Violent criminals and rapists will be given automatic life sentences when they are found guilty of their second offences, Chris Grayling announced today as he vowed to be a “tough Justice Secretary”.
He marked a decisive break with his predecessor, Kenneth Clarke, by also promising to toughen up community sentences and mocking our “out-of-control human rights culture”.
The new “two strikes and you’re out” sanction for the most serious repeat offenders is set to come into force within months.
Mr Grayling told the Tory conference: “Everyone deserves a second chance. But those who commit the most serious offences, crimes that would attract a sentence of 10 or more years, cannot be allowed to just go on and on causing harm, distress and injury. Those people are a real threat to our society, and we must treat them as such.”
The idea was first mooted by David Cameron last year as Mr Clarke faced growing pressure within the Tory Party over what was criticised as a liberal attitude towards sentencing policy.
The previous Justice Secretary had called for a “rehabilitation revolution” in jails and declared his determination to reduce the country’s prison population.
Mr Grayling signalled a more hard-line approach as he told activists: “I’ve made no bones about my intention to be a tough Justice Secretary. That means I want our justice system to be firm, fair and transparent, one in which the public can have confidence, a system that punishes offenders properly.”
He confirmed plans to strengthen the law to give greater protection to householders who attack intruders.
Mr Grayling promised to toughen community sentences to ensure “they deliver proper punishment”, telling the conference: “We will make sure there is a punitive element as part of every community order.”
Mr Grayling added: “We are also legislating to use more state-of-the-art technology to enforce curfews and exclusion zone. So, for example, we would be far better placed to know whether a paedophile has broken his order by hanging around.”
He said he wanted to see “more people who deserve it go to prison” – but he added that he also wanted to see far fewer coming back by tackling the root causes of offending, including drug use, mental illness and low educational standards.
He also launched a crowd-pleasing attack on the Human Rights Act, which had been defended by Mr Clarke.
The new Justice Secretary lambasted the Act, brought in by the Blair government, for being too heavily weighted towards criminals rather than victims.
He said: “It’s just crazy that people who are determined to attack our society are able to go back to the courts again and again and claim that it would infringe their human rights to send them back to the countries they come from.
“We know we cannot deal with this in the way we want while we are in coalition, but we cannot go on the way we are.”
Juliet Lyon, the director of the Prison Reform Trust, said last night: “The question remains whether the new justice secretary can secure prison as an effective place of last resort for serious and violent offenders or whether his tough line will propel numbers out of control at enormous social and economic cost.”
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, announced plans to give victims of anti-social behaviour the right to choose the punishment faced by their tormentors.
She said: “They'll be given a list of options. They might want something restorative or punitive. They might want it to be carried out nearby or as far away as possible. But what matters is that the punishment will be chosen by the victim. For too long, victims of crime have had no voice - but this government is giving victims back their voice.”