Comment

We're restoring confidence in the justice system with smarter sentencing

No longer will rapists, terrorists or violent thugs be back on our streets after serving just half of their sentence in prison

Cabinet meeting.
Robert Buckland QC MP
Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice
Robert Buckland QC MP, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice: Judges will no longer have their hands tied and unable to give the most serious penalty of a life behind bars Credit: Eddie Mulholland/Eddie Mulholland

Since starting out as a criminal barrister thirty years ago it’s been clear to me that faith in the criminal justice system has been declining.

It is little wonder why.

Our prisons see too many petty criminals with alcohol and drug addictions endlessly moving from one short spell in prison to another.

But far worse – the past year has seen acts of terror return to our streets in Streatham and at Fishmonger’s Hall.

What struck me about those attacks – apart from the senseless and brutal nature of them – was the bravery of innocent bystanders and our emergency services.

They played their part in protecting the public where our sentencing laws had sadly failed them – having let dangerous terrorists back on our streets after serving just half their sentence in jail.

That is why readers of this publication will have seen a string of reforms announced by this Government over recent months – clamping down on terror offenders in particular – and culminating the Government outlining the most radical package of changes to sentencing laws in nearly 20 years.

No longer will rapists, terrorists or violent thugs be back on our streets after serving just half of their sentence in prison.

Instead they serve at least two-thirds behind bars before being released and then strictly monitored.

Judges will also no longer have their hands tied and unable to give the most serious penalty of a life behind bars for those aged 18 to 20 if the case demands it, like the Manchester Arena attacker.

However, crime comes in many different forms which is why we are going further to tackle some of the underlying reasons that drive offending.

Nearly three quarters of criminals have already committed at least one other crime – with reoffending leaving the taxpayer to stump up £18 billion a year.

We want to put an end to a system that sees low-level offenders with chaotic lifestyles, often driven by drug and alcohol problems or mental health issues, come in and out of short prison sentences.

Not by reducing the use of prison, but by cutting reoffending rates and ensuring the most vulnerable have access to treatment programmes for mental health, drug and alcohol issues.

Probation officers will be handed greater powers so they can force offenders to meet them and carry out further rehabilitation.

Community sentences will also become tougher, doubling the amount of time certain offenders can be subject to curfew restrictions to two years.

For many years it’s been clear to me that we need a smarter approach to sentencing – one that not only keeps the most dangerous criminals off our streets for longer but at the same time makes it easier for low-level offenders turn their backs on crime, find work and boost our economy.

That is why we will introduce laws to support ex-offenders in finding employment after prison.

For the first time, offenders who have served their time and stopped committing any form of crime will no longer have to disclose their offences to employers for the rest of their lives – a rule which unfairly prevents many ex-offenders from getting a job, paying taxes and contributing to society.

To be clear, this is being taken with public safety at its core: no one convicted of violent, sexual or terror related offences will benefit from this privilege while keeping existing safeguards in place to protect children and the vulnerable.

However, how can it be right that a 40-year-old person with one conviction when they were 18, who has served their time, cannot get a job despite living a life that is long since free of crime?

Our sentencing laws need to be better and to do this we are going to use smarter and more innovative technologies to cut crime.

Too many of us know the intimate sadness and anger that comes with being burgled or robbed.

These are two crimes with some of the highest levels of reoffending that we are determined to confront.

So, for the first time, when serial burglars and robbers are released from prison we will monitor their location round-the-clock with a GPS tag. If there is a burglary in a particular area, police and probation services can see if someone on a tag was near the scene of the crime and piece evidence together.

For ‘third strike’ burglars, we want to make it less likely that courts will offer anything less than a minimum three-year sentence – protecting victims from this cycle of offending.

For too long the public have been failed by a system that lets out dangerous criminals too early while trapping others in a life of low-level crime.

This Government is putting an end to that – with smarter sentencing protecting the public as part of a justice system they can finally have confidence in.

Robert Buckland is the Secretary of State for Justice, and Lord Chancellor since 2019