Sentencing reforms 'out of touch'
Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke's plans to limit the use of remand and reform controversial indeterminate sentences put cost-cutting before public protection, Labour has said.
Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said his party could not support the legislation and claimed ministers were "out of touch" with public concern over crime.
The plans leave a £140 million hole in the Ministry of Justice budget, with further uncosted proposals still to come, he said.
Mr Khan also hit out at the Bill's changes to the legal aid system, claiming the "poorest and most in need" were being hit hardest by the Government's cuts. Limiting the use of remand "undermines a vital tool judges and magistrates should have at their disposal", Mr Khan said.
He added that Labour will also "not accept plans that water down the protection given to the public by indeterminate sentences for public protection". "This Government is out of touch with public concerns on crime and justice," Mr Khan said.
Warning of "dire consequences for communities across the country", he said: "Their bid to cut costs and prison places seem to come before their duty to protect the public and support victims."
He also pointed to the opposition of Victims and Witnesses Commissioner Louise Casey, circuit judges and magistrates to the plans to rule out remanding defendants in custody who are unlikely to receive a prison sentence if convicted.
The move is expected to save up to 1,400 prison places and £40 million as the Government faces a prison population in England and Wales which stands just short of last October's record high of 85,495.
On the hole in the department's budget, largely the result of the Government's U-turn on halving sentences for offenders who plead guilty early, the Ministry of Justice said it was working with the Treasury to identify savings. There was "time to carefully consider various options across the whole of the Ministry of Justice budget, before we proceed", a spokesman said.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "Legal aid has expanded far beyond its original scope, and is available for a wide range of issues, many of which should not require any legal expertise to resolve. Our measures are designed to ensure that legal aid is targeted at the most serious cases and those who most need legal support."