Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 12 July 2014

Minister backs threat of prison

A legal expert is calling for prison sentences to be abolished for property offences such as theft and fraud

Habitual thieves who "blight" whole communities should have the threat of prison hanging over them, the justice minister has said.

Damian Green dismissed suggestions that thieves and fraudsters should be spared jail terms, saying it would send the wrong signal to criminals, the public and victims.

Mr Green's comments came after Professor Andrew Ashworth, Vinerian professor of English law at Oxford University, said prison should be reserved for the most serious crimes including those of a violent, threatening or sexual nature, even when offenders continually commit property offences.

Writing in a pamphlet for the Howard League for Penal Reform, Prof Ashworth said while prison should still be considered in cases of robbery, blackmail and burglary, its use is disproportionate for crimes that do not involve violence, threats or sexual assault.

Speaking in London's Canary Wharf after delivering a speech to magistrates about their role in the criminal justice system, Mr Green said: "I think that repeat offending, even non-violent theft, can be a huge problem for an individual family, for an individual victim and can often blight a whole community."

The minister added: "People who commit these crimes devastate lives and cause untold misery in our communities.

"This Government has no intention of changing the law to prevent judges sending them to prison. It is right they have the full range of sentencing options available to them."

Prof Ashworth's suggestion that prison sentences are disproportionate for "pure property offences", including theft, handling of stolen goods, criminal damage and fraud, have sparked anger from some quarters.

A spokesman for Victim Support said it would be difficult for the public to have confidence in community sentences if they knew re-offenders would be spared jail.

He said: "It is essential when passing sentence that judges and magistrates can take into account the full facts of the case - including the impact on the victim - not just the nature of the offence."

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