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Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008

Why was it introduced (political/sociological context)?

The changes to the law that can be seen by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 which were based on recommendations contained within two Government reports. These pointed towards the need for a faster and simpler criminal justice system and the overall importance of putting ‘law-abiding people and communities first’. In addition, there were a number of issues that were arising in the UK in the years prior to its enactment that influenced these reports and the final statue.

For example, the prison population had been rising at a rapid rate over the previous years and there was a growing concern about how prisons could sustain this growing population. This lead the Government to seek new ways to reduce the overcrowding in UK prisons in a time of crisis. In addition, the Government was also looking for new ways to cut down on crime and make sure re-offending was reduced, as this was a problem that was contributing to overpopulated prisons. Tackling this problem was also part of their goal to better protect society.

There was a need for a new criminal offence regarding extreme pornography and this was discussed in detail before the Act. In particular, the three year campaign for legal change was initiated by Jane Longhurst’s mother, after her daughter was murdered by Graham Coutts in 2003. This campaign and case was very public, gathering momentum in the public eye. It was believed that Graham Coutts had been influenced by violent pornography prior to Jane Longhurst’s murder. While many attempts by the Government were made for violent websites to be shut down after this case, a significant number of websites were not based in the UK. This caused problems for the Government and meant the problem was beyond the scope of their control. Thus, there was a desire for more to be done by the law to ban this kind of abhorrent material and there was a growing campaign to make accessing this material a crime.

What was the aim of the Act (legal context)?

The aim of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 was to consolidate previous changes to the law into one Act, as well as introduce reforms to the criminal justice system. The goal was to cut crime and protect the public, as well as make the criminal justice system more effective and simpler.

There had been many rules adjusted and precedents set through case law over the last 10 years that was to be put into statute. For example, self-defence law. This Act would aim to make changes to the criminal justice system in England and Wales, as well as some laws applying to Scotland and Northern Ireland.

What main changes did it make to the law?

The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 made a number of changes to the law, consolidating previous case law, as well as the creation of new offences.

To tackle overcrowding, section 26 of the Act contained the details concerning the early release of prisoners. This had the effect of bringing forward the release date for prisoners that were convicted before 4th April 2004 and were serving more than four years in prison. This would be an automatic early release, instead of the previous system of release based on the discretion of the Parole Board. This would not apply to life sentences nor those that had committed violent or sexual offences.

Section 63 of the Act produced the new offence of possession of extreme pornography. This was created to criminalise any image or media that was grossly offensive, disgusting and obscene. This focused on making it a crime for consumers to have this material, rather than targeting the distributors, as this had been a problem presented in the past.

Other big changes to the law include section 1 creating new community orders, aimed at young offenders under the age of 18. These Youth Rehabilitation Orders can be opposed on offenders who are guilty of an offence, but cannot be sent to prison. This acts as a non-custodial sentence. Part 10 of the Act also created a special immigration status for criminals that were not British and who did not have the right to reside in the UK. This status would mean they could not be deported from the country and would need to follow strict rules.

In addition, hate crime legislation under the Public Order Act 1986 was amended by section 74 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. Hate crime could now include actions showing hatred against somebody’s sexual orientation, expanding the scope of the legislation to tackle all kinds of discrimination.


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