.
  • New directions on nuisance begging and nuisance rough sleeping including prevention notices and prevention orders and the introduction of trespassing with intent to commit a criminal offence.

The Bill has also committed the College of Policing to issue a Code of Practice about ethical policing.  This comes with new powers for the Secretary of State which gives them authority to affect the regulations about appeals by chief officers of police and local policing bodies to the Police Appeals Tribunals.

2. The Public Order Act 2023

In January 2023, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government announced plans to amend the Public Order Bill before it becomes law to:

“Broaden the legal definition of ‘serious disruption’, give police more flexibility, and provide legal clarity on when the new powers could be used.” 

In May 2023 the Public Order Act 2023 was presented.  The Act aimed to make provisions for new offences relating to public order.  Its proposed scope covered stop and search powers, the way the different police functions could maintain public order, proceedings relating to protest-related activities and the revision of serious disruption prevention orders.

One of the key triggers for the Act was to give the police greater powers to prevent the disruption being caused by the new the tactics being employed by climate protestors like Extinction Rebellion, Just Stop Oil, and Insulate Britain.

The new offences the Act has introduced include:

  • ‘Locking on’ which commands a maximum 51-week sentence)
  • Interfering with key national infrastructure
  • Obstructing major transport works
  • Causing serious disruption by tunnelling
  • Greater stop and search powers to prevent disruptive protests
  • “Serious Disruption” Prevention Orders to restrict certain people’s movements

It is interesting to note that many of the new measures introduced by the Public Order Act 2023 were initially rejected by the House of Lords during their deliberations over the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022.

3. The Sentencing Bill 2023-24

The Sentencing Bill was introduced to the House of Commons on the 14th  of November 2023 with a second reading on the 6th of December 2023.

It was designed to fulfil a promise made in the King’s Speech delivered on the 7th of November 2023, namely that the Government would bring forward a bill that would ensure “tougher sentences for the most serious offenders and increase the confidence of victims”. 

The government went further in a statement released the day the Bill was introduced.  They said the new Bill would “better protect the British public from the worst offenders” and “help low risk offenders escape the merry-go-around of short prison terms and turn their lives away from crime”.

More specifically the terms of the Bill will:

  • Make whole life orders mandatory for certain types of murder except in exceptional circumstances where there may be, for example, potential for compassionate release.
  • Allow for special sentencing for offenders of concern for rape and serious sexual offences in addition to serious child sex and terrorism offences as is currently the case.
  • Mean those sentenced for rape and serious sexual offences will serve their full custodial term, no longer eligible for release on licence after serving the first two thirds of their sentence.
  • Mean custodial sentences of 12 months or less will be suspended (unless there is a concern the suspension of the sentence could put a particular individual at risk) provided the offender commits no further offences and complies with any requirements imposed on them for the duration of their sentence.
  • Increase the availability of Home Detention Curfews to some prisoners serving sentences of four years or more so that they can be released with an electronically monitored curfew for up to 180 days before their official release date.

If you require any assistance with a criminal case, Westgate Chambers’ hugely experienced criminal barristers are here to help.  If you would like to discuss a case in total confidence, please contact us today.

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