He was strongly critical of Home Secretary Michael Howard's proposals to increase sentences for repeat offenders, including mandatory life sentences for those convicted of serious offences for a third time.
Lord Donaldson said judges were "depressed" by changes in government policy in recent years which had see-sawed from one extreme to another.
The proposals in last week's White Paper would restrict judges' freedom to decide appropriate sentences, he said on Radio 5 Live's Sunday with Mair programme. "I think [judges] are very depressed at these rapid changes in policy ... The extremes to which Parliament has gone over the last six years are disturbing because the extreme policies can't both be right.
"In 1991, judges were told, contrary to all common sense, when they were sentencing people they could only take account of the previous two convictions. Now ... it's forecast they'll be told that they must look back at convictions that are spent miles and miles back, and in some cases they'll be forced to pass sentences they would no way have passed."Reuse content