I read with great interest your article in The Sunday Times(11/05/2014), lamenting the way in which government involves itself in sentencing. What seems to have been forgotten is the overriding principle that the judiciary must be independent of the executive. The problems began when the previous government, attempting to achieve consistency, introduced sentencing guidelines. Certainly guidelines can be helpful to both judges and magistrates provided they are just that, guidelines that allow judicial discretion. The problem now is that guidelines have become so prescriptive that any small deviation from them will result in a successful appeal. Discretion has all but disappeared with the executive now having political control over sentencing. I can assure you that both judges and magistrates do bitterly resent not having the power to sentence in a way they think appropriate. All of this is compounded not only by early prisoner release but on top of that prison governors, at their discretion, can release prisoners even earlier than the half way point. So some prisoners will only spend a little over a third of their sentence actually in prison. People simply do not understand why someone who has committed a serious crime and is sentenced to 10 years in prison can be out in just over 4 years. My biggest concern lies in the fact that people are rapidly losing faith in the judicial process as a whole. Law and order is largely consensual in this country. When trust in the system breaks down only chaos will follow.Tony Kerr JP
Wednesday, June 04, 2014
Amen to That
Tony Kerr is a former Chairman of the Sutton Bench. Last month he wrote to the Sunday Times' Camilla Cavendish about a piece she had written, and I think that his remarks deserve wider circulation.