Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Sentencing and the Chief Justice

There has been a great deal of comment about the recent speech given by the Chief Justice on the topic of overflowing jails. What is curious is that the attacks are not on the common sense of her suggestions but suggesting that it was not proper for her to make suggestions of policy about criminal sentencing. The predictably shrill response from the Sensible Sentencing Trust and David Garrett, the spokesperson in Parliament, seem to overlook that she has effectively been chief executive officer of the bench for many years, and has a great deal of empirical evidence about the efficacy of various forms of sentencing. The Sensible Sentencing Trust on the other hand appears to have a ghastly unforgiving attitude that comes close to a totalitarian state such as North Korea. At one stage Russell Fairbrother, formerly a labour MP, suggested we needed a Really Sensible Sentencing Trust. The groups who work with prisoners such as the Salvation Army and the Howard League are rarely consulted by the media. I despair of the narrow and Draconian view of sentencing but do not expect that the sometimes lazy news media are prepared to look more deeply at why judges sentence in the way that they do. There does not seem to be any room for humanity or redemption.

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