Magistrates should be given greater flexibility when dealing with cases involving property crime, Labour MP and a former justice minister David Lammy said this week.
Lammy was speaking at the publication of his report Taking Its Toll: The regressive impact of property crime in Britain in London.
The London mayoral hopeful said politicians tend to tread lightly when talking about sentencing, as they ‘do not want to offend the judges’.
He called for more flexibility for magistrates and judges, so they could ‘intervene in ways they think appropriate’.
In his report, published by free-market thinktank Policy Exchange, Lammy says victims have little faith that offenders will be brought to justice, or that if they are brought before the courts, that they will receive an appropriate punishment.
‘Issues with sentencing mean the criminal justice system is not delivering justice. Chronic repeat offenders are treated in the same way as first-time offenders, receiving a caution or a low sentence such as a fine, conditional or absolute discharge in the majority of cases,' the report says.
‘Victims have little faith that offenders will either be brought to justice, or that if they are brought before the courts they will receive an appropriate punishment.’
Lammy says guidelines currently reflect the seriousness of handling stolen goods, but are not adequately followed in sentencing practice.
Magistrates and judges, he says, should be encouraged to follow official guidelines ‘that treat handling of stolen goods as deserving of a similar sentence to theft’.
Courts should be able to break the ‘caution-fine-offending cycle’ by increasing the sentence for repeat offending.
And magistrates should be given flexibility to enforce unpaid court fines. ‘Currently magistrates’ only recourse is to imprison an offender for six months for non-payment of a fine,’ Lammy says. ‘This recourse is disporortionate, meaning that usually no action is taken. This is a particular concern given half of fines go unpaid.’
A more ‘nuanced approach’ to tackling unpaid fines is needed, he argues, ’if they are to be an effective sentence’.