Chapter 8
Recommendations for reform

Are there better legislative options to achieve the objectives?

8.27We have examined whether, instead of new strangulation offences, other reform options would adequately address the identified problems.

Increased education and training

8.28It is true that an education campaign highlighting the dangerousness, signs and symptoms of strangulation could go a long way to achieving the policy objectives we have identified. It would raise awareness about strangulation, improve some of the evidential problems and make it more likely for judges making decisions about bail and protection orders to ask whether strangulation was a feature of previous family violence. However, while education is a vital ingredient in reform, it is not sufficient. Education will not address problems with proving the harm and intent elements of the existing more serious offences. It is therefore unlikely to affect the current tendency to prosecute strangulation as an assault.

Aggravated wounding, injury and assaultTop

8.29In Chapter 6, we described that the suitability of the serious violent crimes for prosecuting strangulation could be significantly improved by amending the offences of “aggravated wounding or injury” and of “aggravated assault”. We suggested that, if those offences were extended to include behaviour intended to intimidate, control or coerce, they would provide three offences much better suited to prosecuting strangulation. Such an amendment would avert the criticisms that specific offences increase the complexity of the offence framework.

8.30However, this option has none of the labelling advantages of specific strangulation offences. It would not send a message about the special lethality of strangulation. If that message is a priority, and we consider it should be, enacting a specific strangulation offence would provide an effective way to communicate it. In addition, while the introduction of an aggravation option might improve the options for prosecuting strangulation, it would have application far beyond strangulation. Our terms of reference do not permit us to examine this wider impact.

Aggravating factor for sentencingTop

8.31An amendment to the Sentencing Act 2002 to specify strangulation as an aggravating factor would go some way to increasing sentences for strangulation and increasing offender accountability. However, if this option were enacted instead of the described strangulation offence, most strangulation would, we expect, continue to be charged as “male assaults female”. Even if strangulation is an aggravating factor for sentencing, we do not consider that a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment adequately reflects the gravity of strangulation. Two years is appropriate for the “intentional non-consensual touching” targeted by “male assaults female”. It is insufficient for the terror inflicted on a person who has had their breath and blood supply restricted.