Magistrates 'should lose power to jail offenders'

MAGISTRATES should lose the power to send people to prison because of their erratic sentencing practices, according to civil liberties campaigners.

A study of magistrates' courts - which deal with 90 per cent of all criminal cases - by the National Council for Civil Liberties reveals 'gross variations' around the country in the way they deal with offenders.

The research found, for example, that in 1990 South Tameside bench in Manchester sent about one in five of the adult male offenders who appeared before it to prison - compared to the national average of one in twenty. Five benches did not imprison anyone. As an area, offenders in Devon and Cornwall are far more likely to go to jail (7.27 per cent) rather than, say, in Dyfed Powis (2.9 per cent).

The report, Unequal before the Law, concludes that the disparity could have a major impact on the prison population. If during the 1980s all courts employed the sentencing practices of South Tameside, 283,561 men would have been jailed. If it was the Mid- Worcestershire practice, 24,340. In reality the figure was 121,700.

The report says that there is no statistical correlation between rates of crime and use of prison in specific areas.

'If law and order can be maintained adequately in Shepton Mallet without sending anyone to prison, why does South Tameside send almost a fifth of a similarly sized population of offenders to prison?' the report asks.

It notes that over the years magistrates have used prison as a punishment less and have also been giving shorter sentences. In 1990 on average magistrates handed out sentences of 2.6 months. From 1988 onwards there have been a small but growing number of benches not imprisoning anyone. The new Criminal Justice Act introduced this month should result in a further decline.

The report says: 'The classic justification for imprisonment includes just desserts, the protection of society and reform. If these men only 'deserve' a few weeks in prison, might they not be thought to deserve something that happens in the community instead? Equally, society is not greatly protected by an offender's absence for so short a period. And hardly anyone would claim that rehabilitation is taking place in the police stations and local prisons where many short sentences are currently being served.'

John Wadham, legal officer of Liberty, said yesterday: 'Such blatant examples of injustice lead us to conclude that the power of magistrates to imprison should be abolished. At the very least there needs to be a judicial inquiry into the inequalities of sentencing between courts and additional training and guidance to those benches which regularly exceed the national average by 50 per cent or more.'

----------------------------------------------------------------- PETTY SESSIONAL DIVISIONS 1990 ----------------------------------------------------------------- Percentage of males 21 and over sent straight to prison. Top 10 imprisoners: South Tameside 17.44 Clerkenwell 15.39 Hastings 15.30 Exeter 13.22 Plymouth 11.66 Folkestone and Hythe 11.46 Ashton-under-Lyne 10.78 Stourbridge 10.58 Maidstone 10.04 Tower Bridge 9.82 Bottom 10 imprisoners: Barnet 1.03 Lliw Valley 0.88 Maidenhead 0.85 Yeovil 0.81 Houghton-le-Spring 0.49 North Anglesey 0 Mold 0 Shepton Mallet 0 East Retford 0 Eastleigh 0 -----------------------------------------------------------------

Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate Pricing Analyst - 6 months / 1 year analytical experience

£20000 - £25000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Trainee Helpdesk Analyst / 1st Line Application Support Analyst

£18000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Senior Management Accountant

£40000 - £46000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: Global publishing and digital bu...

Year 2 Teachers needed for day to day supply

£110 - £130 per day + Competitve rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Yea...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits