Lawyers Say The Home Secretary's Calls For Tougher Acid Attack Laws May Not Deter Criminals
"I am clear that life sentences must not be reserved for acid attack survivors," Amber Rudd wrote in a Sunday newspaper.
Lawyers say the Home Secretary's calls for tougher sentencing legislation after a spate of acid attacks will not deter criminals.
Instead, they recommended that the government focus on tightening the laws around who can purchase the corrosive substances – but warned the review must carefully evaluate present laws to be effective.
Rudd, writing in the Sunday Times over the weekend, said the Home Office would ensure that acid attackers would face "life sentences" for their crimes. "We will also make sure that those who commit these terrible crimes feel the full force of the law," she wrote.
Francis FitzGibbon, QC chair of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), said criminals who attack people using acid can already be sentenced to life imprisonment.
"Passing new laws alone cannot be guaranteed to eliminate crime, as criminals often react by changing the ways they commit offences," he told BuzzFeed News. "The capacity to enforce existing law is at least as important."
However, he went on to say, the government could tighten regulations "that control the sale of poisonous and harmful chemicals in shops and on-line, to make them less available to criminals. There could be an age restriction so that they cannot lawfully be sold to juveniles."
Currently, possession of a corrosive substance could be treated as carrying a dangerous weapon under the 1953 Prevention of Crime Act, which carries a four-year maximum sentence. Additionally, attackers could already be imprisoned for life for an acid assault under Section 18 of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act.
Additionally, possession of a corrosive substance could be treated as carrying a dangerous weapon under the 1953 Prevention of Crime Act, which carries a four-year maximum sentence.
The police do not have powers to "punish", only powers to investigate and charge – powers to "punish" rest with the courts. Issuing guidance to prosecutors "does not amount to a change in law", as prosecutors can already classify carrying acid as a dangerous weapon.
FitzGibbon also said that acid attacks were "not new" – they were first dealt with during the Victorian period and prompted the 1863 statute.
As part of the review, Rudd said the Crown Prosecution Service guidance on acids and corrosive substances would be changed and corrosive substances would be upgraded and classed as dangerous weapons. She also said the department would consider expanding the Poisons Act.
These calls are echoed by MP Stephen Timms, who will chair a Commons debate on the rise of acid attacks on Monday evening. “I don’t think you should be allowed to buy sulphuric acid unless you have a licence to do so. That’s a proposal made by the British retail consortium, the shopkeepers themselves,” he said.
“The real problem at the moment is you can walk into a poundshop, buy this stuff, and cause enormous damage.”
The calls come after a number of acid attacks in the past month. Police charged a teenager last week after five "linked" acid attacks in north London were carried out in the space of 90 minutes. In June, two cousins were viciously attacked when a corrosive substance was thrown at them. They suffered "life-changing injuries".
MP Stephen Timms, who will chair a Commons debate on the rise of acid attacks on Monday evening, said "carrying acid should in itself be an offence, in the same way that carrying a knife was made an offence some years ago".
The number of attacks involving acid rose to 458 last year, compared to 261 in 2015, according to recent Met figures. Since 2010 there have been more than 1,800 attacks using corrosive substances in London.
The spate of actions has prompted an online petition calling for tougher legislation. It has been signed by more than 300,000 people so far.