Reid: no more short sentences for guilty pleas

Judges to be given discretion over sentencing in 'rebalancing' of criminal justice system
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The Independent Online

Judges will no longer be forced to cut sentences by a third when an offender pleads guilty, under reforms to be unveiled this week.

John Reid, the Home Secretary, is expected to overturn existing guidelines which require courts to show leniency even with serious offenders.

Judges will now be allowed to exercise their own discretion, especially with sex offenders and rapists, as part of a radical "rebalancing" of the criminal justice system in favour of victims. This follows a spate of high-profile cases, including that of the paedophile Craig Sweeney who kidnapped a three-year-old girl from her home, where offenders have had their sentences slashed in return for admitting their guilt.

Whitehall sources said that although shortening sentences encouraged guilty pleas, there was concern that the system was now weighed in favour of criminals. "If you are caught bang to rights why should you get a reduced sentence for a guilty plea when you are not pleading guilty through compassion for a victim but because you have no case?" said a source.

There was a huge public outcry last month when the judge in the Sweeney case sentenced him to life imprisonment but ordered he could be considered for parole after five years.

Other criminal justice reforms include measures which are being drawn up to enable the Government to seize cash from reckless drivers and knife attackers whose victims end up being treated in hospital at huge cost to the taxpayer.

Dr Reid will also unveil his proposals for the restructuring of the Home Office in response to a series of blunders and scandals.