I note that Mr Major says the courts must have 'the powers they need' and 'in particular . . . new powers to take persistent young offenders off the streets'.
The Criminal Justice Act, which came into force in October 1992, has the opposite effect. Didn't Mr Major and his cabinet colleagues realise that when they pushed it through Parliament?
According to a Home Office guide on the Criminal Justice Act, Custodial Sentences and the Sentencing Framework, published in December 1991, the general sentencing principles of the Act are as follows:
1 'The sentence . . . should reflect primarily the seriousness of the offence. While factors such as preventing crime, or the rehabilitation of the offender remain important . . . they should not lead to a heavier penalty in an individual case.'
2 The second principle is that offences against the person be dealt with more seriously than property offences.
3 The Act does not allow an offence to be regarded as more serious simply because the offender has a previous record or because he or she has continued to commit offences in spite of having been given community or custodial sentences in the past.
The Home Office document makes it quite clear that the offender's previous record is only relevant to the sentencing decision 'in limited circumstances'.
This Act has resulted in fewer criminals being charged by the police, as they feel that they are wasting their time in view of the courts' more restrictive powers. More criminals are being cautioned and no doubt the crime rate will soar rapidly as a result.
Magistrates feel they have less power to deal with criminals, even those who are 'persistent young offenders'. The Home Office guidelines say: 'Where the court is dealing with an offender who has committed a large number of offences, none of which is in itself serious enough to justify a custodial sentence, it will not be open to the court to aggregate them to justify a custodial sentence'.
Mr Major appears to be saying something in February 1993 which is totally contrary to an Act which his government passed in 1991. Where was he when the Bill was being discussed and passed in the House of Commons? Why did he not make these comments then?
J. P. HORAN