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September 26, 2013

A new dawn for Labour justice policy?

Sadiq Khan, Shadow Justice Minister, addressed the Labour Party Conference this week.  The speech didn’t get much press coverage (in fact it was hard to track down on the web) but it did have some interesting elements.  The most depressing aspect was a claim that the repeal of the indeterminate sentence weakened public protection against serious and violent offenders.   The indeterminate sentence was one of the least liberal measures brought in by New Labour.  Where an offender was deemed dangerous by the court, a sentence could be imposed which had no end.  Someone who had done a relatively low level violent crime (though of course all violence creates great suffering) could end up languishing in prison for years waiting to get the Parole Board go-ahead to get out.  And that only came if they did the right courses, which weren’t often available.  There is no evidence that the label “dangerous” had much meaning, or was based on the right information.  So I’m not at all convinced victims were better off in the long run.  They may have felt  safer, but at what cost?  And if information to victims and rehabilitation were better,  there would be no need to lock people up indefinitely.  We can only hope that Sadiq will stick with the coalition’s reform of the sentence.  Overall his focus was on victims and how they need to be treated better. Agreed.  He supported more use of restorative justice, but put it at the end of a long list of policy changes to improve the treatment of victims.  I think it makes such a difference to victims, more RJ should be the first and most important change.