Operation Early Dawn – keeping criminals on the streets

Guest blog by Ann Crighton

In my last blog I had a rant about the fact that if you were a victim of a serious crime AND the Police caught the culprit, you are likely to wait approximately three years for your case to come to Court.

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Since then Operation Early Dawn has been announced by the Ministry of Injustice – an ‘emergency measure’.

What is Operation Early Dawn? You may wonder. Well, it is something that makes the situation mentioned above even worse.

The Courts have been directed to adjourn cases listed for hearings if a Defendant is likely to be sentenced to a custodial sentence. Reason – the jails are full. Well, leaving aside the number of people in prison on IPP* sentences who should be released but have not been and the number of people in prison instead of receiving treatment for mental illness, I know why.

Let me give you three examples of people sent to prison when there is absolutely no chance of them ever committing an offence again.

Case histories

  1. Woman aged 56 driving son home from Edinburgh University.  For some unknown reason she drifted over the white line in the middle of the road for 5 seconds and that caused a lorry to swerve and kill two healthy people of a similar age.

    The Prosecution expert report said she may have had a ‘micro sleep’ and that a micro sleep can last between a few seconds up to 30 seconds but the person having the micro sleep may be totally unaware of it.  Earlier that morning she had sent a text saying she felt well because she had a good night’s sleep.

    She was air-lifted to hospital and will suffer pain for the rest of her life. She pleaded guilty to dangerous driving because she did not want the family of the deceased people to suffer more than they had already by having a trial when the accident had been caused by her. Sentence 28 months custody.

  1. Lorry driver, aged 39, drove at 55 mph in a 40 mph zone. Sentenced to seven years custody for causing death by dangerous driving.
  1. 40 year-old man driving at twice the speed limit at three am hit and killed a cyclist who was in the middle of the road with no lights, no reflectors, dark clothes i.e. not easily perceivable. Sentence eight years custody.

Those are three examples, none of which had previous convictions or cautions. All three had clean driving licences.  All working and paying tax. All, quite rightly, banned from driving for years, but what is the point of sending these people to prison when there is absolutely no chance of them ever committing an offence again?

Why are we ruining their lives AND also paying to keep these people in prison when there is NO chance of them committing an offence again?  Why not suspended prison sentences with community service instead?

What really vexes me is that not only are we paying to keep people in prison who have not committed an offence before and are extremely unlikely to commit an offence again, doing that also prevents people being sent to prison who really ought to be in prison – people who leave home with the intention of causing harm – violent people, dishonest people or even some truly evil people!

*IPP = Imprisonment for Public Protection which, roughly translated, means no release date even though some crimes can be described as ‘minor’.

Legislation passed in Gordon Brown’s tenure and what he describes as one of his greatest regrets.  IPP prisoners have been known to commit suicide having been in prison for umpteen years with no release date in sight.  IPP sentences were stopped a few years ago but those previously sentenced are still rotting in jail and Prison Governors are calling for them to be released BUT they are still there !

Ann Crightoncrightonchambers.com

Ann Crighton is a barrister with her own chambers, specialising in motoring law

If you would like to know more about Ann, you can read a profile of her career in the law Society Gazette here