Crime in Britain is a serious problem even though people will contest the figures and trends. The present government, no doubt aware that the issue remains a hot-button matter for voters, is determined to be seen to be doing something about it, however ineffectual.
In the process, rather than push for tougher sentencing and allowing people to defend themselves, the administration’s approach is to overturn centuries of checks and balances in the criminal law.
This is the latest:
Lord Falconer, the Constitutional Affairs Secretary, and Mike O’Brien, the solicitor general, are drawing up proposals to bypass the court process in as many as half the cases heard by magistrates every year.
Defendants who plead guilty to offences such as shoplifting, theft and criminal damage would have their punishment decided by the prosecutor, in consultation with the police, instead of going to court. Ministers believe that about half of the two million cases heard annually by magistrates could be handled in that way.
The plan would represent a revolution in the criminal justice system which has always been based on the principle that sentencing should be weighed in court, with the defence entering a plea in mitigation in response to the prosecution’s case.
The article goes on to say that the government aims to save money from this bracing and exciting new approach to law enforcement. Up to £350 million a year is spent on Legal Aid to court defendants appearing before magistrates. 350 million pounds is a large dollop of money although chickenfeed compared with what the government may end up spending – and we paying for – on ID cards. ID cards are likely, I confidently predict, to be largely useless in reducing crime, and I very much doubt that cutting public spending is a great priority of this government.