“In many cases sentencing is inappropriately high” - Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, former president of the UK Supreme Court.
Aspects of the present sentencing regime are condemned as “utterly unacceptable” and jail terms “inappropriately high” by one of the UK’s most senior judicial figures.
Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, who was the president of the UK Supreme Court from 2012 to 2017, adds that short sentences are a “mistake”.
When he was a judge, he adds, he regarded jail conditions for some women prisoners as ‘inhuman.’ He had visited Holloway prison and thought: “I am not going to send a woman to prison.” The conditions, he said, were “inhuman.”
But he acknowledges that compared with prisons in other countries, “we look pretty decent.”
Lord Neuberger’s comments come in the second episode of a new podcast series, The Judges: Power, Politics and the People. The episode is launched on Thursday November 9.
He says: “I think that some of the long sentences are far too long. But I think actually the worst thing is the short sentences.
“Having visited prisons, I see people being sentenced for six months, which in some cases ruins their private life, their family life, their wife or husband, normally wife, leaves them…really mucks up their children, mucks up their employment.”
“Six months is much too short to achieve any sort of rehabilitation or any assistance,” he adds. “And they clog up the prisons.”
Lord Neuberger highlights keeping offenders locked up under indeterminate sentences for public protection as one “unacceptable” aspect of the sentencing regime and “wrong.”
The indeterminate sentence of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) was introduced in England and Wales in 2005. NIn 2012 IPP sentences were abolished but the move was not retrospective and at the end of last year nearly 3,000 IPP prisoners were still behind bars.
The Lord Chancellor, Alex Chalk, recently announced the scrapping of short sentences of under one year for most offenders and their replacement with community sentences.
He also pledged “decisive” action to tackle IPP sentences, saying that these were a “stain on the justice system.
The ground-breaking podcast series which involves interviews with several senior judges is hosted by The University of Law with the journalist and former Times legal editor, Frances Gibb.
Lord Neuberger, who is Chancellor of The University of Law, headed the UK Supreme Court when it ruled that Boris Johnson’s Government needed the approval of Parliament before triggering Brexit, insists the decision was “a purely fundamental constitutional question.”
“None of us, whatever our views about Brexit, thought it was anything to do with Brexit.”
Elsewhere in the hour-long interview, Lord Neuberger speaks candidly about his regrets over cases on which he had ruled; on the impact of Brexit and the rule of law; on the ‘right to die’ debate and on judges’ bias.
You can watch the full episode on YouTube or you can listen to the podcast on The University of Law channel which is being streamed on all major services including Spotify and Apple.