CHARLES GRAHAM - Perversion of justice

MUCH as he deserved his plunge from high office and much as his ex deserved punishment for her own deviousness, I am not sure Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce are in the right place today.

This week the pair were beginning eight-month prison sentences for perverting the course of justice after she agreed to take his speeding points 10 years ago and then decided to drop him in it after he ran off with another woman.

Lying to the authorities is, of course, a serious offence and shouldn’t be taken lightly. But when folk have committed umpteen burglaries and yet seem to be spared incarceration by judges and magistrates with remarkable regularity (there was a serial thief given just one day’s custody for his 338th and 339th crime this week), it seems odd that this duo should be locked up for first offences of this “victimless” nature.

In fact I thought it was on the melodramatic side when I heard that the former Energy Secretary had been taken down from the dock in handcuffs. A foolish and arrogant prat he may be, but doesn’t strike me as the type who was about to leap across the court room in a bid to abscond or throttle the judge. I have been a staunch defender of our prison system when some folk have been pointing out that many ex-convicts go on to re-offend.

After all, what the anti-prison lobby neglects to point out is that an even greater percentage of criminals who are spared prison go on to commit crimes again too - and the public isn’t even given a rest from their nefarious activities. Neither do many actually complete (or even start, community service orders).

Prison is a vital part of our society and if we need to build more to cope with an increase in felons who are a menace to society then by all means build them.

But I do sometimes chime with those parties who say that the current overcrowding problem would be eased by the use of non-custodial sentences for crooks who don’t pose a danger to the public.

If Huhne and Pryce had been given community sentences - several weeks of park fence-painting or graffiti-removal for instance - then I am sure they would have completed rather than dodged these punitive tasks (a rabid media would hardly let them get away with it, given the chance to subject every move of their punishment to the full and humiliating glare of publicity).

And so justice would have been served, while more cell space for crooks who pose a proper threat to society would then have been freed up.