Human Rights
By Carla Fraser
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Improved guidance on sex offender sentencing from The King v Jacek Pacyno [2024] NICA 3

The sentencing of child sexual offences in the digital age presents new challenges with the broadening and development of sentencing guidelines related to such offences. The case of The King v Jacek Pacyno [2024] NICA 3 provides guidance concerning these sentencing issues. The Judgment serves as guidance for sentencing relating to offences conducted over the internet which involve engaging in sexual activity and causing or inciting children to engage in sexual activity.

In September 2023, Jacek Pacyno appeared at Belfast Crown Court where he was charged for offences committed when he recorded livestreams where he masturbated in front of children. He admitted to multiple offences of engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a child, possessing prohibited images of children and making indecent images of children. The offences were committed over a period of four and a half years. He was charged with over 30 offences and given the sentence of a three-year Probation Order on his first appearance in court.

The sentence imposed by the Crown Court was considered unduly lenient by the PPS and subsequently, it was referred to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal found that the offences committed by Mr Pacyno “are more akin to contact offences than they are to the viewing of indecent images of children.” The previous mitigating factors of the victims being unknown and the length of time between the offences and the first hearing were rejected.

Lady Chief Justice Dame Siobhan Keegan stated, “The fact that there is no direct physical contact does not alter the seriousness of such offending and the need for condign punishment.” Ultimately, the courts imposed a sentence of 18 months imprisonment for offences against children and the notification requirements under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 were extended from 5 to 10 years.

The Judgment represents the thinking of the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland on the issue of sexual offences committed over the Internet and lays down guidelines that will be followed by sentencing judges in Northern Ireland in similar cases. It is likely offences which involve engaging in sexual activity over the internet will be with similar severity to that of an offence involving direct physical contact.

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