REFORM THE PENAL SYSTEM – LOW RISK PRISONERS SHOULD NOT GO TO PRISON

The prison service today in this country is not about rehabilitation but about making offenders feels humiliated, unworthy and good for nothing. People talk about the easy life for prisoners but you only have to step inside a prison today to know that even as visitors there is a sense of unworthiness to the inmates that has everything to do with the staff that are supposed to be looking after them and their well being – REHABILITATING THEM – but this is not happening. Most prisoners acknowledge their mistakes, sometimes made in the prime of their youth when the only colour they saw was red. It is amazing to see that these people have been committed to a life in prison because there is not the slightest inclination on the prison service to do more to help these people than to demean and belittle them. THIS IS A FACT. Just check out the supposedly lenient category D prisons which are intent on ensuring only that prisoners make mistakes so that they can be shoved back to Cat C. Their entire attitude is one of looking down on the inmates.

This problem begins in the courts, which should show more leniency towards those offenders who have been recommended by the parole board as low risk. In fact these prisoners should not even be in prison in the first place. Everyone is talking about the deficit and making cuts, surely it is more sensible to keep the prison population low rather than making the tax payer pay to keep offenders inside – which costs far more to the economy than perhaps making them work in the community to pay back their debt. What is most shocking is that when the courts order a pre-sentence report they are asking for an assessment of the individual and his/her circumstances. The parole officers job is to provide this and much more – including his recommendation for sentence, i.e how the individual should be sentenced. What is the point of having this report commissioned – again at a cost to the tax payer – if it is only going to occupy the judge's reading time and nothing else. For most judges in the crown court don't even bother to hide the fact that they are going to sentence the individual to a term in prison – so why go to the expense of commisioning a report? It defies logic and makes the whole exercise not worth the paper it's been written on. If the judge orders a pre-sentence report it should accept it's recommendations too.

There has been many a pre-sentence report that has recommended SSO's (suspended sentence orders) because they felt that the individual was low risk enough to warrant it but a crabby old crown court judge had to defy it because he wanted to make an example of the person. That is not law at it's best, that is grudge law.

Why is this idea important?

The prison service today in this country is not about rehabilitation but about making offenders feels humiliated, unworthy and good for nothing. People talk about the easy life for prisoners but you only have to step inside a prison today to know that even as visitors there is a sense of unworthiness to the inmates that has everything to do with the staff that are supposed to be looking after them and their well being – REHABILITATING THEM – but this is not happening. Most prisoners acknowledge their mistakes, sometimes made in the prime of their youth when the only colour they saw was red. It is amazing to see that these people have been committed to a life in prison because there is not the slightest inclination on the prison service to do more to help these people than to demean and belittle them. THIS IS A FACT. Just check out the supposedly lenient category D prisons which are intent on ensuring only that prisoners make mistakes so that they can be shoved back to Cat C. Their entire attitude is one of looking down on the inmates.

This problem begins in the courts, which should show more leniency towards those offenders who have been recommended by the parole board as low risk. In fact these prisoners should not even be in prison in the first place. Everyone is talking about the deficit and making cuts, surely it is more sensible to keep the prison population low rather than making the tax payer pay to keep offenders inside – which costs far more to the economy than perhaps making them work in the community to pay back their debt. What is most shocking is that when the courts order a pre-sentence report they are asking for an assessment of the individual and his/her circumstances. The parole officers job is to provide this and much more – including his recommendation for sentence, i.e how the individual should be sentenced. What is the point of having this report commissioned – again at a cost to the tax payer – if it is only going to occupy the judge's reading time and nothing else. For most judges in the crown court don't even bother to hide the fact that they are going to sentence the individual to a term in prison – so why go to the expense of commisioning a report? It defies logic and makes the whole exercise not worth the paper it's been written on. If the judge orders a pre-sentence report it should accept it's recommendations too.

There has been many a pre-sentence report that has recommended SSO's (suspended sentence orders) because they felt that the individual was low risk enough to warrant it but a crabby old crown court judge had to defy it because he wanted to make an example of the person. That is not law at it's best, that is grudge law.

LET MICHAEL MANSFIELD HELP OVERHAUL THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

Let Michael Mansfield QC help the coalition government overhaul the criminal justice system. He has written books on it, has lived and breathed it for years and is possibly the only barrister I know who has the guts and intelligence to instigate effective changes; changes that make sense too – a rare phenomenon indeed.

If the government is serious about listening then get it straight from the horses mouth. No one is more better qualified to deal with the problems within the system than him.

Why is this idea important?

Let Michael Mansfield QC help the coalition government overhaul the criminal justice system. He has written books on it, has lived and breathed it for years and is possibly the only barrister I know who has the guts and intelligence to instigate effective changes; changes that make sense too – a rare phenomenon indeed.

If the government is serious about listening then get it straight from the horses mouth. No one is more better qualified to deal with the problems within the system than him.

MAKE IT EASIER TO PROSECUTE POLICE AND JUDGES

It should be that the law applies to all equally, but it doesn't. Too often we see the police and those within the judiciary get away with doing wrong. In the UK there appears to be a prevalent perception, or rather a misconception under which many people labour, and that is that the police and the judiciary do not make mistakes or do not do so deliberately. That those who enforce the law are actually above it, simply because they work within it. I am constantly amazed by how much the police get away with. Just look at the Menendes shooting or the Stephen Lawrence case – or if you want to go further back, look at those very high profile miscarriages of justice like the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and so on. In each of those cases no police officers were ever prosecuted, even though they had fabricated confessions, beat the accused into giving false confessions and deliberately put innocent people in prison.

And it is not only infamous cases of miscarriages of justice that highlight police failings, miscarriages continue to this day; occurring because the police and even the courts are allowed to ignored vital pieces of information that begin in the police station. The system is not perfect but it does little to prevent miscarriages of justice happening in the first place.

Why is this idea important?

It should be that the law applies to all equally, but it doesn't. Too often we see the police and those within the judiciary get away with doing wrong. In the UK there appears to be a prevalent perception, or rather a misconception under which many people labour, and that is that the police and the judiciary do not make mistakes or do not do so deliberately. That those who enforce the law are actually above it, simply because they work within it. I am constantly amazed by how much the police get away with. Just look at the Menendes shooting or the Stephen Lawrence case – or if you want to go further back, look at those very high profile miscarriages of justice like the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and so on. In each of those cases no police officers were ever prosecuted, even though they had fabricated confessions, beat the accused into giving false confessions and deliberately put innocent people in prison.

And it is not only infamous cases of miscarriages of justice that highlight police failings, miscarriages continue to this day; occurring because the police and even the courts are allowed to ignored vital pieces of information that begin in the police station. The system is not perfect but it does little to prevent miscarriages of justice happening in the first place.

MAKE IT IMPOSSIBLE TO CONVICT ON WORD ALONE

The government must do whatever is necessary to protect the falsely accused (you could be one one day) by making it impossible to convict an innocent person just because a jury could be convinced by the prosecution despite no evidence except someone's word being available. This is a nightmare currently playing out in our courts today and you only need to go along to any crown court today and you will see people being convicted simply on someone's word. If you think this is some made up notion log onto the SAFARI website (along with all the other 'innocent' websites and see for yourself). http://safari-uk.org

We constantly hear how the British justice system is one of the best in the world and a role model on which other systems are based, but this is a lie. In comparison the French and American models are by far better and have fewer miscarriages of justice than does our system. They also don't need an organisation like the Criminal Cases Review Commission which proves why there systems are better.

The previous Labour government went out of its way to reduce the justice available to individuals, seeming almost hell bent on ignoring 'justice for all' and achieving 'convictions at any cost', and all with the goal of 'justice for victims'. The true justice would be to ensure the guilty went to prison whilst the innocent were vindicated. Under the current system, this is a mockery as any person can be found guilty based on someone's word, you do not need proof or evidence. It is that easy to ruin someone's life.

Those that do end up in prison have one hell of a time trying to clear their names, which if by some miracle they manage to do, the damage is already done, i.e. they lose their job, family, house etc. It is far harder to reverse the decision once it is made, and under the current appeals process what actually constitutes grounds for appeal are usually ignored.This is a frightening way for our country to proceed. There is no longer an innocent until proved guilty culture but an ongoing presumption of guilt from the moment someone is charged, in which every step of the way a defendant is forced to prove his innocence, even though this should be the prosecution or accuser's job.

Why is this idea important?

The government must do whatever is necessary to protect the falsely accused (you could be one one day) by making it impossible to convict an innocent person just because a jury could be convinced by the prosecution despite no evidence except someone's word being available. This is a nightmare currently playing out in our courts today and you only need to go along to any crown court today and you will see people being convicted simply on someone's word. If you think this is some made up notion log onto the SAFARI website (along with all the other 'innocent' websites and see for yourself). http://safari-uk.org

We constantly hear how the British justice system is one of the best in the world and a role model on which other systems are based, but this is a lie. In comparison the French and American models are by far better and have fewer miscarriages of justice than does our system. They also don't need an organisation like the Criminal Cases Review Commission which proves why there systems are better.

The previous Labour government went out of its way to reduce the justice available to individuals, seeming almost hell bent on ignoring 'justice for all' and achieving 'convictions at any cost', and all with the goal of 'justice for victims'. The true justice would be to ensure the guilty went to prison whilst the innocent were vindicated. Under the current system, this is a mockery as any person can be found guilty based on someone's word, you do not need proof or evidence. It is that easy to ruin someone's life.

Those that do end up in prison have one hell of a time trying to clear their names, which if by some miracle they manage to do, the damage is already done, i.e. they lose their job, family, house etc. It is far harder to reverse the decision once it is made, and under the current appeals process what actually constitutes grounds for appeal are usually ignored.This is a frightening way for our country to proceed. There is no longer an innocent until proved guilty culture but an ongoing presumption of guilt from the moment someone is charged, in which every step of the way a defendant is forced to prove his innocence, even though this should be the prosecution or accuser's job.

SPEED UP THE CRIMINAL APPEAL PROCESS

The current criminal appeal porcess can take months even years before an appeal can be heard at the Court of Appeal. The entire process should be speeded up and decisions made more quickly. Under the current system a person has 28 days in which to lodge an appeal against conviction, most however are done out of time.

The single biggest hurdle is the single judge stage, as most appeals fail at this stage. In some current cases, at least one decision I know of to come to the single judge stage took nine months, by which time the defendant had changed three prisons already. This is not my idea of a state looking to help the innocent or even looking serious about righting a wrong. It's just one small step in an extremely long and painful process which must be ended soon.

Why is this idea important?

The current criminal appeal porcess can take months even years before an appeal can be heard at the Court of Appeal. The entire process should be speeded up and decisions made more quickly. Under the current system a person has 28 days in which to lodge an appeal against conviction, most however are done out of time.

The single biggest hurdle is the single judge stage, as most appeals fail at this stage. In some current cases, at least one decision I know of to come to the single judge stage took nine months, by which time the defendant had changed three prisons already. This is not my idea of a state looking to help the innocent or even looking serious about righting a wrong. It's just one small step in an extremely long and painful process which must be ended soon.

MAKE JURIES EXPLAIN THEIR DECISIONS

Juries make life altering decisions, sometimes to the extreme detriment of defendants, especially innocent defendants. In every guilty verdict that is passed by the jury,we need to know how and why they reached that verdict.

Why is this idea important?

Juries make life altering decisions, sometimes to the extreme detriment of defendants, especially innocent defendants. In every guilty verdict that is passed by the jury,we need to know how and why they reached that verdict.

JUDGES MUST BE ELECTED BY PUBLIC

For too long now the criminal justice system has lived by its own rules, in particular the judiciary which enjoys privileges which ensure that true power belongs to only a few. In the present system, judges are 'appointed', usually by their own or other powerful people, like the PM. Instead of open, visible and true democracy, we have like for like choices; all of it done in true cloak and dagger style. We must be allowed to elect judges just as we elect our members of parliament and all of it must be 'visible' for it to be credible.

The judiciary need a fundamental shake up. If everyone has had one, it is more than high time they did too.

Why is this idea important?

For too long now the criminal justice system has lived by its own rules, in particular the judiciary which enjoys privileges which ensure that true power belongs to only a few. In the present system, judges are 'appointed', usually by their own or other powerful people, like the PM. Instead of open, visible and true democracy, we have like for like choices; all of it done in true cloak and dagger style. We must be allowed to elect judges just as we elect our members of parliament and all of it must be 'visible' for it to be credible.

The judiciary need a fundamental shake up. If everyone has had one, it is more than high time they did too.