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Should thieves and fraudsters be spared prison terms?

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Legal expert, Professor Andrew Ashworth, who advised the judiciary on sentencing between 1999 and 2010, argues in a pamphlet released by the Howard League for Penal Reform that thieves and fraudsters should not serve prison sentences.

Professor Ashworth poses the question, “Should someone be sent to prison and deprived of their liberty for an offence that involves no violence, no threats and no sexual assault?”

Professor Ashworth suggests that such offences should be dealt with in the community by way of compensation or reparation for the victim and, where the offence is sufficiently serious, imposing a community sentence. Professor Ashworth said prison should still be considered in cases of robbery, blackmail and burglary, but for offences including theft, handling of stolen goods, criminal damage and fraud he believes that imprisonment is disproportionate.

Juliet Lyon, director of Prison Reform Trust, supports Professor Ashworth’s position, advising that prison should be a punishment of last resort for people who commit serious and violent offences, rather than, “a dumping ground for those who have fallen through the net of other services.”

However, Professor Ashworth’s comments have been met with some firm opposition.

Max Chambers, head of crime and justice at Policy Exchange, advises that property crimes in the UK are already treated leniently by the criminal justice system for the very reason that they do not involve violence. They are therefore more likely to receive a caution or a fixed penalty notice. Mr Chambers believes all the proposal would do is artificially restrict sentencers’ ability to use prison where it is really necessary.

Marilyn Baldwin, founder of anti-fraud charity, Think Jessica, draws attention to the victims of such crimes and the devastation caused to them by fraudsters. She states: “It’s not just financial – through people losing their homes, for example – but also mental, with people sometimes driven to committing or attempting suicide.”

Ms Baldwin believes that reducing sentences would almost be an advert for fraud. Further, if a criminal is ordered to pay compensation, but they haven’t got the funds, they would “get let off with community service.”

At Stephensons, we specialise in and represent clients facing charges involving all areas of serious fraud and business crime, including mortgage fraud, insurance fraud and investment fraud. We regularly represent clients facing Proceeds of Crime (POCA) and confiscation and restraint proceedings in order to ensure assets are protected.

By Adam Pennington, Crime Defence team

Our fraud team operates a 24/7 emergency fraud helpline 01616 966 229 and provides an emergency 24/7 call out service for anyone under arrest or invited to attend an interview under caution under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) in relation to a fraud or corruption investigation by the Police, SFO or Trading Standards.