Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Plan to halve jail terms for guilty pleas scrapped


David Cameron has ordered Kenneth Clarke to scrap plans to let criminals who plead guilty have their sentences halved.

By Andrew Porter, and Tom Whitehead

The Prime Minister will announce the move today at a news conference as he attempts to regain the Tories’ reputation for being tough on law and order.
Mr Clarke, the Justice Secretary, caused controversy by disclosing last month that all criminals, including rapists, would be eligible for a possible 50 per cent sentence discount for an early guilty plea.
After crisis talks with Mr Cameron, rapists were excluded from the plan. But after a weekend of wrangling, Mr Cameron will announce that no convicted criminal will be able to get their sentences halved in this way.

Under Labour there was the option of the sentence being cut by a third for a guilty plea. That is likely to stay in place as the revised sentencing Bill is unveiled.
But it raises questions about how the Ministry of Justice will raise the £120  million savings it has promised the Treasury. (Thin Blue Line comment: 11,500 foreign nationals serving custodial sentences costing the taxpayer £35,000 each. Deport 3,429 of them and save the £120 million.... simples).

It is also understood that Mr Cameron will include plans in the Bill for a mandatory jail term for some knife offenders. Those guilty of aggravated assault with a knife will get at least six months in jail.

As leader of the Opposition, Mr Cameron set out a plan which would see a presumption of an automatic jail term for anyone convicted of a knife offence.

Under today’s plans, thousands of violent foreign criminals will escape prosecution if they promise to return home.

Migrant offenders guilty of assault, including those who attack police officers, will be offered a conditional caution so long as they leave the country. It means they will avoid the courts and the risk of a prison term with effectively little more than a “slap on the wrist”. They could still be able to apply to return to Britain after two years.

Foreign fraudsters, thieves and those caught with cocaine or heroin will also be eligible for a conditional caution under the plans. The Bill will also contain plans to remove legal aid from squatters fighting eviction while immigrants appealing against refused visa renewals will no longer be publicly funded.

The Justice Bill will allow prosecutors to hand out conditional cautions to foreign offenders for offences including assault, assault on a police officer, possession of any drug, fraud, theft, handling stolen goods and stealing a car.


Ken Clarke forced to abandon 50% sentence cuts for guilty pleas

Outcry from Tory right and tabloid press leads to scrapping of plan despite support from Lib Dems

  • The Guardian,

  • David Cameron has forced Kenneth Clarke to abandon all plans for 50% sentence discounts for early guilty pleas, after an outcry on the Tory right and in the tabloids.

    Cameron will announce the change at a Downing Street press conference on Tuesday, when the Ministry of Justice publishes its justice bill containing proposals for tougher community sentences and the introduction of a payment-by-results system to reduce prisoner reoffending.

    After an outcry, Cameron forced Clarke to withdraw plans for the discount for rapists. There had been speculation that Clarke would manage to keep 50% discounts for some lesser offences, but the justice secretary has lost that battle.

    Cameron has decided that any reduction in sentences in return for early guilty pleas would undermine his broader commitment to bring sense to sentencing.

    The current discount is a third, and an extension to 50% would have meant a big drop in the prison population. The decision will mean the Ministry of Justice has to find as much as £100m in extra savings over four years from elsewhere in its budget. Most will come from a further squeeze on probation.

    The Treasury has said it is willing to see the justice ministry change the speed at which it finds savings. No official confirmation was available from Downing Street before a meeting of the cabinet on Tuesday and Cameron's press conference.

    Number 10 argues that trust in the criminal justice system is so low that it would be unable to sell a cut in sentences in return for early guilty pleas. Cameron's advisers have told him his party is losing its grip on the law and order agenda.

    The Liberal Democrat leadership, which had promised to side with Clarke, appeared to have accepted defeat. A Lib Dem source said the 50% discount was not a party policy: "We never said we would want to bring it in. We are not totally wedded to it, and it is not a big loss."

    Clarke's original green paper proposal was expected to produce savings of £210m a year by reducing the demand for prison places by 6,000. Ministry of Justice officials estimated that this would cut the record 85,000 prison population in England and Wales by 3,000 by the time of the next general election.

    Other proposals expected on Tuesday include removing the courts' option of remanding in custody defendants who are unlikely to receive a prison sentence. This would save 1,300 prison places a year. Other proposals include deporting more foreign prisoners (500 places), a new release test for those serving indeterminate sentences for public protection (300 to 600 places), and diverting mentally ill prisoners into community health treatment services (650 prison places).

    Helen Goodman, the shadow justice minister, said: "Ken Clarke's plan is to send fewer people to prison and to put more people on community sentences. This cannot work when probation trusts are taking the lion's share of the Ministry of Justice's cuts. These cuts will mean that there will be fewer probation officers monitoring fewer offenders less often."

    Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said: "From frontline policing to sentencing, we have seen promises on law and order broken by this government, which has severely damaged public trust in the justice system." He added that when it came to protecting the public, punishing and reforming offenders, supporting victims and cutting crime, he feared that the government would "fail on every count".

    The justice minister, Crispin Blunt, gave a broad hint last week that any need to find further savings in the Ministry of Justice budget as a result of changes to the sentencing package were likely to come from the courts and probation services.

    Blunt told MPs that probation had so far been "quite significantly protected" from his department's 23% budget cuts.

    The plans have provoked fierce opposition, particularly from the solicitors' organisation, the Law Society.
    One initial recommendation was to withdraw legal aid in family cases, except those involving allegations of domestic violence. Critics warned that this would provide a perverse incentive to exaggerate grievances.
    Des Hudson, the Law Society chief executive, said he feared that cuts to legal aid could be even deeper than the proposed £350m because less money may be saved by keeping people out of prison.

    He said: "This means they will come to the budget with sharpened pencils. We will not stand by and see the most vulnerable left with no access to justice."


    "The man is a fossil who is totally out of touch with both reality and the standards of the people who voted for him Camera on should sack him without delay and get someone who isn't suffering from senile dementia to do the job, that in itself is going to be a problem".

    "Plan to halve jail terms for guilty pleas scrapped - Might this have something to do with it being a cr*p idea to start with?"

    "Recent evidence on Radio 4 showed criminals who are put away on short sentences quickly reoffend - short sentences don't act as a deterrent". 

    "Why did Ken "I'm a seasoned politician therefore I know everything" Clarke ever think the public would be happy with such a stupid idea?"

    1. End the release after serving half of a sentence for good behaviour, and replace it with an increase in sentence for bad behaviour. Additionally, stop giving one third discounts for guilty pleas where the evidence against the person is overwhelming anyway.
    2. Make them work. The should pay for their own keep. If they don't work they don't eat.
    3. Get mobile phone signal blockers to stop them using smuggled in mobile phones. One of the easiest problems to solve.
    4. Root out drugs

    "We should stop trying to do justice on the cheap. Employ enough well trained prison guards to keep a system of discipline and pay them well. Stop turning a blind eye in order to pacify criminals. Make prison an unpleasant, strictly controlled environment into which no prisoner will want to return".

    "There is NO justice in letting criminals off with any percentage of their sentence.
    How long do they think the public and the police will put up with this kind of nonsense?
    Why would any police officer put their life at risk when the criminal gets off?
    Why would the public not take matters into their own hands when the criminal gets off?"

    "Is Clarke the 'Justice' minister or just out to save money? Criminals free on the streets COST US BILLIONS and we'll pay for it either in personal attacks/murder/stolen property/insurance/fearing to participate in normal daily life or through taxes to keep these creeps where they belong - in jail".  

    "Well done, Prime Minister".

    "How stupid can you get - "if they promise to return home." Home is now Britain! Sure I'd take the bus to Tooting, or Southall, or even to Rochdale. If you want me to go further, like Algeria, Jamaica, or Rumania, then I'll need a lot of 'bus fare'. But, I'll be back, British benefits are too, too, good".



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