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UK Lord Chancellor says system to blame for sentencing, not judges

[JURIST] Responding to public outrage in the UK over the possibility of parole within six years for a sex offender convicted earlier this week, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer [official profile] said on Wednesday's BBC TV program Question Time [recorded video] that judges are not to be blamed over the sentencing issue. Lord Falconer said "the problem is with the sentencing framework," and suggested that UK Home Secretary John Reid [official profile] should refrain making the sentencing debate a political issue by pushing Attorney General Lord Goldsmith to appeal [JURIST report] to the Court of Appeal the life sentence received by Craig Sweeney [Sky News report]. Prime Minister Tony Blair earlier said it was proper for Reid to publicly demand that Goldsmith appeal the sentence because it offended the public's sense of right and wrong.

Sweeney was convicted of molesting a three-year-old child, and in the sentencing remarks, the judge said that "real care must be taken in the future to ensure that he will not be released while there is any risk of him re-offending." However, a second judge noted the same day that under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 [text], which established the Sentencing Guidelines Council [materials] to ensure uniform sentences for those prosecuted under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 [text], Sweeney is potentially eligible for parole as early as 2012. The parole option [BBC backgrounder; BBC video] was included to encourage accused perpetrators to confess, thus saving the financial and emotional cost of a trial, but a recent report [Guardian report] that 53 convicted sex offenders initially sentenced to life have been released on parole since 2000 under the 2003 Act has fueled public outcry. The Guardian has more.

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