Lord Phillips, the Lord Chief Justice, believes that some prisoners are serving too long in jail. He even fears that some, who are sentenced to life imprisonment, might actually have to spend their entire lives in prison. The horror!
In particular, his Lordship objects to certain provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, imposing mandatory minimum sentences for certain offences, and to recent proposals by the Law Commission, recommending that, in effect, some offences currently classified as manslaughter be redesignated under the American classification of "second degree murder".
This is not the first time our senior judiciary have claimed that criminals are spending too long in prison. Lord Woolf, predecessor to Lord Phillips, harped on the theme constantly. I once met Lord Walker, one of the Law Lords, and asked him about this. He appeared to believe that five years was an adequate term for killing someone.
When parliament, in gross error, abolished the death penalty in 1965, they replaced it with a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment for murder. This mandatory sentence still stands, but it has become little more than an empty formality. Largely through the actions of senior judges, like Lord Phillips, the actual jail term served has fallen, from an original 25 year tariff to 15 years, and now ten years, with some murderers actually serving less than that. Politicians have aided and abetted the judiciary in this. Indeed, the possibility of abolishing prison altogether was recently mooted by the disgraced former Lib Dem Home Affairs spokesman, Mark Oaten.
One of the common refrains from liberals, repeated by Lord Phillips today, is that prison is too full. I'm not sure I agree with that - there must surely be more room for prisoners in there. Perhaps if they moved some of the TVs and playstations out of the way that'd free up some space. Or, they could adopt my policy: bring back hanging! Hang murderers, rapists, the worst paedophiles, traitors, and career criminals. I wonder how long it will be until the liberals adopt my, obviously very progressive, policy?
Of course, Mark Oaten's policies look more likely than mine to be put into practice, in the present climate. And I'm more likely to get lynched by liberals for the crime of "intolerance", than any murderer is to be hanged.
Update: I've just remembered that Michael Cadwallader recently published a piece on the criminal justice system, including the topic of sentencing. It's quite a long read, but worth it.