LETTER : Back to the 18th century with Howard's draconian penal code

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The Independent Online
Sir: If the Home Secretary believes that stiffer mandatory sentences for repeat offenders will have more than a negligible effect on the levels of serious crime he may be disappointed (report, 4 April). The "Bloody Code" of the 18th century - a haphazard collection of private members' Bills reflecting the conservative and unenlightened views on crime and punishment of the complacent landed gentry and the acquisitive nouveaux riches of the time - failed to reduce the amount of crime and disorder despite sanctioning the death sentence for over 200 crimes.

The desperate or disturbed were not discouraged by the noose so a longer prison sentence is unlikely to have such an effect. Rather it was juries who were in awe of the savage sanctions and were disinclined to convict, fearing the sentence would be disproportionate. However, with the National Lottery, unbridled greed amongst public figures and a widely derided and not fully accountable government, the Britain of the 1990s disturbingly resembles that of the 18th century.

Mark Traynor

Grantham, Lincolnshire