King Charles announced that a Sentencing Bill will require whole-life sentences for the worst murders, mean rapists cannot be released early, and make it more likely short sentences for lesser crimes are served in the community.
What’s more, the already-published Victims and Prisoners Bill would prevent certain prisoners from marrying, create new rights for crime victims, and deliver Jade’s Law on parental rights. Commenting on the King’s Speech, Law Society of England president Nick Emmerson said:
“The government cannot fix the justice system unless it invests in all of it. Focusing on sentencing alone is not the right approach.
The long delays faced by victims and defendants in our courts are simply unacceptable and there was nothing in this speech to seriously address the crisis. The entire criminal justice system is fracturing.
We urge the government to focus on fixing the issues in the justice system as a whole by investing in staff, judges and its buildings.”
The Domestic Abuse Commissioner responded to the Criminal Justice reforms and stated that they welcome the emphasis on the criminal justice system in the King’s Speech. They added:
“However, the criminal justice system across the board is failing victims of domestic abuse. The government’s reforms must be ambitious enough to address this. It is imperative that the government utilises the criminal justice bills announced today to demonstrate its commitment to tackling domestic abuse and violence against women and girls.
I welcome the return of the Victims and Prisoners Bill to Parliament, and I urge the government to ensure that this is amended to ensure sufficient funding at a local level for domestic abuse services that offer support like counselling and advocacy.
These services are vital in supporting victims with their mental wellbeing following the trauma of domestic abuse, as well as providing safety planning and 121 support through the criminal justice system. With my proposed amendment, we would see long overdue investment at a local level.”
They continued to state that they welcome the government’s announcement that murdering your partner at the end of a relationship will be an aggravating factor, meaning that a longer sentence could be applied. The Domestic Abuse Commissioner continued:
“This, along with Coercive and Controlling Behaviour were recommended by the Wade Review as aggravating factors with regards to sentencing, which the government accepted. I hope to work closely with government on the details on this proposal and am calling on government to adopt the full suite of recommendations which came out of the Review. Intimate image abuse is a horrendous crime which violates the sexual autonomy, bodily privacy and dignity of victims. Refuge found that despite a steady year-on-year rise in reports, only 4% of reported cases of sharing or threatening to share intimate images resulted in charges being pressed.
I hope this new legislation brings consistency to ensure agencies across the justice system – from the police to prosecution – are holding perpetrators to account and protecting victims from image-based abuse. However I remain concerned at recent Ministry of Justice commitments to introduce a presumption against short sentences of 12 months and to allow the prison service to let some prisoners on short sentences out of jail up to 18 days early. Sentencing is just one part of the transformations needed to truly tackle domestic abuse. With prosecution rates so low and a huge backlog in the courts, government must address the fundamental inadequacies within the criminal justice system.
We need to see ambitious and wide reaching criminal justice reforms which extend beyond those announced today in order to truly deliver for domestic abuse victims.”
ADCS President stated that the speech “missed an opportunity” to focus on a significant long term challenge affecting children, their health, wellbeing and their ability to learn in school – poverty. They continued:
“Poverty damages childhoods and children’s life chances, despite a mountain of evidence showing the impact of poverty on children’s lives we have not yet seen sufficient action from government on this. We urgently need national strategies that reduce and ultimately end child poverty. Children may not vote but they are our now as well as our future. Children need to be at the heart of all government policies with long term investment in them and the public services that support them.
We do welcome the government’s ambition to create a ‘smoke free generation’ which, if achieved, will be positive for children. Local authorities are also committed to working with our partners to keep children safe from abuse in all its forms. England has one of the safest child protection systems in the world and this is made possible by a dedicated and committed social work, and wider children’s workforce. ADCS will be responding to the new government consultation on mandatory reporting in due course.”