Home > A smarter approach? Sentencing and politics in England and Wales.

Bowen, Phil (2021) A smarter approach? Sentencing and politics in England and Wales. Irish Probation Journal, 18, pp. 78-90.

PDF (Irish Probation Journal issue 18)

External website: http://www.probation.ie/EN/PB/sectionpage?readform

On 15 March 2021, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (‘the Bill’) was introduced into the House of Commons. This was the same day that Members of Parliament debated the police’s handling of the Clapham Common vigil or Sarah Everard who had vanished on 3 March and whose body was found a week later in distant woodland (Siddique, 2021). It was a time when unity of purpose and concerted cross-bench collaboration were required. Instead, we witnessed political division and posturing. The Home Secretary, the Rt Hon. Priti Patel MP, accused Labour of being soft on crime — saying that opposing the Government’s whole Bill at second reading was tantamount to opposing measures that would ensure that ‘vile criminals responsible for [rape] will spend at least two thirds of their time behind bars’ (Hansard HC, 2021). As a riposte, Sir Keir Starmer MP, leader of the Opposition (and a former Director of Public Prosecutions), tweeted out that the Bill meant: ‘Attacking a statue = 10 years in prison; Rape sentences = 5 years in prison’ (Starmer, 2021) It was yet another opportunity wasted, in a long tradition of missed opportunities. As the Bill has progressed through the House of Commons, the two main parties remain locked in what has become the familiar and default political argument when it comes to sentencing policy in England and Wales. This argument, apparently the only real game in town, is to try and ‘out-tough’ each other in a predictable and reductive game of high-stakes poker: ‘10 years for attacking a statue.’ ‘I see you and raise you “Whole Life sentences for abduction and murder of a stranger”.’ This paper discusses the challenges and opportunities of the  Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill against the backdrop of legislative and policy changes in sentencing over the last three decades.

Item Type
Publication Type
International, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Crime prevention, Policy
November 2021
Page Range
pp. 78-90
The Probation Service & Probation Board for Northern Ireland

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