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UK Home Secretary floats plan to give judges more power to increase sentences

[JURIST] UK Home Secretary John Reid [official profile] has advocated a range of criminal sentencing reforms for UK courts in a consultation paper [text, PDF] released Thursday that accords judges greater discretion to increase sentences for dangerous criminals and advises judges to explicitly state the minimum and maximum sentences for defendants. The paper, entitled "Making Sentencing Clearer," suggests judges use language styled after that of US courts, where judges announce a range of time periods, such as 10 to 20 years, which represent the minimum and maximum punishment under the sentence and indicate that paroled prisoners could be returned for violating the terms of release. Reid also supports several measures that would lead to stiffer penalties for dangerous crimes, such as the addition of years for public confidence crimes, and the elimination of automatic halving of sentences. The recommendation to refrain from imposing jail time on non-violent offenders is aimed in part at reducing the number of inmates in the UK's overcrowded prison system. The paper also encourages judges to impose fines on less-serious non-violent offenders in lieu of imprisonment. While community penalties, such as curfew, are to be discouraged for low-level offenders to fight sentence inflation, they are to be increased for mid-level offenders who currently face jail time.

Debate over sentencing reform emerged as a political issue in Britain earlier this year after a judge contended that a child molester who received a life sentence [Sky News report] for abusing a three-year-old child would be eligible for parole as soon as 2012 under the Criminal Justice Act of 2003 [text]. UK Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer said afterwards that judges were not to be blamed over the sentencing issue [JURIST report], but that "the problem is with the sentencing framework." The Guardian has more.

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