Criticism blights launch of new crime legislation: The Criminal Justice Act which comes into force today has been greeted with concern over ambiguities

ONCE HERALDED as the most forward-thinking legislation to emerge from the Home Office for years, the Criminal Justice Act comes into force today amid widespread criticism from those who must make it work and doubts over the Government's commitment to some of its key provisions.

Probation officers are to boycott parts of the Act in protest at a 'derisory' pay offer of 0.25 per cent - 50p a week - for the extra work it involves. And judges - including Lord Taylor, the Lord Chief Justice - magistrates and police officers have all voiced concerns over ambiguities and the legislation's impact.

Speaking at the Association of Chief Police Officers' autumn conference in Preston, Albert Pacey, chairman of its crime committee, warned that the Act could have 'an impact on crime levels' by increasing the number of offenders on parole who had to be supervised by an underfunded probation service.

There was also no efficient mechanism in place for the police to be kept updated on the identities of those released on parole.

Officers also expressed concerns about having to provide full details of convictions for courts rather than the brief list currently supplied by police. Despite Home Office assurances that they would not be swamped by new demands, Mr Pacey said: 'We cannot supply this kind of information at the moment.' More worrying for penal reformers is the Home Secretary's approach. In a change of mind, Kenneth Clarke has agreed to go on radio and defend the Act today, but sources say he is 'intellectually unconvinced' by parts of the legislation which he inherited from three previous Home Secretaries.

While its 'tough and tender' philosophy reflected the innovative approach of Douglas Hurd, both David Waddington and Kenneth Baker felt the need to talk up the tough side to appease the Tory law and order lobby.

Mr Clarke is likely to do the same when he faces the difficult task of selling the Act to next week's Conservative Party conference against a background of burgeoning crime. How will he be able to convince his grass roots, for example, that a recidivist offender should be kept from prison?

For the Act's twin-track approach could mean that jail is reserved for those committing the gravest crimes, while anyone guilty of minor offences - even if they have a long criminal record - should be supervised by the probation service or sent for treatment.

The Act also introduces new arrangements for the early release of prisoners, replacing the present parole provisions. All offenders will serve half their sentence, rather than applying for parole after a third of it. Remission will be abolished meaning that criminals can be sent back to jail if they offend after being released.

Maximum fines in magistrates' courts will be increased from pounds 2,000 to pounds 5,000, and will be linked to the offender's disposable income. Thus, the rich will pay more than the poor for similar offences.

Adding to fears that it could add pressures to families under the strain of unemployment and poverty, parents are liable to pay financial penalties for crimes committed by their children.

The Act also requires courts to obtain social or medical reports on almost all offenders before prison sentences can be imposed. And it eases the strains on child witnesses by allowing them to give evidence via a video link.

It is a package that has encouraged reformers. Vivien Stern, the director of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, said it was a 'courageous attempt to inject greater coherence and principle into sentencing practice'.

But there are problems. In order for the policies to work, they need to be 'sold' to the judiciary and magistrates, according to Paul Cavadino, of Nacro. Reformers say this has not happened and, as a result, judges are worried about the Act. At a press conference on Tuesday, Lord Taylor said provisions in the Act that minimised the importance of previous convictions could give rise to public misgivings. He also highlighted concerns over the section which tells judges to ignore previous convictions while at the same time stating that a criminal history might be seen as an 'aggravating factor'.

However, to the relief of penal reformers, Lord Taylor said he wanted judges to take account of the new release arrangements. Thus, prison terms should be shorter since offenders will serve a higher proportion of their sentence. If the judiciary fails to heed his words the prison population - already one of Europe's highest - will increase by estimates of up to 1,500.

The action by probation officers will add to problems dogging the Act. Probation staff have contrasted Home Office statements saying that they are moving 'centre stage' with the 0.25 per cent offer. And in a recent ballot they voted by three to one to boycott much of the new work aimed at broadening punishment in the community, which will be difficult to implement without their co-operation.

The Home Office response has been tough, threatening to deduct 15 per cent from the salaries of any probation officers who do not co-operate. This is likely to lead to conflict at the beginning of an Act that was meant to foster better co-operation between the different groups operating the criminal justice system.

The Children's Society yesterday condemned courts in Wales for sending children as young as 14 to adult prisons, in spite of government plans to phase out child remands to prison.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
people
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Arts and Entertainment
The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit director Peter Jackson with his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
film
News
people
News
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
News
i100
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

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Analyst / Helpdesk Support Analyst

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is the UK's leading ...

The Jenrick Group: Finance Manager/Management Accountant

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: The Jenrick Group: Finance Manager/Manag...

Recruitment Genius: Manufacturing Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a rare opportunity for ...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'