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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 February 2007, 18:40 GMT
MP criticises judge in bail row
Judge Graham Cottle
Judge Graham Cottle said there were "difficulties" in jailing people
An MP has accused a South West judge of playing politics after he blamed prison overcrowding for a decision to release a paedophile.

Judge Graham Cottle freed Keith Morris on bail after telling Exeter Crown Court that there were difficulties remanding people in custody.

Torbay Lib Dem MP Adrian Sanders told a debate at Westminster that he should not be making "political points".

Morris, 46, of Dartmoor, admitted four offences involving children.

The judge said in the case on 26 January that he had to release Morris on bail following a request by Home Secretary John Reid to judges and magistrates, asking them to imprison only the most dangerous and persistent criminals.

Adrian Sanders
A judge's first duty is to protect the public, not to make a political point
Adrian Sanders
Judge Cottle told Morris he faced a jail sentence and put him under a daytime curfew to protect children until sentencing on 23 February.

The debate in Westminster Hall on Tuesday was called by Teignbridge MP Richard Younger Ross, to discuss prison overcrowding.

Mr Sanders said: "This is not the first time that Judge Cottle has shot from the hip in the media in the South West of England.

"But this particular quotation of his has caused a great deal of consternation among my constituents who believe a judge's first duty is to protect the public, not to make a political point, important though that political point is."

In the case, Judge Cottle told Morris: "There are difficulties remanding people in custody at the moment and the only reason I am having any discussion about this is because of those difficulties.

"If this case had been here last week it would have been over by now and he would be in Exeter Prison."

'Judge not swayed'

The Judicial Communications Office said in response to Mr Sanders' comments that it was "extremely unfair and inaccurate for judges to be accused of 'playing politics' on the issue of sentencing and the prison population".

It said Judge Cottle's decision was "entirely consistent with sentencing principles and practice, and not swayed by any political consideration".

It added: "Judges have been reminded of their responsibility to consider whether it is necessary pending either trial or at sentencing stage to remand a defendant in custody.

"In many cases the nature of the offence means that a custodial sentence is inevitable - indeed in the case being referred to, the judge has made it clear that a custodial sentence will be handed down.

"The controversy has arisen over the release on bail - but under very strict curfew conditions, and after hearing evidence from the police officer on the case - of the defendant while pre-sentence reports are compiled."

Reid hits back in sentencing row
26 Jan 07 |  UK Politics
Resignation adds to Reid pressure
26 Jan 07 |  UK Politics

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