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Lawyers welcome Clarke's sentencing plans

8 December 2010

Plans to cut the number of prisoners set out in yesterday’s sentencing green paper have been welcomed by lawyers.

The measures outlined by the justice secretary in the Commons include giving judges greater discretion in homicide cases, limiting the use of indeterminate sentences for public protection (IPPs) and increasing the use of fines and community service.

Ken Clarke further infuriated right wing MPs and newspapers by dropping a Conservative pledge to jail anyone found in possession of a knife.

Foreign nationals, who currently make up 11 per cent of the prison population, would be offered the option of a caution on condition that they left the country if the offence they committed was non-serious.

In a further move, prisoners who pleaded guilty to crimes at police stations would receive a 50 per cent discount on their sentences.

“We will simplify the sentencing framework in order to make it more comprehensible to the public and to enhance judicial independence,” said Clarke.

“We will reform community orders to give providers more discretion. We will encourage greater use of financial penalties and improve their collection.”

Nicholas Green QC, chairman of the Bar Council, said the green paper was a step in the right direction towards a “sensible and rational approach”.

He said Clarke was pursuing a “bold and creative reform programme”, but warned him to be “mindful of the consequences” of cutting sentences by 50 per cent in return for guilty pleas at the police station.

In this case, Green said suspects needed “high-quality and substantial legal advice”.

Linda Lee, president of the Law Society, said the 6,000 prisoners jailed under IPP sentences often found it difficult to get access to the courses they needed to demonstrate that they were not a danger to the public.

“We also support accelerated consideration for release for the 3,000 prisoners jailed indefinitely for public protection who had already passed their tariff date,” she said.

Lee added that she was pleased that prisoners with mental health, alcohol or drug problems would be diverted into treatment.

Sally Ireland, director of criminal justice policy at JUSTICE, welcomed the government’s recognition that the ‘warehousing’ of prisoners must stop, but said it would have to “put its money where its mouth is” on rehabilitation and support.

Mark Day, head of policy at the Prison Reform Trust, said the green paper “could be a watershed marking the end of sterile debate on toughness or softness on crime.

“Rather than settling for policy-making on the hoof or enduring a crisis-driven justice system, Ken Clarke seems prepared to undertake a proper consultation on sentencing and rehabilitation based on evidence of what works.”

Categorised in:

Procedures Police & Prisons Conveyancing Local government