Magistrates reject riot criticisms
Monday 29 August 2011
Magistrates have rejected accusations from the leader of Britain's prison governors that there has been a "feeding frenzy" in sentencing after the recent riots.
Eoin McLennan-Murray, president of the Prison Governors Association (PGA), claimed that magistrates had lost all sense of proportion.
"It's like when you've got sharks and there's blood in the water and it's a feeding frenzy," he told The Independent on Sunday.
"There's a sentencing frenzy and we seem to have lost all sight of proportionality.
"It's appealing to the populist mentality, and that's not the best basis on which to sentence people. The norms of sentencing are being ignored."
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr McLennan-Murray said there had been a seven-fold increase in the use of remand.
He said this was putting pressure on prison places, adding: "This kind of speedy across-the-board justice probably means a number of people are dealt with unfairly."
But Magistrates' Association chairman John Thornhill said the claims were "unreasonable and unfounded".
He told Today it was "just not the case" that normal sentencing was being ignored.
"The sentencing guidelines are very clear. Let's remember that these are serious offences. In most cases people are charged with burglary and in some cases aggravated burglary," he said.
"In a very short period of time far more people - a seven-fold number - were arrested for seven-fold the amount of serious offences. So it would be expected we would have seven-fold sentencing."
He added the criticism of magistrates was "totally misdirected" because "the vast majority of sentences have been imposed by the professional judiciary, not by the lay magistrates".
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