Page last updated at 19:30 GMT, Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Peers critical of sentencing plans

Peers have debated government plans to toughen up community sentences, during committee-stage consideration of the Crime and Courts Bill in the House of Lords.

In October, the government brought forward proposals to make all adult community sentences contain a punitive element - such as curfews, fines or unpaid work - except in "exceptional circumstances". At present only two-third of community orders require such punishments.

Lord McNally said the government was determined to "increase public confidence that community orders provide a proper sanction to criminal behaviour".

But several peers rounded on the plans as they debated them in committee on 13 November 2012, urging ministers to think again.

Crossbencher Lord Ramsbotham, a former chief inspector of prisons in England and Wales, accused ministers of "treating the House with contempt".

He said: "There seems to be a supposition that the Probation Service is not tough enough. That's absolute nonsense.

"The probation service is achieving very good results and it's not that it doesn't want to do more, it cannot do more because it doesn't have the resources."

He argued that the government's proposals risked damaging the aim of cutting reoffending rates.

'The right balance'

Crossbench peer Baroness Butler-Sloss, a former Lord Justice of Appeal, accused the government of "gesture politics", telling the Lords community orders were already a form of punishment for offenders.

And Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Linklater of Butterstone slammed what she said was the government's attempt to be tough as "crude and inappropriate".

She feared the plans would restrict the freedom of judges to set appropriate sentences.

Justice minister Lord McNally maintained that community orders had to "strike the right balance" between "punishment, rehabilitation and other purposes of sentencing", however.

He pointed out the sentences could be issued for serious offences, including actual bodily harm, adding: "While it is critical to address the causes of such offending, it is also legitimate to expect such behaviour to face punishment."

By including a "punishment element" in community sentences the government would "win vital public confidence" for the "holistic response which is at the heart of our proposals - the rehabilitation of offenders", he said.

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