The Daily Telegraph: Law chief: Don't let crooks off hook Top judge: I will restore faith Cost is not king, says top judge C Top judge: I will restore faith

Wednesday, 21 October, 2009

Criminals should not escape prosecution on the grounds of cost, the country's most senior judge said yesterday.

Speaking on the first anniversary of becoming Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge said that restoring confidence in the criminal justice system was his first priority.

He said it would give "cause for concern'' if offenders avoided prosecution because it was considered too expensive to take them to court.

The Lord Chief Justice was speaking after the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, announced proposals for suspects to avoid prosecution if action was considered disproportionate.

While the move was designed to spare those such as householders who face prosecution after tackling burglars in their home, critics said it could lead to serious criminals, including accused fraudsters, escaping justice because a prosecution would be deemed too expensive.

Lord Judge told a press conference he was happy for a warning or caution to deal with minor infringements "by an individual of good character''. However, he said: "I am not in favour of out-of-court disposals for infringements of the criminal law by people who have committed infringements before.''

The Lord Chief Justice said all those facing charges, apart from people of good character who made a "silly mistake'', should be taken to court.

Lord Judge said he had "quite a shopping list'' of areas of concern that he wished to tackle but his "first ambition'' was to repair confidence in the system.

"The criminal justice system affects every single person in the country,'' he said. "If I read my newspapers correctly, public confidence has been damaged or reduced.''

With 100,000 cases heard before the crown courts each year, Lord Judge said that "from time to time there is no doubt that a judge makes a wrong decision''.

A judge might pass a sentence that was too severe or one which may be unduly lenient. "But in the vast overwhelming majority of cases that doesn't happen,'' he said.

* The number of prolific and serial offenders has risen by nearly 50 per cent in the past four years, according to figures released by the Conservatives. David Ruffley , the shadow police minister, said the number of "hardened'' criminals found to have committed multiple crimes had risen from 10,618 in 2005 to 15,126 this year. The biggest increase was in North Yorks, where numbers rose from 55 in 2005 to 135 this year.

"This is more proof of Labour's decade of failed law and order policies,'' Mr Ruffley said.

David Hanson, the Home Office Minister, said the Tories had compared different sets of figures. He said the overall number of priority offenders was broadly the same.