Falconer Defends Jail Row Ministers

Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer has denied that ministers were trying to interfere with judicial independence by dictating lower sentences to keep offenders out of jail. Home Secretary John Reid and Lord Falconer have come under fire after a judge who gave a paedophile a non-custodial sentence said he was bearing in mind their warning that the jails were full.

{mosimage}Shadow home secretary David Davis said ministers were putting the public at risk by pressurising judges not to do their jobs properly. Prisoners should be made to “double up” in jail cells or housed in prison ships and military camps rather than asking judges not to lock them up, he said.

Sentencing Derek Williams to a suspended jail term for downloading child pornography on Thursday, Judge John Rogers QC told Mold Crown Court that he had to bear in mind “the current sentencing climate” in the light of a letter sent to the judiciary by Mr Reid and Lord Falconer earlier this week. The statement reminded judges and magistrates of sentencing guidelines that jail should generally be reserved for dangerous and persistent criminals.

Mr Davis described the current situation as an “outrage” on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. The Home Office should “use whatever capacity it can get – disused military camps, prison ships, whatever you need to do, even doubling up in prisons – in order to ensure that people are not put at risk”, said Mr Davis.

Lord Falconer said the ministers’ statement did not change the principles of sentencing, but merely reminded judges and magistrates of existing legislation and guidelines calling on them to use community sentences where it will not put the public at risk.

“It was intended to set out what the context was, but I would like to make it clear that it is for judges to decide in accordance with existing guidelines,” he told Today.

“The guidelines remain the basis upon which the judges sentence. If those guidelines give them a choice – custodial or non-custodial – then inevitably, the fact that the prisons are near capacity could have an effect.”