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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 July, 2004, 04:20 GMT 05:20 UK
Church to urge prison 'rethink'
Women's prison
The prison population continues to rise
The government's criminal justice policy is likely to come under scrutiny by the Church of England on Sunday.

Finding alternatives to prison terms are expected to be discussed by laity and the clergy at the General Synod meeting at York University.

Earlier this year the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams called for a fresh look at sentencing policy.

The Synod has already agreed that a couple will no longer have to live or worship in a parish to marry there.

Apologies offered

On Sunday the debate is expected to focus on the criminal justice system, clergy pay and missionaries.

In a House of Lords debate in March the Archbishop urged ministers to exercise "caution" in creating more criminal offences with jail sentences.

The UK's prison population stands at its highest in history at around 76,000.

The General Synod will discuss issues outlined in a report entitled "Rethinking sentencing: a contribution to the debate".

A leading former Home Office civil servant, prison governors, and a Lord Justice of Appeal have written the report for the Mission and Public Affairs Council.

In the preface to the report, The Bishop of Southwark, The Rt Rev Tom Butler, writes: "This report attempts to look behind the sound bites of politicians and the tabloids and bring to bear on this subject an informed and Christian contribution."

The report calls for more emphasis on restorative justice, which looks for alternatives to prison.

Offenders are dealt with outside of the courts if they agree to a form of reparation or apology.

Marriage changes

On Saturday the Church of England voted in favour of a measure that says that a bride and groom who want to marry in a certain church would only have to show a "demonstrable connection" to the parish.

And it rejected plans that would alter the way its clergy were disciplined over doctrine.

The marriage reforms will not be introduced until 2007 at the earliest.

Clerics voted down a proposal to create so-called "heresy courts" that would simplify the way allegations of misconduct by the clergy are dealt with.

Under the proposals, the courts, headed by bishops and advised by panels of theologians, would have heard cases where priests were alleged to have erred on doctrine, ritual or ceremonial matters.

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