Concern over life terms extension
Around 2,500 dangerous criminals who would have been in jail in 20 years will have served their time and be free under Government plans to extend the use of US-style mandatory life sentences, new figures showe.
But Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke denied his plans to scrap the controversial indeterminate sentences for serious offences would release dangerous criminals onto the streets early.
He said he expected judges to hand down "tough" prison terms for those who would otherwise get indeterminate sentences, with no parole until they have served two-thirds of their term behind bars.
His plans to scrap indeterminate sentences for public protection (IPPs) and bring in mandatory life sentences for crimes other than murder for the first time will help to slow the rising prison population by 2,500 places by 2030, a Ministry of Justice (MoJ) impact assessment showed.
Instead of languishing in prison with no release date, 2,500 offenders will have served their time behind bars and have been released by then. In 2009, the last year for which figures are available, just 44 offenders serving indeterminate sentences were released, with six of these going on to commit another crime.
Judges would retain the discretion not to impose a mandatory sentence if it would be unjust to do so, he said, adding: "I find it difficult to imagine that anybody convicted of two such serious sexual and violent attacks wouldn't have been given life anyway."
The Justice Secretary denounced the indeterminate sentence, which has seen more than 6,500 offenders sent to jail without any fixed date for their release since being introduced by the previous Labour administration, as "a gross injustice, a stain on our system".
Victims' groups said the changes would help those who were attacked know what to expect, but magistrates and solicitors warned the "two strikes" approach would erode judges' discretion.
Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "American-style mandatory sentencing may sound tough but it is neither effective nor intelligent and has driven some states close to bankruptcy. Subject to good sentencing guidelines, what's wrong with allowing the courts to make sure that the sentence fits the crime?"
Desmond Hudson, chief executive of the Law Society, which represents solicitors, also urged Mr Clarke to think again, saying that expanding mandatory life sentences to more offences was not the way to replace indeterminate sentences.