Non-fatal Strangulation – Sentencing Guidance

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An offence of non-fatal strangulation or suffocation was created by the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 and came in to force on 7 June 2022.

CPS guidance on this offence states:

“Some dictionary definitions of the word “strangle” link the word to an intention to kill or the causing of death. The statute however does not require an intention to kill nor any link to death. Although not a criminal case, in Stocker v Stocker [2019] UKSC 17, the UK Supreme Court considered the ordinary meaning of “strangle” in the context of a Facebook post, in which the applicant in the proceedings claimed the words used, namely, ‘tried to strangle me’ were defamatory as they indicated an intention to kill. The Court considered that the ordinary reader would define ‘strangle’ as force to the neck, which did not involve killing.

The Court said, “the danger of the use of dictionary definitions to provide a guide to the meaning of an alleged defamatory statement. That meaning is to be determined according to how it would be understood by the ordinary reasonable reader. It is not fixed by technical, linguistically precise dictionary definitions, divorced from the context in which the statement was made.”

Similar caution should be applied to an attempt to introduce dictionary definitions into the ordinary meaning of strangle in criminal proceedings.”

The common methods of non-fatal strangulation are:

• manual – one or two hands held around the neck of a person
• chokehold or head lock – external pressure applied by an arm around the neck
• ligature – for example a scarf or belt tightened around the neck
• hanging
• pressure on the neck from a foot or knee

The offence can be tried in a magistrates’ court or crown court and carries a maximum sentence of 5 years imprisonment.

At the moment, there are no sentencing guidelines in force for this offence, but in a recent case (Cook [2023] EWCA Crim 452), the Court of Appeal offered this guidance when sentencing for non-fatal strangulation:

A judge is entitled to have some regard to the guideline in relation to assault occasioning actual bodily harm. Intentional strangulation, by definition, involves an assault. The maximum sentence for both offences is the same, namely five years’ imprisonment.

However, a judge is neither required, nor entitled, to do anything more than have some regard to the assault guideline.

The offence of intentional strangulation does not, as an element of the offence, include any element of physical or psychological harm.

To seek to set the starting point for the offence by reference to actual harm is wrong in principle.

In view of the inherent conduct required to establish this offence a custodial sentence will be appropriate, save in exceptional circumstances.

Ordinarily that sentence will be one of immediate custody. The starting point will be 18 months’ custody.

The offence is much more often committed by a man against a woman, however the starting point will be the same irrespective of the gender of the perpetrator.

The starting point may be increased by reference to the following factors, this list not being exhaustive:

(i) History of previous violence. The significance of the history will be greater when the previous violence has involved strangulation.

(ii) Presence of a child or children.

(iii) Attack carried out in the victim’s home. (iv) Sustained or repeated strangulation.

(v) Use of a ligature or equivalent.

(vi) Abuse of power.

(vii) Offender under influence of drink or drugs.

(viii)Offence on licence.

(ix) Vulnerable victim.

(x) Steps taken to prevent the victim reporting an incident. (xi) Steps taken to prevent the victim obtaining assistance.

Statutory aggravating factors will apply.

How can we help?

We ensure we keep up to date with any changes in legislation and case law so that we are always best placed to advise you properly. If you would like to discuss any aspect of your case, please contact any member of our vastly experienced Criminal Defence team, for assistance with any criminal law related matter.

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