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.
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


  1. Replies
    1. Well done to Mr Kerr for putting into words what most magistrates must be thinking. I have recently retired, with the sense of having left a sinking ship. It is not the fault of magistrates that the prisons are full; no-one is jailed unless they deserve to be. The latest wheeze by the Gumment to hike up fines is a joke, too. No-one ever gets fined the maximum now, let alone in the future, because they all come to court with made-up means forms and hard luck stories.

  2. I expect that Mr Tony Kerr JP will have received an official communication from the Lord Chancellor's dept by now !!!

  3. Err .. the issue is that people get sentenced for periods that bear no relation to the actual time served.
    It matters not to the likes of the" Daily Heil" that a life sentence means that a prisoner can be recalled at any time. The time reduced for guilty pleas etc is a huge mistake. The sentence should be the sentence and TIME ON for bad behaviour.

    .Then and only then will the public understand the sentence.

  4. all well and good but prisons are full, and will probably overload in August,, and education resources in prisons are under immense pressure as budgets reduce
    we need more spaces or improved ( which requires financial investment) probation and support "on the out" or will simply warehouse offenders for longer with more re offending spiraling out of control

  5. I can't remember the precise figures, but the prison population has more than doubled in comparatively recent years. This is not the result of an increase in crime (which is in fact falling), but is due to more people being jailed where they would not have received a custodial sentence in the past. Rigid sentencing 'guidelines' may or may not be a contributory factor, but the looming prisons crisis is largely down to too many people being jailed, possibly for too long in some cases.

    We must find ways of sending fewer people to prison. And we must find the necessary resources to provide education, vocational training, drink and drug rehabilitation and even psychiatric treatment in our prisons (although the last really ought not to be necessary if those whose conduct is attributable to mental illness were to be kept out of the CJS in the first place, as they should be).

  6. "This is not the result of an increase in crime (which is in fact falling)". Oh really, you believe the crime figures then? I don't.

  7. weekly prison numbers are here

  8. Yes, committee sentencing is the order of the day- everyone seems to be in on the act at the sentencing council. I cannot see what business anyone other than judges have for being a member of it.

    They have all become a bit over cooked and do take away discretion to do the right thing and practically speaking it is easier to go along with them than do anything that might be sensible , if not following the letter of the guidance.

    Until we crack down on unmeritorious appeals it will be furtile ground for lawyers.

  9. Prisons wouldn't be so full if we got rid of the foreigners: don't they take up something like 10K+? Just another reason to get out of the eu(rine).
    Oh, and let's hear it again: the eu keeps us safe, don't they, even though NATO predates it.

  10. Foreign prisoners are by no means all from the EU. Think of the many drug smugglers for a start.

  11. I didn't say they were, did I? So my valid point still stands: getting out of the eu would alleviate the problem nicely.

  12. many foreign prisoners have arrived here and destroyed their documents and are effectively stateless and so remain in prison over sentence for long periods, I have dealt with one recently 24 months over a short term sentence because his claimed country of origin did not recogise him and so would not authorise his emergency travel documents, there are UKBA staff working very hard to return FNL's but it is not as simple as supposed.

  13. It's easy to deal with those foreign prisoners who have destroyed their documents. Make a recording in over 200 languages with the following message:
    'If you do not reveal which country you are from, we will send you to one which we think is the most likely - or to which we will have to pay the least (preceded by an auction of countries who agree to take foreign prisoners for a sum). You may therefore end up in a country which will use you as slave labour, or worse. Your choice. You have 5 minutes.'
    Of course, those in authority who are DELIBERATELY out to destroy our country from within will do nothing of the sort, and thereby prove they are traitors (for it is more than this of course, but this is what traitors do).
    And for those liberals who think this abhorrent, step forward with your cheque book, credit/debit card, or bank details for DD and agree to PAY - indefinitely - for those foreigners to be retained in a British prison. Oh, and sign over your pension in case you ever stop paying volunteerily.


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