|Crown Court at Liverpool|
These responses are well worth reading completely. The Circuit Judges wish to see a much simpler sentencing framework in a single Sentencing Act which might even have a fixed period of time (e.g. one Parliament) during which it cannot be amended. An interesting idea here but will it find favour with hyperactive politicians? The concept of "payment by results" (e.g. to providers of rehabilitation programmes) makes them "uneasy" and
they raise obvious questions about what will be deemed to be a satisfactory result and the risk that "providers" will only wish to deal with those offenders more likely to achieve a favourable outcome. There should be more flexibility given to offender managers as to whether to bring court proceedings for breaches of community orders. (Such discretion used to exist and there were instances of matters being allowed to drift too far before referral back to court). Also, the court should have a discretion in breach proceedings as to whether to make an order more onerous. (The Criminal Justice Act 2003 mandates that the order be made more onerous). Another point made is that offender managers must not be given punitive powers to deal with offenders extra-judicially.
The Circuit Judges make a good point about offenders who are released from prison on licence and then returned to prison because of re-offending. Any sentence for the new offence ought to begin when the original sentence ends - (para. 36 of the Circuit Judge response).
A power for the court to remand a person in custody rather than grant bail should remain even if the likely outcome is a community sentence (para. 38). "We are wholly opposed to the proposal that a Court should form a view whether a defendant might eventually receive a non custodial sentence and, having formed that view, be required to release that defendant on bail."
They are very concerned about the increasing use of out-of-court disposals for what they see as "truly criminal activities." Whilst they do not define that term it is clear that penalty notices for disorder and cautioning is being taken too far with conditional cautioning able to impose what is tantamount to a community sentence. The Judges see the use of penalty notices as likely to reduce the seriousness by which offending is viewed (para 66) and some offenders escape too lightly if a penalty notice is imposed (para 69). Conditional cautions give rise to great concern (para 72) and are an extra judicial process (para 74). The Judges are, rightly, against giving the Police power to impose a conditional caution (para 77)
The idea of "Neighbourhood Justice Panels" is basically condemned. "There is already in place a procedure for dealing with low level offending that is structured, properly recorded and understood. There are already many volunteers from local communities who play a meaningful part in the administration of justice in our Magistrates Courts. They devote their time to serving their local communities. They have proper training and support. They work in a structured setting applying local justice. They are, in reality, genuine Community Justice Panels working within the criminal justice system. There is absolutely no need to experiment with an untrained, unsupported and largely informal substitute." In making this comment, the judges picked up on a rather worrying point about how the Neighbourhood Justice question was phrased in the green paper. Q.56 - "What sort of offences and offenders should Neighbourhood Justice Panels deal with and how could those panels complement existing criminal justice processes? The judges commented - "It is unfortunate that the question is framed in a way that suggests that a fundamental and, in our view, wholly inappropriate and unwise decision has already been taken. We trust that is not so."
The Experts have spoken ... one hopes that the politicians will listen !!
Other posts: Judges critical of Clarke's proposals for sentencing reform .... Breaking the Cycle .... Green paper on Sentencing .... A jewel beyond price: the Magistracy of England and Wales.