Recent debates in respect of whether there should be ‘automatic’ prison sentences for those caught carrying a knife on more than one occasion has led to a split in the coalition.

The debates follow proposals made by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling to impose mandatory jail sentences for anyone caught carrying a knife more than once. The proposals have received the backing of the Labour party but Liberal Democrat Justice Minister Simon Hughes has concerns that automatic prison sentences could lead increased susceptibility of young people to commit crime.

The most senior Judge in England and Wales, Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas, recently called for a review of sentencing guidelines for youths caught with knives as it is an increasing problem, particularly among 12 – 14 year olds.

Mr Hughes stated that the position of the Liberal Democrats was not a sign of weakness and insisted that the removal of Judges’ discretion in respect of sentencing was not the most effective method of tackling knife crime. He raised the issue that younger teenagers may end up in jail after being subjected to pressure from older teenagers to carry knives for them.  Mr Hughes also highlighted concerns that sending young people to jail can direct them into a life of crime stating;

“If you send somebody to jail, possibly for the first time, the likelihood is and the experience often is that they come out, having met the sort of people they are in prison with, more likely to commit an offence…The whole transforming rehabilitation policy of the government is to try to not have people being sent to prison for short periods because we know how often they are the sort of people who, when they come out, go back to prison again”.

Mr Hughes was clear that when it came to sentencing for knife crime that the government ought to be tough on those carrying offensive weapons such as knives and guns but that sending them directly to jail is not the most effective way of tackling this crime. He maintains that the discretion of imposing a custodial sentence should remain with the sentencing Judge;

“We believe that to give the Judge the power to give a very tough sentence but, in circumstances where it justifies it, to have the flexibility to say ‘I don’t think in this circumstance that you going to prison is the right answer’ is the most effective remedy and most in the interest of the public.”

Chris Grayling’s proposals have received the backing of Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe and the London Mayor Boris Johnson. Prime Minister David Cameron will give ‘very serious consideration’ as to whether the government will support the proposals.

At Farleys we have a specialist team of criminal defence solicitors who can provide advice and representation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on all areas of crime. If you have been accused of possessing an offensive weapon, or indeed crime in any capacity, it is vital that you speak to a criminal defence solicitor at the earliest opportunity. Early advice is often crucial. For 24 hour advice via our emergency crime line, call 01254 606050.