The Home Secretary has indicated acid attack convictions could soon carry life sentences as a crackdown on corrosive substances was unveiled by the Government.
Amber Rudd warned that an overhaul of current guidelines would ensure those who use noxious liquids as a weapon “feel the full force of the law”.
“I am clear that life sentences must not be reserved for acid attack survivors,” she wrote in the Sunday Times.
Proposals to ensure acid and other corrosive substances can be classed as dangerous weapons are among the changes included in the shake-up. The Government will also aim to put in place measures which restrict the sale of such substances by retailers, Ms Rudd said.
The move is part of a new strategy to crack down on acid attacks following a recent spate of high-profile incidents, including five assaults that were linked in London on Thursday. The Home Office said it will work with police and the Ministry of Justice to assess whether powers available to the courts, including sentencing, are sufficient.
Mrs Rudd wrote: “Today I am announcing an action plan to tackle acid attacks. It will include a wide-ranging review of the law enforcement and criminal justice response, of existing legislation, of access to harmful products and of the support offered to victims.”
“We will also make sure that those who commit these terrible crimes feel the full force of the law,” she added. “We will seek to ensure that everyone working within the criminal justice system, from police officers to prosecutors, has the powers they need to punish severely those who commit these appalling crimes.”
Possession of acid or other corrosive substances with the intention to do harm can already be treated as possession of an offensive weapon under the Prevention of Crime Act, which carries a four-year maximum penalty.
The Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) guidance to prosecutors will now be reviewed to ensure it makes clear that acid and other corrosive substances can be classed as dangerous weapons, and what is required to prove intent.
The Poisons Act 1972 will be assessed to consider if it should cover more harmful substances, while retailers will be asked to agree to measures to restrict sales of acids and other corrosive substances.
New guidance will also be issued to police officers on preventing attacks, searching potential attackers for harmful substances and responding to victims at the scene.
More than 400 acid or corrosive substance attacks were carried out in the six months up to April 2017, according to figures from 39 forces in England and Wales. Bleach, ammonia and acid were the most commonly used substances, the Home Office said.
Sarah Newton, minister for crime, safeguarding and vulnerability, will outline the Government’s strategy on combating acid attacks in the Commons on Monday.