Tough justice?


Is the toughness promised by the new Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, about to take legislative form?

The House of Lords was due to spend a couple of days in October discussing the way community sentences operate as part of its detailed committee stage scrutiny of the Crime and Courts Bill - but no more. A holding clause, clause 23 on "community and other non-custodial sentencing of adults", was due to be fleshed out in good time for the debates in October, following consultation on what were billed as "radical reforms to the way in which sentences served in the community operate".

The plan was to give peers a general second reading-style debate on the new provisions, on 9 October, followed by detailed committee stage discussion on 22 October. All this is now cancelled, and the government is seeking to bring forward the Defamation Bill instead.

There are two possible reasons for the delay. Firstly, that drafting the new clauses has simply taken longer than expected. But the consultation closed in June, so there has been a fair amount of time to prepare them. Most Westminster-watchers are opting for another interpretation; that proposals which were acceptable to Ken Clarke are not tough enough for his successor, and that a furious process of redrafting is now under way.

The consultation focused on extending and reforming community sentences, including the use of curfews and tagging - but Mr Grayling is not keen on reducing the number of prison places, so maybe he's less keen on increasing the number of crimes for which community punishment is the default option. He has certainly made clear that he wants to rebuild public confidence in the courts, by showing that real punishments will be meted out. And he may also want to act on the recent report by the think tank, Policy Exchange, which found that tagging was being conducted expensively and inefficiently, and that the police should be given the opportunity to run tagging systems directly, rather than being required to contract it out to the private sector.

Incidentally, one of Mr Grayling's first acts in his new post was to commission a report on current knife crime laws - perhaps the fruits of that report may appear when the bill moves over to the Commons. MPs will hold their first debate on it in December - new clauses may be promised then and appear at committee stage, early in the new year.

Leaving aside the question of what Parliament will do for the next few months, given the gaping hole in the legislative programme left by the demise of Lords reform, I wonder how many other new ministers will be seeking to re-write live legislation.

One to watch is the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill from Vince Cable's BIS department - where intra-coalition tensions could appear clause by clause. This is the bill to create the UK Green Investment Bank, reshape employment law and replace the Competition Commission and the Office of Fair Trading with a new Competition and Markets Authority. Plenty there for Mr Cable and his new retinue of Tory junior ministers to tussle over.

Mark D'Arcy Article written by Mark D'Arcy Mark D'Arcy Parliamentary correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    I suppose one shouldn't be surprised to see the tories returning to type with a "hang 'em & flog 'em" approach to justice.Are we to assume the previous MoJ incumbent's attempt to save money has been shelved in favour of more prison time & the extra costs that'll bring?More interesting to watch will be whether the new minister "de-privatise's" the running of tagging systems - that would be a first!

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    There seems to be one law for the vast law abiding majority, another for criminals and a third for MP's. Chris Laws is a fraudster yet he's (quietly)back in Government. The whole political system is rotten from top to bottom. Now Abu Hamza is appealing again & his deportation has been stopped. What a way to run a Country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    It`s time governments stopped seeing unpaid community work as a punishment, yet at the same time promoting volunteer work as being worthy and "community spirited"
    Which one is it - a good deed or a punishment?
    If unpaid work is seen as a punishment that undermines the value of volunteers working for altruistic reasons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Close Tax avoidance loop holes, and all MPs who have frandulently claimed there expences to be locked up, not just the odd one or two. We are all in this together, there having a laugh arn't they.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Is Grayling going to provide codiciles for the protection of Tory Ministers who denigrate the Police and Tory Councillors who crack jokes about the killing of Officers.
    The Conservatives use the Law to protect the rich and powerful while we 'Plebs' have to live with the Austerity driven increase in crime their policies create.
    The Cuts and their consequences will hit hardest next April.


Comments 5 of 13



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