» Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Asked what the Prime Minister’s feelings were about judges and lenient sentencing, and was it the fault of the judges or the politicians, and what was going to be done about it, the PMOS said that he was not going to comment on an individual case, as people would understand. Firstly, it was important to recognise that we did have an independent judicial system, and that it was free from political and other pressures. The Government believed that was a very important principle. Secondly, where there appeared to be a disconnect between the public’s common sense view of right and wrong and how it saw that reflected in judicial decisions, then it was right and proper for the Home Secretary to articulate that concern. That was why John Reid asked the Attorney General to consider this case. The Attorney General, as a matter of course, did consider such cases, and did so on the legal basis. It was therefore entirely proper that any decisions about whether to refer in cases such as this were made on due legal process.

The PMOS said that on the one hand, there was a proper legal process, and on the other hand, there was the responsibility to reflect the public’s concerns where it believed that there was a disconnect. On the matter of terms of "discounts" etc that applied for someone who pleaded guilty, the Attorney General had argued that there was a case for discounts as an incentive for defendants to plead guilty and recognise that in doing so, they were relieving victims of the ordeal of a trial. The Attorney General had also argued, however, that where defendants had been caught red-handed, or the evidence against them was overwhelming, they should not receive a heavy discount, especially in very serious cases. The Sentencing Guidelines Council (SGC) was now looking at this as a matter of urgency, and were consulting on the question.

Asked when did the Attorney General have insight into the fact about automatic heavy discounts, the PMOS said that this was something that was already underway before this case.

Asked what was John Reid’s interference if it was not to an extent political, the PMOS replied that what the Home Secretary was doing was quite rightly articulating when there was a public concern that there was a disconnect between the public’s view of the offences and the sentences that were being handed out to deal with that offence. It was entirely proper to do that.

Put that that was political interference, the PMOS said that it was not. Interference would suggest that the Home Secretary in some way was deciding what the result should be in individual cases, and he was not doing that. There was a due legal process which was then carried out independently of the Home Secretary, as he had no role in that process.

Asked in that case, why did the Prime Minister not express a "proper view", the PMOS replied that the Prime Minister had spoken often of the need in general to rebalance the system. We had not only spoken about it, but we had also taken action to ensure that victims’ voices and their interests were properly represented.

Put that there seemed to be a pattern of sentences that the public and also the Attorney General found disquietening, and what was the Prime Minister going to do about it, i.e. was there going to be an Act which clarified things, for example, the PMOS replied that if people looked at the list that was published on the FOI over the weekend, it showed precisely that there had been a series of cases where the Attorney General had appealed. That was why the Court of Appeal was there, and their decision in itself had, and continued, to set a framework for individual judges to reach decisions. The PMOS said that there was a self-righting process that was there within the system. In terms of concern about sentences, that was not, and we should not pretend that it was, a new phenomenon. Therefore, the Government continued to look to see if we needed to change the law, or was it matter of working with the SGC etc. The right approach would be adopted in each individual case.

Asked if it was the Prime Minister’s view that everything was ok, and the system could re-balance, or was it his view that it was not ok, and these cases were happening too often, and the public was not happy, and therefore something should change, the PMOS replied that the Prime Minister’s view was that we did need to right the balance more in favour of the victim. That was why we had taken legislation where necessary, and it was why the Prime Minister had publicly sent the message through the system. There was not a single thing that could be done, but rather, by a variety of measures that could be taken, which was the answer to this. That was why the Prime Minister had expressed his very firm view very publicly on a number of occasions. It was why the Home Secretary was right on this, and on other occasions, to express his view. Equally, we had to respect due legal process as well, and that was why we had an independent judiciary.

Asked if the Prime Minister thought that more needed to be done, the PMOS replied that the Prime Minister’s view was that this was a subject to which we needed to keep returning to ensure that the balance was right.

Asked if the Prime Minister agreed with the Attorney General that it was unhelpful for the Home Secretary to make comments, as it might jeopardise a case, the PMOS said that it was entirely right for the Home Secretary to articulate the concern that the public had on such occasions. It was also entirely right that the Attorney General took an independent decision free of political pressure. The two were not incompatible.

Put that the Attorney General thought that it might be seen by the courts as political interference, the PMOS said that again, the Home Secretary did not have a role in the process of decision whether to appeal a case or not. John Reid had a role in articulating public concern, but the actual process of deciding a case on legal grounds was not something that the Home Secretary was involved in.

Asked how did John Reid know the public would react as they had done, the PMOS said that the Home Secretary knew whenever the public were likely to be concerned about something.

Asked if that meant that John Reid was able to second guess the public, the PMOS replied that John Reid was very well aware of where there was likely to be public concern.

Asked if there was a review underway with the SGC, the PMOS said that there was a process of consultation going on in terms of why there should be less discount given out where defendants had been caught red-handed or the evidence against them was overwhelming, especially in very serious cases.

Asked if the Prime Minister agreed with the SGC, the PMOS replied that the Prime Minister believed that the SGC did the job they were employed to do.

Briefing took place at 15:00 | Search for related news

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