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EDITIONS
Monday, 23 September, 2002, 11:10 GMT 12:10 UK
Call for tougher jail sentences
Simon Hughes
Hughes wants harsher treatment for violent criminals
Courts should be freed to deliver tougher sentences on those convicted of violent crimes, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes has said.

Mr Hughes, speaking at his party's conference in Brighton, acknowledged that his proposals were aimed in part at sweeping away the Liberal Democrats' reputation as soft on crime.


Defence of civil liberty and justice for all our community are not mutually exclusive but inseparable

Simon Hughes
He had signalled his plans last week in an interview with BBC News Online.

He said jail sentences should be reserved for violent criminals and those convicted of a handful of other serious offences.

He said judges should be able to work on the presumption that all serious violence offences should lead to a jail sentence.

But he said that alongside this approach there should be a presumption that non-violent offenders would not receive custodial sentences.

He said: "Cheque fraud may be wrong, but it is not in the same league as stabbing somebody.

Threat

"It is time for Liberal Democrats to prioritise policies and campaign against violence."

He said only a handful of non-violent crimes should result in jail sentences, such as those involving the selling of hard drugs, child pornography and intimidating witnesses in a trial.

He said Labour home secretaries Jack Straw and David Blunkett had tended towards authoritarianism and threatened fundamental civil liberties.

Policies were "drawn up in six hours, debated for six days and lasting for six months", he said.

"Defence of civil liberty and justice for all our community are not mutually exclusive but inseparable," he said.

Thuggish

"But we must be blunt with our warning. Those who perpetrate violence against fellow human beings are undermining our development as a civilised society.

"We will always work for rehabilitation and reform. But we will never let either the thuggish individual or the tyrannical government abuse their power at the expense of others."

Mr Hughes said his experiences in his inner-city London constituency had led to his decision to change the party's approach to crime policy.

"I am also conscious that the party has been perceived as not being strong enough in its response to crime," he said.


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