Chris Grayling is the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice
The irony wasn’t lost on me when I looked at the front page of the Daily Telegraph yesterday – a story in which Sadiq Khan, Labour’s Shadow Justice Spokesman, was expressing outrage at the sentences being given to some offenders, and complaining that the justice system was too soft.
This was the very system that we inherited from Labour, which they presided over for more than a decade. If they were so worried about it, why didn’t they act then? Quite to the contrary, under their watch, they let thousands of prisoners out of prison early because they hadn’t provided enough prison places, they let thousands of offenders off with a slap on the wrist caution instead of a proper punishment, and they – to add insult to injury – failed to get any money from prisoners’ earnings for their victims.
The offences being put about need to be looked at in context. The categories of offences are a very big umbrella, so whilst it suited Labour to run a bit of scaremongering, the truth is that each category covers offences from the relatively minor to the potentially relatively serious. This is why a judge has the leeway to decide, for example that if two teenage boys who’ve never been in trouble before get into a bit of a dust up in the pub, it’s more appropriate to give them a community sentence rather than sending them straight off to prison.
I’m not complacent – I’ve said there are other areas where I want punishments to be tougher, and I know that’s what the public want too. But let’s be clear about it; under this Government offenders are more likely to go to prison and for longer. Sentences are getting tougher – indeed the average sentence length for sexual offences is now almost a year longer than it was in 2008 under the previous administration. We’re ending automatic early release for the most dangerous offenders. I’ve stopped the frankly ludicrous situation where you could just get a simple caution for the most serious offences like rape and robbery, and I’ve made sure that now there’s a mandatory punishment in every community sentence.
We’ve also set out how we’re going to change the way we rehabilitate offenders, to get them away from a life of crime, and keep them away from it. If we want to stop there being more victims of crime we’ve got to do something about the reoffending rates in this country, which have been static for a decade. If we don’t change the way we deal with offenders, those rates aren’t going to change either.
I want people to have faith in our criminal justice system, and I want them to know that people are punished quickly, effectively and properly. And whilst there is a Conservative Justice Secretary rather than a Labour one, that is what will happen.
Yes, our system favours the established parties. But it is not invulnerable to change. This could be the start of a breakthrough.
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