Lord Taylor denounces Howard reforms

Crime debate: Minimum sentences idea based on 'flimsy evidence', warns Lord Chief Justice in final speech

"Never in the history of our criminal law have such far-reaching proposals been put forward on the strength of such flimsy and dubious evidence," the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Taylor of Gosforth, told peers yesterday.

Lord Taylor, who is retiring because he is suffering from cancer, used his final speech in the Upper House to warn of the "very grave consequences" if the Government enacted its plans for minimum sentences for repeat offenders.

He opened a debate in which the Home Secretary's White Paper, Protecting the Public, on minimum sentences for persistent burglars, drug dealers and rapists, was mauled - suggesting a rough passage in parliament for the legislation.

Lord Taylor said: "The shallow and untested figures in the White Paper do not describe fairly and clearly the problems the Government seeks to address - still less do they justify the radical 'solutions' it proposes."

In a blunt appeal to Michael Howard to think again, he said: "Quite simply, minimum sentences must involve a denial of justice. It cannot be right for sentences to be passed without regard to the gravity, frequency, consequences or other circumstances of the offending.

"To sentence a burglar automatically to a minimum of three years on a third conviction is to take no account of whether he is before the court for only three offences or 30, whether they involved sophisticated planning or drunken opportunism ...

"To impose a minimum sentence of seven years on those convicted for the third time of trafficking in prescribed drugs will simply fill our prisons with addicts who sell small quantities to support their own addiction."

He said the Government's "escape clause" - allowing the court to depart from the tariff in exceptional cases - would be the "worst of both worlds".

It subverted the function of the court, which was to sentence according to the justice of each individual case.

He mocked Mr Howard's claim yesterday that 207 out of 217 convictions for second serious violent or sexual offences in 1994 had not led to life sentences.

"Presumably, the Home Secretary thinks [the Attorney General] should have referred all 207 ... to the Court of Appeal as being unduly lenient. In fact he referred only six. The problem is, therefore, nothing like as great as the White Paper makes out," he said.

In debate, only one peer - Tory Baroness Rawlings - defended Mr Howard's plans as the House united to pay fulsome tribute to Lord Taylor, who will be succeeded today by Sir Thomas Bingham. Sir Thomas will in turn be succeeded as Master of the Rolls by the law lord Lord Woolf.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill, a QC on the Liberal Democrat front bench, told Lord Taylor: "You will be recognised by future generations as the greatest Lord Chief Justice of this century."

He claimed that Mr Howard's proposals would "not deter but would actually encourage crime".

Lord Taylor prompted Lord Williams of Mostyn, Labour's spokesman in the Lords, to attack the Home Secretary's plans more aggressively than Jack Straw, Labour's spokes-man in the Commons. "Sentencing in a civil society should be flexible," Lord Williams declared, describing minimum mandatory sentences as "a perversion of justice".

Lord Carr of Hadley, Conservative former Home Secretary, led a chorus of five Tory ex-Home Office ministers who joined senior judges and the opposition in demanding "very, very substantial alterations" to the White Paper.

Lord Belstead, who was also leader of the Tories in the Lords, Lord Windlesham, Lord Carlisle and Lord Elton agreed. Several of Mr Howard's proposals had direct American origins, Lord Windlesham said, and the United States was hardly the best place to look for well considered and effective criminal justice legislation.

He urged: "If we want to avoid the adverse consequences of similar policies introduced for similar reasons in the United States, I suggest to the Government that the voices of those who do have first-hand experience are listened to."

Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the Lord Chancellor, winding up the debate, also paid tribute to Lord Taylor, before delivering a low-key defence of the Home Secretary's position.

He said he admired the clarity of judgments and the courage Lord Taylor had shown over the last few "sad" weeks.

Lord Mackay said it was right that the Government should respond to public concern about crime.

Life and Style
life
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
News
Joan Rivers has reportedly been hospitalised after she stopped breathing during surgery
people81-year-old 'stopped breathing' during vocal chord surgery
Life and Style
Chen Mao recovers in BK Hospital, Seoul
health
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
One in six drivers cannot identify a single one of the main components found under the bonnet of an average car
motoringOne in six drivers can't carry out basic under-bonnet checks
Environment
environmentCrop pests are 'grave threat to global food security'
News
i100
Voices
Pupils educated at schools like Eton (pictured) are far more likely to succeed in politics and the judiciary, the report found
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash
tvSimon Cowell blasts BBC for breaking 'gentlemen's agreement' in scheduling war
Arts and Entertainment
Shady character: Jon Hamm as sports agent JB Bernstein in Million Dollar Arm
filmReview: Jon Hamm finally finds the right role on the big screen in Million Dollar Arm
News
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
people
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Sport
footballAnd Liverpool are happy despite drawing European champions
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Diana from the Great British Bake Off 2014
tvProducers confirm contestant left because of illness
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
tv
Life and Style
fashion

Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

English Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Secondary English Teacher - requ...

Science Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Calling all science teachers! Ra...

Technology Teacher - Food & Textiles

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Food Tech/Textiles Teacher We ...

Head of Marketing (Online & Offline, Media, Digital, Strategy)

£85000 - £100000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing - Slough, Berkshi...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone