Letter: Defaulters face brunt of law

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The Independent Online
NICK COHEN reports that courts may be acting unlawfully in jailing 22,000 fine defaulters a year ("Thousands of petty criminals imprisoned 'unlawfully' ", 28 January). This disturbing situation reflects a shameful lack of procedural safeguards.

Whereas most other imprisoned offenders are legally represented in court, jailed defaulters rarely have representation or access to legal aid. Courts must normally consider probation reports when passing custodial sentences - but not when imprisoning fine defaulters. Magistrates must give reasons for other prison sentences in line with specified criteria; there is no requirement in default cases.

Paul Cavadino

Chair, Penal Affairs Consortium, London SW9