Thursday, August 18, 2011

British PM backs 'unjust' sentences

Source: Press TV

British Prime Minister David Cameron has defended the severe sentences handed out to two people convicted over the recent unrest sparking outrage among politicians and legal experts.

Two Facebook users, the 20-year-old Jordan Blackshaw and the 22-year-old Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, both without criminal records, were sentenced to four years in prison for encouraging unrest on their pages.

“They decided in that court to send a tough sentence, send a tough message. I think it's very good that courts are able to do that,” Cameron said.

This comes as the sentences have drawn criticism by top lawyers and MPs.

Former chair of the Criminal Bar Association Paul Mendelle QC complained about arbitrary sentences saying “the idea the rulebook goes out the window strikes me as inherently unjust”.

The disproportionate nature of the rulings were further underlined by Andrew Neilson of Howard League for Penal Reform who said “a four-year sentence would normally be associated with offences such as holding someone up at knifepoint”.

Cameron and the legal system are also facing pressure from inside the coalition government as Liberal Democrats deputy leader Simon Hughes called for a “sympathetic” treatment of first-time offenders.

That echoed in the Lib Dem ranks in the Commons with David Ward describing the PM's proposals to withdraw offenders' benefits as “nuts” and fellow MP Tessa Munt saying it is “bonkers”.

There have been also warnings over the sentences by two of the most significant figures in the British legal establishment.

Former Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales, Lord Macdonald, warned there is a risk that courts suffer a “collective loss of proportion” over prison terms that lack “humanity or justice”.

His fellow Liberal Democrat peer who served as the former government independent advisor on terrorism strategy, Lord Carlile, said “just filing up the prisons” would not prevent future problems.

He also warned that the government seems to be encroaching upon the legal system undermining its independence.

"I don't think it's helpful for ministers to appear to be giving a steer to judges. The judges in criminal courts are mostly extremely experienced and well capable of making the decisions themselves.

Ministers should focus on securing the safety of the public," he said.

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