Cracking down on crime: it’s time to get tough on sentencing



Whenever criminal sentences are announced, there is almost an expectation now among large parts of the public that the punishment is unlikely to meet the crime. This expectation unfortunately reflects low public confidence in the ability of our criminal justice to punish and deter crime and each new lenient sentence knocks that confidence a little bit more.

Even when sentences are handed down which do seem suitably robust and perhaps exceed our expectations, we still remember that many prisoners will be let out before they have served their full sentence or could have their sentence reduced on appeal.

It was just in April, that the Court of Appeal overturned the sentence of Kyreis Davies, one of the men convicted of the brutal murder of Tavis Spencer Aitkens in Ipswich in 2018. The murder sent shockwaves through our town and when Davies was initially handed a 21-year minimum sentence there was a sense that justice had been served. Only the Court of Appeal decided that because Davies was 16 at the time of the murder that his sentence should be reduced to just 16 years. Tavis was only 17 when he died and had his whole life ahead of him but one of the people who took his life will now get out of prison in his early 30s and most likely be able to live most of his life as a free man. The leniency displayed by some judges is completely out of touch with where the public is on law and order and this must be looked at as part of a comprehensive approach to getting tough on sentencing.

Cracking down on crime is something the Government has already made some good progress on, not least the ending the automatic half-way release of the most serious offenders and plans for an extra 10,000 new prison places and 20,000 additional police officers. But this message must be consistent across the board. 

It was also in April that the Government withdrew at the last-minute plans before Parliament which would have seen some offenders serving up to 4 years in prison released back into the community even earlier than the halfway point in their sentence. The Government rightly scrapped the proposals before they saw the light of day after opposition from Parliamentary colleagues and a number of us stating our preparedness to vote against such proposals. There was simply no way I could justify these plans to my constituents and they represented a serious step in the wrong direction.

Rather than extending early releases, we must acknowledge that we are already in a justice system where honest and transparent sentences are no longer the norm. Such is the expectation that prisoners will be let out early that some Judges have resorted to factoring this in and handing out longer sentences than they otherwise would just to ensure that prisoners spend the appropriate time in jail. 

As well as tougher and longer sentences, part of our efforts to restore confidence in our criminal justice system must be on making our sentencing regime do what it says on the tin. If you are punished with a number of years in prison that must be the time your serve. Justice must be done and equally it must be seen to be done, not only in the eyes of the victims but also of society. Our society can only function if there are significant and well-understood consequences for breaking the laws we all agree to live by. We can make immense strides to restore this confidence over the coming years and our efforts must be comprehensive, and our resolve must be unrelenting and driven by the public’s good sense for justice.

Tom Hunt is the Member of Parliament for Ipswich. Follow him on twitter: @tomhunt1988