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Tuesday, 7 May, 2002, 16:17 GMT 17:17 UK
Blunkett tackles sentencing 'lottery'
Scales of Justice
David Blunkett will signal reforms of the justice system
Home Secretary David Blunkett has expressed his concerns to the Justices' Clerks' Society Conference in Cardiff, at the so-called "postcode lottery" of sentencing in courts.

The Home Office is concerned that there is too much regional variation in the sentences handed down.

Figures show burglars are twice as likely to get community sentences in Leicester than in Cardiff, for example.

Some sentencing variations
Numbers jailed on conviction of house burglary:
Cardiff:38%
Leicester: 66%
Addressing the conference on Tuesday, Mr Blunkett called for a new sentencing guidelines body to improve consistency across the UK.

"Whilst we cannot expect uniform sentences, I am pressing for consistency of approach," he said.

"It is my intention that a sentencing guidelines body be set up to improve consistency in sentences for offences across the board, in a way that is authoritative, comprehensive and that all courts would be required to take account of."

Home Office reforms were drawn up after a survey revealed massive geographical variations in punishments.

For instance, in Cardiff 38% of those convicted of house burglary receive community sentences.

In Leicester, the figure is 66%.

On Teesside, 20% of those convicted of house burglary are sentenced to immediate custody, while in Birmingham the corresponding figure us 41%.

The Home Office has been working closely with the Lord Chancellor and the Attorney General - in consultation with the Lord Chief Justice - on developing the new guidelines.

A Home Office spokesman said: "While we can't expect uniform sentencing across the country, where areas are similar there should be a consistency of approach."

"There's a need to reduce regional variations in sentencing and ensure that the punishment fits the crime."

Oliver Letwin, shadow home secretary
Oliver Letwin is seeking wholesale reform

Mr Blunkett also announced new sanctions for those who fail to pay fines.

He said one of the options he was examining was allowing people to work off fines through community service.

"People who do not pay should work off their fine, rather than going to jail for a few days." he said.

This coincided with his repeated call for alternatives to jail sentences for "lesser and non violent crimes".

He told delegates that the prison population rose by a further 500 last week to 70,894.

See also:

04 May 02 | UK Politics
Blunkett pressed on crime reform
22 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Magistrates raise 'young thugs' fears
28 Feb 02 | Wales
Death driver fine 'insulting'
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