New offences, a clampdown on cautions and a hardline approach to sentencing paedophiles and terrorists are among a ‘tough package’ of measures outlined by the justice secretary Chris Grayling in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill.
The bill, introduced in the Commons, proposes a new offence of being unlawfully at large, punishing those who go on the run while serving the non-custodial element of a sentence with up to two years in prison.
Possession of explicit pornography that shows images depicting rape will become illegal. Currently the law bans only the publication of such material.
Four offences of juror misconduct are introduced. Researching details of a case, including any online research, sharing details of the research with other jurors, disclosing details of juror deliberation and engaging in other prohibited conduct - already offences under the Contempt of Court Act 1981 - will become specific offences.
Convicted criminals will be made to pay towards the cost of their court case and the running of the court system with the imposition of a charge at the point of conviction.
Automatic early release for terrorists and child rapists will be scrapped. Under the bill’s proposals, they will be released before the end of their custodial term at the discretion of the Independent Parole Board.
Alongside this, no offender receiving an extended determinate sentence will be released automatically two-thirds of the way into their custodial term. The Ministry of Justice states these two changes will affect about 500 offenders a year.
The maximum sentence for three terrorist offences - weapons training for terrorist purposes, other training for terrorism and making or possession of explosives - will be increased to a life sentence. Those convicted of a second very serious offence will face the ‘two strikes’ automatic life sentence.
The bill clamps down on the use of cautions for serious and repeat offenders. Police will no longer be able to give them for offences such as rape, possession of an offensive weapon, supplying class A drugs or sexual offences against children.
For less serious offences, a second caution will no longer be allowed for an offender who has committed the same or similar offence in a two-year period.
Single magistrates, rather than a bench of two or three, will be able to deal with more than three quarters of a million ‘low-level regulatory cases’, such as TV licence evasion and road tax evasion.
The bill also allows some summary-only, non-imprisonable offences to be dealt with by a single magistrate, supported by a legal adviser, out of the courtroom.
The rehabilitation of young offenders will be overhauled, with the introduction of ‘secure colleges’ putting ‘education at the heart of youth rehabilitation’. The first ‘pathfinder secure college’ will be opened in the East Midlands in 2017.
The bill also increases the maximum age at which people can serve on a jury from 70 to 75.
In separate measures announced today, Grayling continues his clampdown on judicial review, introducing measures to speed up cases and reduce the number of ‘meritless’ claims.
Grayling said: ‘My priority with these reforms is to deliver a tough package of sentencing measures to make sure offenders are punished properly and consistently, so that the law-abiding majority know that we’re making the changes needed to keep them and their families safe.
‘I also want to make sure we reduce the burden on hardworking taxpayers of the costs of running the courts.’
He said: ‘The public expects that serious and repeat criminals should be punished appropriately, and that those who are jailed should have to earn the right to be released early from prison.
‘It is only right that those offenders who break the law and try to avoid serving the entirety of their sentence by going on the run face additional punishment when they are caught.’