Gales View - 21st August 2013
If the Justice minister gets his way then the Government will be bringing forward measures that may go some way towards restoring confidence in a criminal justice system that has taken too many knocks in recent years.
I would not seek to pretend that I have been inundated with complaints from the victims of crime who feel that their tormentor or assailant has been let off too lightly but as a constituency Member of Parliament I certainly have, on my books, several people who are aggrieved that someone who has assaulted them, burgled their home or taken a car has been allowed to walk free with little more than a slap on the wrist instead of suffering the shame and inconvenience of being taken before the Courts.
Much of this has to do with the increase in constabulary power to issue a caution” rather than refer a case to the Crown Prosecution service. Clearly, a caution has its place, particularly for first-time offenders who have committed very minor misdemeanours but the danger has always been that in order to avoid the paperwork and bureaucracy that sending an accused person before the Magistrates involves, and to also ease congestion in the courts, the soft option has been the over-use of the caution. Not only minor offences but some quite serious matter, such as sexual assault, have on occasions been dealt with by caution to the intense grievance of a victim who has already suffered.
To grant to a victim the right to ask for Magistrates to consider a matter where a caution, which is of course in itself a criminal conviction, may concentrate minds of both the perpetrators of crime and those, particularly the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, responsible for law enforcement. The fact that during the last twelve months more than two hundred thousand perpetrators of crime received cautions instead of court appearances and potential custodial sentences suggests that the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of leniency.
If, though, any such alteration is to work then the Magistrates courts are going to have to be given greater powers to act individually as well as as a bench and also to impose longer sentences than is currently the case. There are too many cases referred to the Crown court, costing time and money, only for a judge to hand out a sentence no greater than that would have been dished out by Magistrates and it really cannot be necessary, can it, for a Bench of three people to hear guilty pleas for motoring offences where one person could do the job?
If Damian Green, who is the responsible Minister, can inject some common sense and real justice back into the system then he may just reverse a tide that for too long has been flowing in the wrong direction.