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Clarke abandons minimum/maximum sentencing plan

22 November 2010

Justice secretary Ken Clarke is reported to have abandoned plans for judges to set minimum and maximum jail terms when sentencing criminals, instead of the current system of automatically letting them go half way through their sentences.

Outlining the coalition’s plans for criminal justice reform in June at King’s College, London, Clarke described the current sentencing rules as “complicated, confusing and disingenuous” (see solicitorsjournal.com, 30 June 2010).

He said that judges should be set a minimum term, which was actually served, and a maximum period, during which prisoners could earn their release.

However, it was reported in The Daily Telegraph this weekend that the plans were being dropped because, far from reducing costs, they would increase the prison population by up to 6,000.

The paper also reported that the MoJ’s green paper on sentencing, due to be published at the end of next week, would contain plans to end the defendant’s right to change a not guilty plea to guilty once the trial a started. The aim would be to save money by encouraging not guilty pleas.

A further move would be the ‘privatisation’ of part of the probation service, with services transferred to private companies or charities.

A spokesman for the MoJ said the green paper would be published at some point before the end of the year.

In a separate move, Lord Justice Leveson, chairman of the Sentencing Council, has called for the regulation of forensic scientists and other expert witnesses.

Leveson told the Forensic Science Society that the “dangers of the lacuna” created by the traditional absence of regulation for forensic scientists were obvious.

“Theoretically anyone with any sort of scientific background and sufficient personal confidence, perhaps less politely described as brass neck, or who was sufficiently misguided, could set themselves up as a forensic science expert and produce evidence that, at best, is unhelpful and, at worst, positively misleading; nobody would necessarily be the wiser.”

Leveson LJ said the Council for the Registration of Forensic Practitioners (CRFP), set up in 1997 with the support of the Home Office, “unfortunately ceased trading owing to a lack of government funding”.

He said the CRFP provided “precisely the sort of regulation we are currently lacking”.

“It ought to be established and similar bodies created for all experts albeit that some other system might be required for particularly esoteric and not often used expertise.

“A failure to take this type of step risks not just miscarriages of justice, but the very reputation of the professions themselves,” he warned.

Categorised in:

Procedures Police & Prisons Costs Expert witness