Judges May Lose Power to Jail Sex Offenders If Prisons Are Full; THREAT: Many More Sex Offenders like Derek Williams, Inset, Could Avoid Prison under New Proposals to Tackle Overcrowding

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), November 4, 2007 | Go to article overview

Judges May Lose Power to Jail Sex Offenders If Prisons Are Full; THREAT: Many More Sex Offenders like Derek Williams, Inset, Could Avoid Prison under New Proposals to Tackle Overcrowding


Byline: TOM HARPER, JONATHAN OLIVER

JUDGES would lose the power tojailtensofthousandsof offenders in a desperate attempt by the Government to tackle the prisons'overcrowding crisis.

Prisons Minister David Hanson has indicated that judges may be prevented frompassing some custodial sentences if jails are full.

But critics warn that the move - which could see tens of thousands of criminalsincluding burglars, sex offenders and drug dealers spared jail - could threatenpublic safety.

The idea is in a review of the Prison Service by Lord Carter, to be publishedthis month. It would apply to any prisoner who would normally be sentenced tosix months or less, and was revealed last week by Mr Hanson at a privatemeeting of the Justice Unions Parliamentary Group. Mr Hanson said he was'actively considering' the idea.

Shadow Justice Minister Edward Garnier, whose staff attended the meeting, saidthey were 'horrified'. 'If Ministers tell judges not to send criminals toprison because the Government has failed to provide adequate capacity, we mightas well do away with our courts and let the Secretary of State deal withsentencing from his office in Whitehall,' said Mr Garnier.

'This will lead to wild and unfair differences in sentences depending on thestate of the prison population on any given day. It will undermine even furtherpublic confidence in the criminal justice system and shows that the Governmenthas no idea how to solve the crisis of prison overcrowding.' In anunprecedented step, a serving Law Lord was last night moved to speakout over the potential encroachment on judicial discretion.

'A lot of people will think it is inappropriate and will cause quite a stir,'said the Law Lord, who asked not to be named. 'It will tie judges' hands,restrict their independence and is a step too far. …

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