Law Soc backs Taylor in sentence row

The Law Society has strongly supported the Lord Chief Justice's unprecedented attack on the Home Secretary's plans for tougher sentences for burglary and violent offences.

A spokesman criticised Home Secretary Michael Howard's move into the preserve of judicial discretion describing it as another step toward a “totalitarian State”.

Roger Ede, secretary of the society's criminal law committee, said the society fully backed the Lord Chief Justice Lord Taylor.

Ede said: “By removing the discretion of the judges, he [Howard] is saying that they can't be trusted and are not doing their job properly. The danger is, as the Lord Chief Justice says, that injustice will be done in certain cases.”

Lord Taylor was right that longer sentences would not deter criminals, said Ede, referring to Home Office research proving this. Lord Taylor's analysis that only higher detection and arrest rates would be effective, therefore requiring more police resources, is also correct, said Ede.

Howard's plan to extend mandatory sentences, currently applicable for murder, second violent or sexual convictions and third burglary convictions, “is a further step forward in turning the courts into a processing machine controlled by government,” he said.

The first step came in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 when judges' power to grant bail was slashed by reducing the categories of defendant eligible for bail. “We said that was the first step to a totalitarian State, by taking away the courts' discretion,” said Ede.

Howard's planned White Paper containing these proposals will be rejected by the Law Society, said Ede.