Government U-turns on criminal justice pledge

U-turn on magistrates pledge
U-turn on magistrates pledge

By Adam Bienkov

The government has been accused of practicing "justice on the cheap" after they dropped a key manifesto pledge to give greater powers to magistrates.

Justice minister Damian Green claimed this week that handing magistrates further sentencing powers would raise costs and place "additional pressure on the prison population".

"For some the obvious way to keep more cases in magistrates’ courts will be to increase their custodial sentencing powers, and there is an attractive logic to this," Green told a conference of magistrates on Wednesday.

"However, there is also a risk that this could cause additional pressure on the prison population, because sentencing practices could change."

Green said that while they still agreed with magistrates on the principles of the proposal, they disagreed on the projected costs.

Labour today claimed that the government's policies were a "shambles".

"A cornerstone of the Tory manifesto at the last election was their promise to extend the power of magistrates to give longer sentences. Now this has now been quietly ditched just like promises on knife crime and transparent sentencing," Labour's shadow justice minister Sadiq Khan today.

"The government's sentencing priorities are a shambles - they are happy with cautions being handed out for serious and violent crimes, yet they backtrack on their plans to allow magistrates to give longer sentences. This really is justice on the cheap."

Conservative plans to extend sentencing powers remain strongly supported by magistrates.

Last year the Magistrates Association claimed that giving them extra sentencing powers would save the government £30 million to £40 million a year.

However Damian Green disagreed, telling delegates this week that "the more people you have in prison, the more expensive it is".

The government plans to hold a full consultation on the plans this autumn.


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