Letter: Justice in jeopardy

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Sir: The Government has announced in the Queen's Speech its intention to pilot a scheme whereby offenders who fail to comply with a community service order will have all or part of their benefit payments taken away.

A community service order is an order of the court. If that order is not obeyed, the proper course of action is to return the offender to court where s/he will be given an opportunity to answer the charge of breach and to explain the reasons for non-compliance. The court will then decide whether any action is necessary, and what that action should be.

An offender may be warned of the consequences of further failure to get to grips with the order, fined, sentenced to additional hours of work, or - where it is clear that there is a wilful refusal to comply - the order may be revoked and the individual resentenced, almost certainly to custody.

To encourage the probation service to conspire with social services to deprive offenders of the financial means of survival may be expedient, but it is not justice.

If this measure is deemed to succeed, shall we also see benefit withdrawn from those who drive whilst disqualified? Those who breach a curfew? Those who fail to surrender to their bail? Fine defaulters? Logically, there is absolutely no reason why further savings in court costs shouldn't be made in this way.

It is a fundamental principle that the criminal justice system carries out its duties impartially and independently of the executive. To allow the dispensation of "justice" to leak out of the court system to places in which it does not belong is a step which should be strenu-ously opposed.