Sunday, June 18, 2006

Politicians v Judges

As I read through my newsreader (not a newspaper but a newsreader) this morning I came across an article published in the Observer with the headline: Back off, chief judge tells politicians. This is possibly the first article that I have read in the media this week that has not tried to sensationalise the current Politicians v Judges row. This article gives a good insight in to the fact that the whole farcical legal system that we have been left with at present is as a direct result of New Labour's meddling with the legal system.

The media is currently having a field day with the case of Craig Sweeny the person convicted of various offences under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, and who the media has deemed to have received a low sentence. Craig Sweeny was in fact the case that started the row between the Home Secretary and the Attorney General, and in turn has been the catalyst for the Politicians v Judges row.

The media has suggested that the Government is now considering a review of sentencing laws. The current New Labour sentencing laws are already unworkable and as such they have been put on the statute book, but their implementation has been delayed because currently the 'system' could not cope with the logistics that the new 'custody plus' sentencing scheme demands. It was anticipated that the provisions in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 that relate to the new sentence of custody plus would be implemented in November 2006 but now a written answer by Gerry Sutcliffe MP has suggested that custody plus cannot be implemented at this time:
Mr. Malins: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects the custody plus provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to be introduced.

Mr. Sutcliffe: While continuing to work towards an implementation date of Autumn 2006 for Custody Plus, the Government would not implement such an important sentence unless it was satisfied that the National Offender Management Service could cope with the additional work. The issue of capacity to implement this fully and effectively is being considered.

There is currently a crisis within the National Offender Management Service (aka The Probation Service) because the National Offender Management Service is currently well understaffed. Gerry Sutcliffe MP has failed to mention that the prison system is nearly full:
The chief inspector of prisons has warned that BritainĂ‚’s overcrowded jails are close to putting up '“house full'” notices and having to turn away newly convicted criminals.

Anne Owers said that with fewer than 1,800 places left from a total of 79,500, prisons could soon '“hit the buffers' and be unable to take any more offenders.

With thousands held in overcrowded conditions, including three to a cell, a further 1,800 would put the system in breach of health and safety laws. If present trends continue it would reach breaking point by mid-September.

I am looking forward to seeing the government sort out this mess. The Judiciary have already stated that prison overcrowding is a point that can be considered when sentencing an offender. The government is not going to be able to build new prisons in the immediate future the deal with the crisis. The thing that really confuses me about this sentencing/Craig Sweeny issue is that New Labour decided that prisoners should be eligible for parole at the half way point of their sentence under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, and not the two thirds point of their sentence.

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