Johnson promises stiffer sentences for dangerous criminals


Plans to allow judges to impose tougher sentences on dangerous criminals will end the "ridiculous" system where offenders are let out of prison early to commit further crimes, Boris Johnson said.

Ahead of the publication of a Sentencing White Paper on Wednesday, the Prime Minister told the Cabinet that "public protection" would be the overriding principle in the reforms.

Mr Johnson said the measures would include longer sentences for child killers, lowering the age limit on whole-life tariffs and measures to force violent criminals to spend longer behind bars before they can apply for parole.

The Prime Minister – who faces a battle to get a grip on rising coronavirus cases, problems with the Covid testing regime and a Tory split over his plans to break international law in the Internal Market Bill – chose instead to focus on the issue of sentencing reform at the start of the Cabinet meeting.

He told ministers: "We have seen far too many cases recently of criminals being let out early and then offending again and the judges being unable to impose the stiff sentences that they want and that society wants because of the restrictive guidelines that they face."

He highlighted "massive" investment in policing but "there's no point in catching the criminals if they are simply going to be let out early".

He told ministers that he wanted "sensible approaches to sentencing, making it easier for judges to put dangerous offenders behind bars for longer" and to end the "ridiculous state of affairs whereby a criminal can get back out onto the streets even when it is clear to everybody – including the court – that they pose a threat to justice and a threat to the British public".

"That includes longer sentences for child killers, lowering the age limit on whole-life tariffs for the worst offenders and locking (up) for longer more of the most violent criminals before they can apply for parole.

"What we are doing is we are putting public protection as the single most important factor in our criminal justice policy and I think that will command the sympathy and approval of the British public."

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland is due to publish a Sentencing White Paper setting out the plans on Wednesday.

Among measures already announced to toughen sentences are plans for criminals who assault emergency workers to face up to two years in jail.

Ministers plan to bring forward legislation to double the maximum term for those convicted of assaults on frontline staff including police officers and firefighters.

"There must be a meaningful deterrent for those who attack emergency workers. This news comes after an incredible amount of hard work & lobbying by us", @PFEW_Chair responds to Government doubling maximum penalty for assaulting an #emergencyservices worker

— Police Federation (@PFEW_HQ) September 14, 2020

It will be the second change in two years after the 2018 Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act increased the maximum sentence from six months to a year.

The law change also meant that when a person is convicted of offences including sexual assault or manslaughter, the judge must consider whether the offence was committed against an emergency worker as an aggravating factor meriting an increase in the sentence.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: "Our police officers, firefighters and other emergency workers are our frontline heroes who put their lives on the line every single day to keep us safe, yet some despicable individuals still think it's acceptable to attack, cough or spit at these courageous public servants.

"This new law sends a clear and simple message to these vile thugs – you will not get away with such appalling behaviour and you will be subject to the force of the law."

More than 11,000 people were prosecuted for assaulting an emergency worker in 2019, the Ministry of Justice said.

Assaults cover acts including being pushed, shoved or spat at, but prosecutions can take place under more serious offences when an emergency worker is seriously injured.

The new law will apply to police, prison staff, custody officers, fire service personnel, search and rescue workers and frontline health workers.

The chairman of the National Police Chiefs' Council, Martin Hewitt said: "We will use the full force of the law to prosecute anyone who uses violence against those who are on the front line and the doubling of the maximum sentence sends a clear message that society will not tolerate abuse of our emergency workers."

John Apter, chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, welcomed the change, which he said had come about after "an incredible amount of hard work and lobbying" by the organisation.