Child abusers could now face life sentences, while new guidance will empower judges to hand out tougher jail terms to abusers.
Maximum punishments for a range of child cruelty offences were among measures ministers added to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
Dubbed Tony’s Law, the changes which came into force in June 2022 followed a campaign by MP Tom Tugendhat and the adoptive family of seven-year-old Tony Hudgell who had to have both his legs amputated in 2017 as a result of abuse suffered at the hands of his birth parents.
New sentencing guidelines for judges were also added in March 2023, which could see people who allow a child to die jailed for up to 18 years, while people who cause serious physical harm could be jailed for 12 years.
This is what you need to know about Tony’s Law.
What happened to Tony Hudgell?
Tony was attacked when he was a baby and left with broken fingers and toes, plus torn ligaments in his legs.
He was left untreated and in agony for 10 days.
The damage meant that both his legs had to be amputated and Tony is now wheelchair-bound.
His birth parents Jody Simpson and Tony Smith were sentenced to the current maximum jail term of 10 years. However, the length of sentence imposed caused public outcry and almost 12,000 people signed a petition started by Tony’s adoptive mum Paula Hudgell calling for tougher sentences.
In welcoming the planned changes to sentences for child cruelty offences, Ms Hudgell said: “This is for Tony and all the babies and children that suffered or lost their lives at the hands of their abusers.”
Tony has gone on to help others with a fundraising walking challenge.
He set out to raise £500 for the hospital that saved his life by walking 10km in 30 days on his prosthetic legs, but ended up raising more than £1 million.
Tony was recognised with a Pride Of Britain award last year, as he was given the Good Morning Britain Young Fundraiser prize.
He was given the award by TV stars Ant and Dec, who dressed up as toy soldiers to surprise him during a trip to Hamleys toy shop.
How will Tony’s law work?
The tougher sentences mean anyone who causes or allows the death of a child or vulnerable adult in their care will face up to life imprisonment, rather than the current 14-year maximum.
Tony’s Law will increase the maximum penalties for child cruelty offences including:
- for causing or allowing the death of a child or vulnerable adult from 14 years’ imprisonment to life imprisonment
- for causing or allowing serious physical harm to a child or vulnerable adult from 10 to 14 years’ imprisonment
- for cruelty to a person under 16 from 10 to 14 years’ imprisonment
Ms Hudgell previously said: “It’s been our hope since those who abused our son were jailed in 2018 that more could be done to protect other children, the most vulnerable members of our society.”
She went on to thank those who had campaigned for the changes including Mr Tugendhat.
Tonbridge and Malling MP Mr Tugendhat said:“He may have started off with the worst circumstances, abused by his birth parents, but he has now achieved something that few do - a law that will defend others, as he should have been defended himself.
“I am proud to have been able to work with Tony and his real parents, Paula and Mark, to make this possible
“Tony’s Law will be coming into law very soon and I am enormously grateful to everyone in Government who has made this happen.”
Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Dominic Raab said: “Our new laws will mean serious offenders spend longer in jail, including sex offenders, child abusers and those who kill emergency workers in the course of their duties.”
What guidance have judges been given?
Sentencing guidelines for people convicted of child cruelty were updated in March 2023, to ensure judges could hand down tougher terms.
Under the new guidance for judges to go along with the changes brought in by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, those guilty of causing or allowing a child to die can be sentenced in a range of up to 18 years in prison. Those convicted of causing or allowing a child to suffer serious physical harm and for cruelty to a child can be given a sentence of up to 12 years in custody.
Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said: “We introduced Tony’s Law to ensure justice was delivered for children who faced monstrous abuse at the hands of those who should have cared for and protected them.
“These changes will empower judges to hand out the toughest sentences to those who cause harm to a child, keeping these criminals behind bars for longer,” he said. The new maximum penalties will apply to offences committed on or after June 28, 2022.