» Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Unduly Lenient Sentences

Asked if the Prime Minister was upset with the Attorney General for expressing his concerns about John Reid’s comments yesterday concerning sentencing, the PMOS said absolutely not. There were different roles within government and it was important not to confuse those roles. As he had said this morning, there was an independent judicial process within this country. That was something which we should not only recognise but also be very proud of. We had a judiciary which was not subject to political pressure or any other kind of pressure, which was something to value, treasure and be proud of. However whenever judicial decisions were taken that in some way seemed to be out of kilter with the public’s notions of what was right or wring then there were grounds for legitimate concern to be expressed. It was entirely appropriate that the Home Secretary articulated that concern. Equally however, it was a fact, and should remain a fact, that the Home Secretary was not personally involved in the judicial process which decided the outcomes of cases.

Asked therefore if it was right for the Attorney General to express concern about the Home Secretary’s remarks, the PMOS said that the Attorney General was right to repeat that the process, whereby he decided whether or not to refer cases to the Court of Appeal had to be an independent process based on legal argument and that was separate from the Home Secretary’s legitimate expression of concern whenever he believed that some decision had been out of kilter with common sense. Asked to confirm that there was no inference that the Prime Minister was displeased with the Attorney General, the PMOS said no. The Prime Minister believed that the Home Secretary and the Attorney General were both fulfilling their separate roles within government.

Asked to reconcile the desire to have the judiciary free from pressure with the pressure of the Home Secretary criticising their judgements, the PMOS said that the Home Secretary was not putting any pressure on the judiciary, he was articulating a concern about a disconnect between the public’s common sense view of right and wrong, and what it saw as judgements which were at variance with that. That did not translate into a role for the Home Secretary in reaching individual decisions. It was, first and foremost, for the Attorney General to decide to refer cases to the Court of Appeal, as he had done in the list of cases published last weekend under freedom of information. It was then for the Court of Appeal to reach decisions on each individual case.

Put to him that he was making the judiciary out to be completely immune to external pressure, the PMOS said that the entire point of an independent judiciary was that it could reach judgements without interference. Equally those judgements should be informed by a framework in which it reflected an overall sense of right and wrong. That was the way in which our judicial system worked. Put to him that John Reid was trying to influence the judiciary, the PMOS said no. The important point was that a judicial system should have the respect of the public at large. There shouldn’t be a disconnect between the judiciary and the public in terms of what they believed to be the appropriate punishment for individual offences. Different parts of the system would articulate their view on sentences, but the important thing was that there should be a consensus. Inevitably there would be differences of view but that was why we had the system we had.

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

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