Alongside its newly published Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, the Government has announced a review of what the civil and human rights campaign Liberty calls "Orwellian" indefinite periods of imprisonment under the Criminal Justice Act 2003.
These sentences require courts to predict future risk rather than to assess past offending. Liberty claims they create an indefinite sentence (which could amount to life) for offences which might otherwise have warranted a tariff of as little as two years in prison.
In doing so, they depart from the common law principle of proportionate punishment for matters proven on evidence in court. LIberty says this "legal limbo" undermines rehabilitation, inflates prison numbers and undermines legal certainty and respect for the Criminal Justice System.
Isabella Sankey, Policy Director of Liberty said: “We welcome the Government’s review of dishonest and destructive indeterminate sentencing which serves neither the rehabilitation of offenders or public trust in the law. It is an old principle of British justice that the punishment should fit the crime. This is how criminal deterrence, offender education and public protection are best served.”
Liberty considers the positive draft measures in the Bill to include:
* General simplification of sentencing.
* Removal of remand for prisoners who are unlikely to receive a custodial sentence after trial.
* Treating 17-year-old remand prisoners as minors rather than adults.
However the organisation expressed concern about other measures which include:
* 'Tough sounding' community sentences (eg lengthy curfews with tagging) which it says may not serve public protection, community payback or individual rehabilitation.
* Passing sentencing decisions to non-judicial authorities.