Tag Archives: justice

16-17 March 2019 – the weekend’s press releases (part 2)

Lib Dems: Revoke Article 50 if a deal isn’t agreed

The Liberal Democrats have today called for the Government to revoke Article 50 if no Brexit deal can be agreed a week before departure date.

The proposal, debated and passed by delegates at the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference in York today, comes after a week of key Brexit votes in the House of Commons in which MPs again rejected Theresa May’s deal, ruled out no-deal and voted to extend Article 50.

Speaking after the debate, Liberal Democrat Brexit Spokesperson Tom Brake MP said:

It is absolutely clear that Brexit will hit

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How transgender people are treated in prison

One of the questions that has been voiced on Twitter recently in the debate about trans women has been the case of the Soham murderer, who in 2002 as Ian Huntley murdered two ten year old school girls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman and was jailed for 40 years. A number of tabloid newspapers have reported that Huntley is transitioning, and wishes to be called Lian. Incidentally, the prison service has said several times that Huntley is not planning transition.

There are those who say that giving any trans prisoner with a violent past the rights to move to a woman’s prison and mix with women puts women prisoners at risk. They have even tried to say that the Liberal Democrats in supporting trans rights, do not care about women’s rights in prison.

I see that Sal Brinton has written about the Liberal Democrat policies on trans matters, and I wanted to write about the formal process that the National Offender Management Service insists on for the care and management of transgender offenders, designed to both recognise the rights of trans people in prison, but also ensuring the safety of other prisoners and staff. Their policy can be found here,

Pages 12-13 sets out the protocol relating to sentenced prisoners. It says that there will be an initial Local Transgender Case Board after a prisoner declares, and can provide evidence, that they are living in the gender the offender identifies with, and will, as appropriate, make arrangements for transfers to other parts of the prison estate.

With prisoners who might also be deemed a risk to other prisoners, there then has to be a Complex Case Board called for Transgender Offenders, which will look at the complexity and specifically assess the risk of harm prior to making decisions about prison location. The views of the offender must be presented to the Board, but there are a number of healthcare and psychology leads there to ensure that any move to a women’s prison would be safe.

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Another civil liberties victory for the Scottish Lib Dems

Over the years, the Scottish Liberal Democrats have been responsible for a number of changes in policing and civil liberties policies in Scotland. After we led the opposition, the Scottish Government had to abandon plans for a super ID database that would have made Labour’s look like a champion of civil liberties. Alison McInnes, when she was Justice Spokesperson in the last Parliament, successfully fought both routine arming of the Police and indiscriminate stop and search.

That record continues as the Lib Dems have now ensured that Police Scotland has deleted records of half a billion numberplates captured under numberplate recognition.

From Scotland on Sunday:

The climbdown comes after a Lib Dem Freedom of Information request last year revealed that 852,507,524 number plate records captured by automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras across the country were held in a Police Scotland database, with data available from as far back as 2009. Data retention laws require that any such information is only kept for crimes, while all other data must be deleted. The Lib Dems had expressed concern that the retention of so much information relating to innocent individuals was infringing on people’s civil liberties. The number of records deleted was revealed by the police in response to another Freedom of Information request submitted by the Lib Dems. Information provided by the police showed 547,459,904 number plate records had been disposed of.

Scottish Lib Dem Justice Spokesperson Liam McArthur said:

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Why criminal records have to go

If you ask Lib Dems whether they suppport prison reform, they will say yes. A general chat about rehabilitation, drug laws, mental health funding and Scandenavia usually ensues – all of which I wholly endorse. But if we are really going to address our prison crisis, then criminal records are the elephant in the room.

Rehabilitation is about allowing people to become productive parts of society after they leave prison, and discouraging reoffending. One of the best ways to do this is to help people find employment (as page 8 of the Ministry of Justice’s Transforming Rehabilitation document confirms). If someone lands a stable job after leaving prison, then of course they’re less likely to reoffend. Employment gives people structure, income and purpose. It’s common sense that it helps them reintegrate into society.

But if ex-prisoners have to disclose their criminal records as soon as they apply for a job, why are we surprised that so many of them remain unemployed? What incentive do employers have to take a chance on them, when the job market is so tough as it is? We seem to paradoxically believe that it’s important for ex-offenders to find work, but that no employer should have to risk hiring them. Employers might feel safer being able to sivve former criminals out without hesitation, but it’s agonizingly counter-productive for society. Poor rehabilitation leads to an increase in crime, and puts all of us in danger. Freezing ex-offenders out of the job market makes everyone less safe.

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Liz Truss as you have never seen her before

If it hadn’t been for one of our peers moving house, we might never have had this wee gem fall into our hands.

We know that new Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor Liz Truss was once a young Liberal Democrat activist before joining the Tories. However, we now have photographic evidence from an LDYS newsletter from the time of one Elizabeth Truss proudly holding up the LDYS banner on a mass trespass at Twyford Down in protest at the Criminal Justice Bill on 2 July 1994. Simon Hughes also took part.

This controversial piece of legislation was introduced by Conservative Home Secretary Michael Howard and offended liberals by restricting raves, allowing inferences to be drawn from a suspect exercising a right to silence and strengthening unsupervised stop and search powers. Those latter powers were still being used until the Coalition years, when their use was curbed thanks to the influence of Liberal Democrats in government.
Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 14.34.11

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The aging prison population

 

With so much focus being placed on young offenders and the poverty traps that keep them locked in a cycle of crime, little attention has been given to an ever increasing section of the national prison population. In England and Wales, male offenders aged 50 or above are the fastest growing group in prison, rising by 74% in the past decade to close to 10,000 (that’s 11% of the total prison population), while since 1990 the over-60s population has increasing eight-fold.

A succession of governments, wanting to appear ‘tough on crime’, have led to an increased pressure on the judicial system to hand out an increasing number of longer-term sentences. A rapidly aging long-term prison population now suffers from an accelerated aging process due to a combination of the health risks associated with criminal lifestyles and the psychological strains of prison life, which has led to more and more pressure being placed on correctional services that are now unable to cope with the changing nature of prison care for many inmates.

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Lib Dems condemn Gove’s prison reforms

So the Government thinks the solution to the crisis in our prisons is to give governors more power rather than have a more strategic sense of what the prison system is for and how best to lessen re-offending and properly rehabilitate offenders.

Liberal Democrat peer Jonathan Marks is unimpressed with the Government’s plans. He said:

It is a scary thought that the grand architect who oversaw the dismantling of the school system as we knew it is now getting his hands all over the nation’s prisons.

It is no secret that our prison system is in crisis. We lock up far too many people each year with inadequate facilities and staffing.

These reforms might tackle the problems at the surface but without root and branch reform of our criminal justice system the whole process will be built to fail.

The academy model for schools is falling apart as we speak so why the Government feels that this template is appropriate for prisons is incomprehensible.

Instead we should be focusing on ensuring that our criminal justice system is centred on rehabilitation and diverting people away from prisons wherever possible rather than this continued obsession with locking them up.

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Scottish Lib Dems to oppose jail terms of less than a year

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have announced another major policy. A few weeks go, they announced their penny on income tax to raise £475 million for investment in education.

Today, Justice spokesperson Alison McInnes has announced that the party will oppose prison sentences of less than a year.

From the BBC:

As part of their 2016 election manifesto, the Scottish Liberal Democrats are to formally back doubling that, by extending the presumption to 12 months.

Justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes said prison sentences for more serious offenders should be complemented by “tough” community service programmes.
“One of the main priorities for Scottish Liberal Democrats is having a criminal justice system where if someone breaks the law, they are swiftly brought to justice,” she said. “But we also believe offenders deserve a chance to get back on track and community rehabilitation is a fundamental part of that.

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Assange: From Townsville to Knightsbridge via Cloud Cuckoo Land

In Evelyn Waugh’s “Handful of Dust”, the fortunate owner of a fantastic Gothic English country pile, Tony Last, has an idyllic life which is gradually brought crashing down by a series of unfortunate events including betrayal by his wife. He ends the book trapped as a prisoner in the Brazilian jungle – the plaything of an insane tribal chief – having to continually read Charles Dickens’ “Little Dorrit” to the inhabitants.

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Another vindication for Alison McInnes on civil liberties as regulation of facial recognition technology recommended

There has been a pattern in this Holyrood Parliament of Scottish Liberal Democrat Justice Spokesperson Alison McInnes finding out the SNP on some major civil liberties fail (armed police, excessive use of stop and search, including of children), the SNP just not getting it and then Alison being absolutely vindicated.

Today, that happened again. Last year, Alison highlighted the dangers of unregulated use of facial recognition technology by the Police after discovering that over 335,000 people’s images were retained on a police database.

A report today makes a number of recommendations to regulate this practice. The SNP Justice Secretary had previously dismissed Alison’s concerns.

The report concluded that there is “a need for improved legislation and better independent oversight around the police use of biometrics in Scotland, an independent Scottish Commissioner to oversee biometric databases should be established, as was introduced in England and Wales in 2012 when the Liberal Democrats were in the coalition government and a statutory code of practice governing the use of biometric data should be developed.

Alison said:

This review vindicates the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ campaign highlighting the inadequate safeguards governing the use of our biometric data and in particular facial recognition technology.

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Alison McInnes questions comments of rape trial judge

Last week, I read a blog post by legal expert Andrew Tickell which horrified me. That post, and the judgment of the Appeal Court to which it refers had me feeling sick and shaking, so be aware that it contains some horrible details of rape of adults and children  and the sexual abuse of a child before you click on it. The judgment was for an appeal by the prosecution in a case of rape and sexual abuse which ultimately had the rapist’s prison sentence raised from five to eight years.

The judgment drew attention to remarks made by the trial judge which belittled the rape and suggesting that the victims had acquiesced to or condoned the rapes and that they were minor.

Scottish Liberal Democrat Justice spokesperson Alison McInnes has taken this up with one of Scotland’s most senior judges as Scottish Legal News reports:

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Tom Brake MP writes…Violation of judicial process by Bangladesh International Criminal Tribunal

This week the Bangladesh Supreme Court upheld the Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) decision to execute Salauddin Quader Chowdhury. This represents the second rejection for Mr Chowdhury, following his original appeal in July 2015. This is a grave injustice for Chowdhury and for Bangladesh.

In 2013, Chowdhury was sentenced to death by the ICT for war crimes allegedly committed during the 1971 Bangladesh Independence War. The original trial, like many others heard by the ICT, has received widespread criticism including from the United Nations and Amnesty International for procedural irregularities and the violation of international fair trial standards.

The case of Salauddin Quader Chowdhury was marred by irregularities, the worst of which relates to witnesses for the Defence. The Court imposed a last minute restriction to the number of witnesses the Defence was permitted to call. The Prosecution called 41 witnesses to take the stand against Chowdhury. On the day the final Prosecution witness was called, the Court branded the 1153-long witness list a ploy aimed at delaying the case and arbitrarily cut the Defence witness list to just five.

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Farron: Ministry of Justice need to be “dragged into 21st century” over Tara Hudson

Tim Farron has intervened in the case of Tara Hudson, the transgender woman from Bath who has been sent to serve a 12 week prison sentence at an all male prison because, basically, of some paperwork. She’s never applied for a Gender Recognition Certificate, but she has lived as a woman for all of her adult life.

Tim expressed his fears for Tara’s safety to Pink News. He said:

The Liberal Democrats will raise this case in Parliament.

There is a clear need for a policy change in this area. It looks like the Ministry of Justice needs be dragged kicking into the 21st century.

As I understand it, Tara has lived all her adult life as a female. I worry potential risk of harm to her in a male prison which was deemed to have levels of violence ‘considerably higher than in similar prisons’ by the prisons inspectorate.

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Scottish Liberal Democrat Alison McInnes saves our civil liberties…again

There may only be five Scottish Liberal Democrat MSPs,sadly, but by heavens they have delivered incredible things.

As Justice Spokesperson for the last four years, Alison McInnes has stopped the SNP Government in its tracks several times. She couldn’t stop them centralising the Police, but she could make a fuss when statistics showed that officers were stopping and searching children. She made a fuss when the SNP started using armed patrols on routine duties in peaceful Highland communities. She defended our rights when the SNP tried to remove the requirement for corroboration in our legal system. She explained why this was so important at our Conference in Autumn 2013:

This is a profound change – sweeping aside centuries of well-established Scottish legal practice.

Conference, Scots Law is not safe in the hands of the Scottish National Party.

In Scotland the Crown prosecutes in the public interest. We must guard against any shift towards prosecuting in the victim’s interest. That would be at odds with our fundamental liberal belief in the need for a robust, transparent and independent justice system.

We need to defend the principle of the presumption of innocence and safeguard against false accusation, wrongful conviction and miscarriages of justice.

The SNP’s proposals will mean that someone could be convicted on the basis of the testimony of just one person, even if five of the fifteen jurors believe that they are innocent.

Witnesses can be honest yet mistaken. Their evidence persuasive but wrong.

And, unfortunately, witnesses do sometimes lie to the police and in court- out of earnest to ensure that the accused is convicted, because of the strength of their convictions or through spite.

I am concerned that scrapping corroboration could mean that false accusations could become more common. The Law Society of Scotland warns that trials could be reduced to “a contest between two competing statements on oath”.

Eventually, after protest from many bodies across Scotland, the government agreed to a review – which would report after the legislation had been passed. Alison rightly thought this was ridiculous and didn’t rest until the plans were postponed until the publication of the review.

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Opinion: Are we transforming rehabilitation?

On Tuesday the London ‘Standard’ had the depressing headline “Rioters in new crime wave”. According to official statistics 1593 of the 3914 people charged or cautioned by the Met following the riots in August 2011 have since reoffended.

At our Autumn Conference in the month following the riots, I raised concerns as a Haringey magistrate that a knee-jerk approach was being taken to sentencing, with courts sitting overnight, dishing out custodial sentences as fast as they could. Prisons became overcrowded, sometimes with three prisoners sharing a cell meant for one; and precious little rehabilitation was going on.

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The Independent View: Liberal Democrat MPs should vote against secure colleges which would put younger children and girls at risk

“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails” said Nelson Mandela. Well, what would it reveal about the state of our nation if we were to hold our youngest children and some of the country’s most vulnerable girls in unsafe conditions where they felt fearful, intimidated and isolated?

On Monday, Liberal Democrat MPs will cast the deciding votes on whether this becomes a reality.

The Commons will consider an amendment made by the House of Lords to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill on “secure colleges” – the new form of child custody introduced by the Bill. These will be very large institutions (there’ll be 320 beds in the first one) which Chris Grayling, the Tory Justice Secretary, is adamant must hold girls and boys between 12 and 17 years of age.

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Police Scotland change armed policing policy – a victory for Lib Dem McInnes

Armed Police graphicWe’ve covered the controversy over the use of armed police in Scotland several times over the past few months. A standing authority for firearms led to armed officers patrolling Scotland’s streets, often against the wishes of local communities, particularly in the Highlands. People had been horrified to see police officers with guns in their holsters going into the shops in peaceful Highland villages. Concerns were also raised that the routine arming of Police would lead to criminals routinely arming themselves, making us all less safe.

Danny Alexander took exception to armed police patrolling the streets of Inverness. Alison McInnes, the highly effective Liberal Democrat Justice Spokesperson in the Scottish Parliament, has campaigned tirelessly for a change in policy. And yesterday, Police Scotland changed its mind. The BBC reports;

Specialist armed police officers in Scotland will in future only be deployed to firearms incidents or where there is a threat to life.

The move came following concerns from politicians about officers carrying weapons while on routine patrol.

Opposition parties described the move as a U-turn.

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Opinion: Crown Prosecution Service is wrong not to prosecute undercover police officers

It is now widely-known that the Metropolitan Police Force has engaged numerous undercover police officers in covertly infiltrating various organisations which ‘might be’ dangerously subversive over many years. Several such officers have’deepened’ their cover by forming sexual and emotional relationships with memebers of the organisations concerned and have even brought up young children in these circumstances: two such officers have now been named in court proceedings and the existence of almost a dozen others has been acknowledged.
Although private civil prosecutions are proceeding against both individuals and the Metropolitan Police, the Crown Prosecution Service has recently published statement that there is not sufficient evidence to obtain a reasonable chance of a successful prosecution in a prosecution for ‘misconduct in public office’ and a number of other potential offences.
Much of the evidence of the women concerned is already in the public domain and it is totally clear (and not contested) that there was no possibility whatsoever that they would ever have commenced any sexual ‘relationship’ (sic) with any person who revealed to them that they were a member of a clandestine police surveillance unit. It is also clear that there was no reason whatsoever why the police officers involved ‘needed to’ form such ‘relationships’ in order to continue to perform their covert work. The formation of such ‘relationships’ although they may well have deepened the ‘cover’ and ‘trust’ in which the officers were held, was created by the police officers concerned for their own comfort, convenience and sexual gratification after manifesting to the women concerned, over a prolonged period and in a sustained way, the premise that they had a genuine wish to create a genuine relationship with them. This latter premise is demonstrably-false:the entire persona presented to the women by each of the officers concerned was a deliberate deception. They knew that no such relationship could be sustained once the truth emerged.
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Opinion: If we remove prison as an option for drugs possession, savings must go to boost probation service

Wormwood Scrubs prison - Some rights reserved by TheGooglyAs a magistrate in North London, I welcome the recent Liberal Democrat proposal to remove prison as a sentencing option for drug possession. I have seen so many defendants who are in and out of prison, never breaking the depressing cycle of re-offending. However to keep drug addicts out of prison we will need to make sure that the alternatives work.

Currently it is very rare that first time offenders accused of drug possession would be sent to prison With first time offenders, the …

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Why we need Liberal Democrats: Consensual Stop and search of under 12s in Scotland halted

Police stop and searchThe Scottish Liberal Democrats aren’t in Government at the moment. Despite that, the small Parliamentary group has had quite an impact in the past 3 years. Willie Rennie has had Salmond squirming at First Minister’s Questions over his associations with Rupert Murdoch and has been pivotal in securing extra funds for colleges, childcare and free school meals.

Back in January, it came to light that 500 children under 10 had been stopped and searched by Police in 2010. That’s bad enough. Last year that figure was just 88 …

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Julian Huppert MP writes…Let’s bring the “polluter pays” principle to government decision making

imageAll too often Government departments get decisions wrong. Most notorious are the Home Office and the Department of Work and Pensions. Many people will be well aware of the anguish faced by those awaiting Employment and Support Allowance appeals, and the same is true for those waiting to see if they can stay in the country, or bring in a spouse.

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Alison McInnes MSP writes…The Scottish Justice Secretary is wrong to say stop and search is an operational matter

Police stop and search1st April 2014 marked the 1st anniversary of Police Scotland, a single national police force that replaced our 8 regional forces.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats were the only group in the Scottish Parliament to oppose the national force from the outset.

One of the key strengths of Scotland’s policing up until then had been its local foundations.  Funded by local councils, managed by local officers and officials, accountable to locally elected representatives, responsive to local needs.

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Stop and search nonchalance from Justice Secretary shows why Scotland needs the Liberal Democrats

Police BrutalityIn January, I wrote about the worryingly high police stop and search figures in Scotland, which is proportionately much higher than in England includes over 500 children under 10 years old.

Now it transpires that these figures may not be accurate. And may be made up. According to the Edinburgh Evening News:

Official figures show a huge number of incidents where stop-and-search powers have been used since the creation of a single police force. Critics claim officers are under pressure because the number of stop-searches has been made a “key

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Opinion: Tell us your views on a fair, liberal criminal justice system

The prevention, detection and prosecution of crime and the sentencing and rehabilitation of offenders is one of the fundamental roles of the government and the independent judiciary. It is also something that matters enormously to the electorate. No-one wants to be a victim of crime. No-one wants to be accused of a crime they did not commit.  Many offenders would want to rehabilitate themselves and live a decent life in the future.

For too long, crime policy has suffered from an obsession shared by successive Labour and Tory Governments of seeking to be ever tougher than the last and yet completely …

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Willie Rennie warns against SNP “dismantling of Scottish justice system”

The other day, someone said in a comment on here that the SNP seemed like a liberal party. I don’t doubt that there are liberals in it, but they are not evident at the higher levels and particularly in regard to anything the Scottish government does in relation to justice.

Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Secretary has presided over a massively disproportionate use of stop and search powers, agreed to appalling overuse of solitary confinement for vulnerable female prisoners, failed to be mortified after a second damning inspection report at Scotland’s women’s prison, Cornton Vale and is now

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Opinion: Justice for Simon Hughes

As someone who has never exactly been a supporter, there have been very few bright spots in the otherwise suffocatingly dark firmament which is the Coalition Government.  One was and is the appointment of Norman Lamb as Care Minister who has been doing a remarkable job, also the undoubted achievements of Lynne Featherstone.  So the news yesterday that Simon Hughes has been appointed a justice minister was one of those rare occasions when some of my perennial despair was tinged with just a little hope.

I have a lot of time for Tom McNally and I think he …

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Julian Huppert writes… Fixing the women’s prison estate

After only  a couple of weeks with women offenders under his remit, Liberal Democrat Lord and Minister in the Ministry of Justice, Tom McNally has this morning announced what may be a step-change in the way Britain handles the women’s estate.

Six years after the Corston review, which bemoaned the lack of a tailored and differentiated approach to dealing with female offenders, we are finally seeing her recommendations being implemented. Corston called for an approach that recognised and reacted to the needs of women in the prison estate. Following on from this our Conference called for a radical change in the way women were handled throughout the criminal justice system and in Government we have delivered on your demands.

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Lord Tom McNally writes…Liberal Democrats secure best possible deal for collaborative EU justice

The Commons votes tonight on whether the government should exercise the impenetrably-named ‘EU Justice and Home Affairs mass opt-out’.

While it sounds dry and technical, this decision is hugely significant as EU ‘JHA measures’ have been crucial in securing justice for hundreds of British victims of crime. These instruments have been prominent in the extradition of attempted London bomber Hussain Osman from Italy under a European Arrest Warrant, in coordinating via Eurojust the investigation into the Annecy killings and in Europol’s EU-wide investigation, ‘Operation Veto’, into match-fixing and corruption in sport.

The mass opt-out is not an ingenious new attempt by the …

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Julian Huppert MP writes…A credible alternative to prison has always been a Liberal Democrat priority

For decades British Governments have been locking up criminals for 12 months or less, to watch them reoffend straight after they leave prison. Worse than that, the policy is costly, and holds little public confidence.

But when you look at how we treat women offenders, the situation is even worse.

Almost half of women serving 12 months or less will reoffend within the next year. And of all women in prison, 6 in 10 are there for six months or less; the vast majority of whom have committed non-violent offences. The last Government’s response was to increase the female prison …

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Opinion: Who’s the odd one out?

Name the odd one out: Timothy Edmonds (convicted paedophile), Hussain Osman (convicted terrorist), Julian Assange (Wikileaks founder wanted for questioning by Swedish police) and Abu Hamza (Egyptian-born militant Islamist now facing terrorism charges in a New York court). Not too difficult – it’s Abu Hamza, who was extradited to the USA after an eight-year legal battle.

The other three are currently, or have been in the past, the subject of European arrest warrants. All of them, if Theresa May gets her way, would have been able to evade justice for as long as

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