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Ipswich MP: ‘Public confidence in our criminal justice system is hanging by a thread’

PUBLISHED: 09:19 18 September 2020 | UPDATED: 11:18 18 September 2020

The Old Bailey criminal court in London. Ipswich MP Tom Hunt says sentences handed out for criminal behaviour should stand and not reduced upon appeal

The Old Bailey criminal court in London. Ipswich MP Tom Hunt says sentences handed out for criminal behaviour should stand and not reduced upon appeal

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For far too long and in far too many cases, our criminal justice system just hasn’t been producing what victims, their families and society consider to be justice.

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt believes life sentences should mean life. Picture: PARLIAMENT LIVE TVIpswich MP Tom Hunt believes life sentences should mean life. Picture: PARLIAMENT LIVE TV

When criminals are convicted and prison sentences are announced, there is almost an expectation now in the eyes of the public that the sentence won’t reflect the seriousness of the crime. And even when prison sentences are handed out which come close to doing this, there is always that doubt in the back of people’s minds that the full sentence won’t be served or it’ll be reduced on appeal. Just this year, we saw the reduction of Kyreis Davies’s sentence to just 16 years on appeal for the horrific murder of Tavis-Spencer Aitkens in Ipswich. This was an unwelcome reminder of how the law just doesn’t seem to be on the side of the people it’s meant to serve. And the crushing impact this can have on a victim’s family and the wider community.

Public confidence in our criminal justice system is hanging by a thread but it’s clear what direction we need to go in to start addressing this. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been reading through the hundreds of responses I’ve received from my survey in Ravenswood which included questions on law and order. And the findings were clear. Ninety-seven percent of respondents either strongly agreed or agreed with a zero-tolerance approach to crime and anti-social behaviour in Ipswich. And 91% were opposed to the automatic early release of prisoners.

The ridiculous and dishonest situation where even the most serious offenders are released at the half-way point of their sentence is perhaps one of the clearest examples of why public trust has been lost. Scrapping early release is something I’ve been campaigning on since before my election, and since then I’ve made a point of raising it in the House of Commons at every opportunity.

It was the last Labour Government that made automatic release at the halfway point the norm for many sentences.

But change has been long overdue. And some progress has been made in this Parliament as we’ve already legislated to end automatic half-way release for serious violent and sexual offenders sentenced to seven or more years in prison. I’ve also used my position to speak up in support of the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill which is passing through Parliament. 
This Bill will create a new sentence for terrorist offenders which would see them spend a minimum of 14 years in prison and remove the possibility of early release.

On Wednesday, the Government also published a White Paper on sentencing with a number of further proposals on making sentencing tougher. These include making it so that serious violent and sexual offenders on sentences of between four and seven years must serve at least two-thirds of their sentence in prison, not half; that offenders sentenced to life have to serve longer in prison before they can be considered for release; that those convicted of the premeditated murder of children can never be released; and that repeat offenders consistently get the sentences they deserve.

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All of these measures are welcome and I will not rest in the House of Commons to make sure they’re delivered. But we must be clear that they mark just the start of what will be a long process of restoring people’s confidence in our criminal justice system.

We should be looking to get to a place where release at the two-thirds point of sentences isn’t the norm either. And where criminals, victims and the public all know that sentences fundamentally do what they say on the tin and are transparent. Four years in prison should mean four years. Twelve years should mean 12 years and life should mean life.

We also need to make sure that when reforms are made, they’re put into practice in our courts and not watered down by unduly lenient judges.

Kyreis Davies’s successful appeal is a clear case of why this is essential and I was also one of the 22 MPs who wrote to the Attorney General calling for the pitiful sentences for the men convicted of killing PC Andrew Harper to be reviewed and extended to life in prison. One of them only got 16 years and the other two got just 13 years for manslaughter after they dragged PC Harper behind a car for over a mile to his death.

After we made our representations in this case, the Attorney General did refer it to the Court of Appeal.

But this kind of injustice shouldn’t be allowed to happen in the first place and it’s not something any family should have to endure after they’ve already lost a loved one to what can 
only be described as an act 
of evil.

The Government’s white paper this week does represent an important start on sentencing, but there’s a lot of work to be done before our criminal justice system will match the expectations of the people it’s meant to serve.

We need a robust sentencing system which punishes those found guilty and deters crimes before they happen. Justice being done and seen to be done is a fundamental issue of trust in our society, and when that trust isn’t there it’s innocent people who suffer the consequences.

This can’t keep happening and I’m ready as Ipswich’s MP for the significant amount of work it’s going to take to change it.


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