The lord chancellor has promised a 'fundamental shift’ in the government’s approach to sentencing, which includes longer time in prison for violent and sexual offenders but also rehabilitation measures such as problem-solving courts.
The government’s proposals are outlined in a sentencing white paper, which will be unveiled by Robert Buckland at an event hosted by the Centre for Social Justice today.
Tougher measures include whole life orders for child killers, new powers to halt the automatic release of offenders who pose a terrorist threat, and ending the halfway release of offenders sentenced to between four and seven years in prison for serious crimes.
However, the government will also pilot problem-solving courts in up to five courts, tougher community sentences, and greater use of electronic tags.
Buckland said: ‘For too long our justice system has been beset by complex and confusing laws which the public often feel fail in their most essential aims – to keep them safe and properly punish offenders. That ends today. This white paper is the first step in a fundamental shift in our approach to sentencing, towards one that is fairer, smarter and ultimately better protects the public.
‘Our measures will ensure the most serious violent and sexual offenders get the prison time they deserve, while new community interventions and changes to rules around criminal records will help boost rehabilitation and cut reoffending – which means creating fewer victims.’
The Magistrates’ Association welcomed the focus on problem-solving courts. John Bache, national chair, said: ‘A third of people on a community sentence report having mental health issues or a drug addiction. Yet less than 1% of community sentences include mental health treatment and only 6% include drug treatment, as these services are simply not available in many areas.
‘This has to change if we want community sentences to be effective in helping offenders to turn their lives around, and on these issues this White Paper is certainly a positive step in the right direction.’
Unlock, which has campaigned for criminal records reform, welcomed proposals to reduce disclosure periods. However, co-director Christopher Stacey said around two-thirds of the 8,000 people every year who receive sentences of over four years would be excluded from the proposals.
Stacey said: ‘The risk of reoffending is consistently lower for those who have served longer sentences, and data on reoffending by index offence shows sexual and violent offences have lower rates of reoffending than many other categories. Exclusions by offence type risk creating unfairness and anomalies at the margins, further entrenching racial injustice and embedding the idea that some people are inherently incapable of rehabilitation. To genuinely support people striving to turn their lives around through work, all sentences of over four years should be capable of becoming ‘spent’ at some point.’
Shadow justice secretary David Lammy said it was ‘totally hypocritical of Boris Johnson to play tough on law and order in the same week that he ordered his MPs to vote to break the law’.
James Mulholland QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association, said the government needed to focus on the 'vital front and middle end - the charging and prosecution of reported crimes, and the swift and diligent handling of offences through the criminal courts'.