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Why was it introduced (political/sociological context)?
It was thought by parliament and the general public that sentences were not severe enough for criminals. The media had capitalised on stories about offenders being released early from incarceration even though they had committed serious crimes. This had caused a general public outcry for a review and reform of criminal laws and sentencing. There were wide public fears regarding terrorism and paedophilia and there were reports of paedophiles and terrorists being released early from their sentences. The public felt that this did not send a strong message to offenders, and did not act as a sufficient deterrent to prevent wrongdoers from committing crimes.
Reoffending rates were high which was a clear indication that improvements needed to be made to the Criminal Justice System. It was agreed that there was a need to ensure that offenders were properly punished and prevented or deterred from offending again. In consideration of the problem from a broader perspective, it was recognised that it was the taxpayer who bore the costs of offender’s court cases. If a reform in the law was successful, this cost would also be reduced which was in the best interests of public safety and reducing the burden on taxpayers. A delay in the judicial process was also identified. The delay was causing unmeritorious claims to stay in the justice system for a long time and also prevented a fair outcome from being reached. In some instances, this was due also to the internet and technological advancement which was allowing offenders to impact the jury during trials (juror misconduct). It was also recognised that young offenders were likely to reoffend if they were not given the tools or the incentive they needed to turn their lives around. This also needed to be tackled under a reform.
What was the aim of the Act (legal context)?
The main purpose of the act was to tighten the current criminal laws to combat the issue of offenders falling through gaps in the legislation, thereby avoiding a fair and just penalties for crimes they had committed. The Act aimed to make suitable provisions about how offenders are dealt with before and after conviction. Further, the Act made provisions for crimes that were fairly ‘new’ but needed to be regulated given their seriousness. The Act was brought in to speed up the Judicial Review process by reducing the number of meritless claims. One of the Act’s objectives was also to release the burden from taxpayers who were having to front the bill for re-offender’s court cases. If the number of reoffenders were reduced then the number and consequently the cost of court cases would decrease. Overall, the Act intended to modernise the justice system.
What main changes did it make to the law?
New provisions included the offences of revenge porn, being the disclosure of private sexual photographs with the intent to harm the person; internet trolling; the ill-treatment or wilful neglect of social workers or care workers; corrupt or improper uses of police power and privileges and to make provisions for offences committed by disqualified drivers. Amendments to the Act included the tightening of the offence of meeting a child following sexual grooming and amending the offence of possession of extreme pornographic images. As well as this, the Act tightened the laws around Judicial Review and when Judicial Review can reasonably be implemented. Under section 1(2), the penalty on conviction of indictment of an offence for terrorism amended the penalty of an imprisonment term up to 10 years, to that of life imprisonment under the Terrorism Act 2000. Also, any acts of involving training for terrorism under section 1(3) of the Act amended the penalty of an imprisonment term up to life under the Terrorism Act 2006. This demonstrated the legislature’s firm stance on acts of terrorism in response to the public’s concern and the statements made by ministers in support of longer imprisonment terms. There were also a number of smaller changes made to the wording of other criminal Acts to clarify its interpretation. This acted as a means of tightening the laws. Importantly, provisions were added to put education at the heart of youth custody so that young offenders had the opportunity to change their lives and reduce their risk of reoffending. The creation of new crimes and the tightening of some current regulations was a much needed to change to ensure that new circumstances that warrant a sanction of some kind do not go unpunished.
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