Straw adopts Tories' tough sentences

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The Independent Online
Criminals serving sentences in the community or on probation could be banned from taking foreign holidays, under government proposals announced yesterday. Convicted offenders, including fine defaulters, could also be banned from driving and child criminals can be "named and shamed", in a series of tough sentencing plans.

The wide-ranging reforms to the criminal justice system, most of which had been proposed by the previous Conservative government, are aimed at producing swifter and tougher sentences and reducing the burgeoning prison numbers.

In a further attempt to ensure that a community sentence is not seen as a soft option, the Home Office is considering whether some offenders who receive a non-custodial punishment or are being supervised on release from jail should have their passports withdrawn - thereby preventing them going on holiday or absconding.

Probation officers yesterday questioned whether this would be enforceable with the relaxed border controls in Europe and stressed there was no evidence to suggest that there was a problem with offenders absconding abroad.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, yesterday also announced that next year pilot schemes will be introduced to test new penalties in which offenders of any crime, including non payment of fines, could have their driving licence removed.

He also proposes to extend the use of electronic tags to include juvenile offenders, people on bail awaiting trail and fine defaulters for the first time. The three current pilot "house arrest" schemes in Norfolk, Manchester and Berkshire are to be doubled to include Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Middlesex, and West Yorkshire.

Mr Straw agreed to implement most of the provisions of the Crime (Sentences) Act, which was passed by the Tory government shortly before it lost power. Penal reformers and, privately, some Labour MPs, were surprised at the extent to which Mr Straw has adopted previous Conservative policies.

Proposals to remove a defendant's automatic right to a jury trial have not been ruled out. Mr Straw said that further consultation would take place.

The crackdown

The main proposed changes to the criminal justice system announced yesterday include:

Juvenile offenders aged 10 to 17 can be "named and shamed".

Criminals of all offences, including fine defaulters, can be banned from driving.

Offenders serving community sentences and on probation can have their passports confiscated to stop them going abroad.

A pilot scheme testing electronic tagging of offenders is to be doubled and to include juveniles, petty offenders and people awaiting trial.

Tough new automatic sentences for repeat sex and violent offenders and drug traffickers.

Removal of defendants' right to jury trial being reviewed.

New sentencing guidelines and courts to explain how long people will actually stay in jail.

Swifter court procedures and time limits for cases.