Categorized | Criminal Justice, Law Updates

Mandatory prison sentences

Mandatory prison sentences

Word has it that there have been some fierce knock’em down and drag’em out battles in cabinet between Theresa May and Kenneth Clarke on the subject of mandatory prison sentences. If that is the case the home secretary has triumphed. David Cameron has intervened and decided.

Clarke made clear his personal opposition to the use of mandatory sentences at a hearing of the Commons home affairs committee on Tuesday. His preference is to give judges unfettered discretion to set sentences based on the facts of the cases for nearly all crimes except murder. He also made clear his view that a minimum mandatory sentence for juveniles under 18 was not part of the traditions of the British criminal justice system. But on Wednesday he announced a new sentencing regime, which includes:

• A mandatory life sentence for anyone convicted of a second very serious sexual or violent crime. This will mean that mandatory life sentences can be given for crimes other than murder
• Extending the category of the most serious sexual and violent offences.
• The Extended Determinate Sentence (EDS) – all dangerous criminals convicted of serious sexual and violent crimes will be imprisoned for at least two thirds of their sentence.
• Criminals who complete an EDS must then serve extended licence periods.
• Mandatory custodial sentence for aggravated knife possession by 16 and 17 years olds.
• Replacement of the much-criticised indeterminate sentence for public protection (IPP).

The new regime will be debated in the House of Commons next week as an addition to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. It is likely to increase the already record 87,000 prison population in England and Wales, putting a serious question mark over hopes of stabilising the jail population.

Already there has been opposition to the new regime. John Bache, the chairman of the Magistrates Association youth courts committee, said that while he agreed that removing knives from the streets was of paramount importance, the Magistrates Association was against mandatory sentences. Frances Crooke, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “We have nearly 12,000 life sentence prisoners – that’s more than Russia, Poland, German and France all added together. We are using the mandatory life sentence and discretionary life sentences like confetti.” Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “Subject to good sentencing guidelines, what’s wrong with allowing the courts to make sure that the sentence fits the crime?”

The justice secretary also announced additional measures “to better protect people from intruders, dangerous criminals and excessive no-win no-fee legal costs.” The measures include:

• Making squatting in residential buildings a criminal offence.
• Strengthening people’s rights to use force to defend themselves from intruders in their own homes.
• Giving magistrates power to hand down bigger fines.
• Banning referral fees that allow middle-men to profit from encouraging others to make unnecessary compensation claims.

These measures will also be debated as an addition to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill.

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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