Clarke warns of child knife sentence risk

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The Government should carefully consider the repercussions of taking away judicial discretion before bringing in mandatory jail terms for children who carry knives, the Justice Secretary has said.

Kenneth Clarke risked reopening a row with Home Secretary Theresa May over whether the Government’s plans to bring in a mandatory sentence for adults convicted of carrying knives should be extended to cover those under 18.

He yesterday told MPs that judges simply find excuses not to apply mandatory sentences when it is clear it would be unjust to do so, saying it was a “game that should not go on between the Parliament and the courts”.

Mr Clarke added that the move would also go against British tradition and the way in which the specific details of individual cases, along with any mitigating circumstances, are carefully considered by judges before passing sentence on juveniles.

Asked by Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, why he was against suggestions by the Home Secretary and the Mayor to extend the proposals to under-18s, Mr Clarke said: “Mandatory sentences in British law are a bit of an innovation.

“It’s rather an American thing, based on the assumption that you can’t leave it to the judge to listen to the circumstances of the offender, or the circumstances of the offences – Parliament has to lay down a mandatory minimum in all cases, come what may.”