Convicted rapists and burglars will be spared jail from next week as Britain’s prisons are so overcrowded, a report has suggested.
The Times claimed Lord Edis, senior presiding judge for England and Wales, has ordered that sentencing of convicted criminals who are currently on bail should be delayed from Monday.
The newspaper also reported that at the same time some prisoners will be released early under proposals from justice ministers.
Magistrates’ courts, which typically deal with lower-level crime such as motoring offences and minor criminal damage, are to be used to hold suspects accused of the most serious crimes who are remanded in custody, it was claimed.
One judge reportedly feared defendants charged with historic rape or rape of a child under 13 and other sexual assault would remain on bail even if convicted.
The edict to judges has been described as “short-term”.
“What am I going to do if a jury finds someone guilty (of rape),” one judge is reported as saying.
“Do I release that person who is now convicted back into the community, where the victim might see them? What will the victim think?”
The latest official figures showed the prison population stands at 88,016 – a rise of 223 on a week earlier. The estate’s capacity stands at 88,667 – meaning there are only around 650 places left. The most recent set of projections estimate the prison population will hit 94,400 by March 2025.
The government has floated plans to rent prison space from foreign countries to ease the pressure on UK prisons.
The lord chancellor and justice secretary, Alex Chalk, told Tory conference last week: “This government is doing more than any since the Victorian era to expand prison capacity.
“Alongside our extra 20,000 prison places programme, refurbishment of old prisons and rapid deployment cells, renting prison places in other countries will ensure that we always have the space to keep the public safe from the most dangerous offenders.”
The Times said the Ministry of Justice declined to comment.