History has taught us that for a totalitarian state to develop, it is necessary for the State to take control of the legislature, the press and the judiciary. That's why I'm very sensitive when a government start interfering in any one of these.
Take Jack Straw's comment that Magistrates should send fewer people to jail. Here we have the government attempting to hassle the judiciary into making decisions that will take the political heat out of the scandal surrounding the government's inability to build enough prisons to lock up all the people deserving of being locked up.
In a perfect country (heck, even in the US) it would never be tolerable that the executive branch of government should have the nerve to tell the judiciary how to do their jobs.
Let's get this straight : It is Jack Straw's government's job to build and maintain enough prisons to meet the country's need. It is the Magistrates' job to sentence offenders depending on the seriousness of their crime.
Or to put it anyother way : it should NOT be Jack Straw's government's job to interfere in sentencing and it should NOT be down to Magistrates to worry about whether there will be a prison place available for a convicted criminal that they sentence to prison.
The public are already convinced that the courts are "too soft". Plus, the Probation Service is as swamped as the Prison Service and wouldn't be able to take on the extra load of community sentences given to people who by rights should be prison.
So we'll either have to cross-fingers and hope that people stop committing crime (current government policy by the looks of it) or go out and build enough prisons.
There should not be a third option that involves browbeating Magistrates. I hope Magistrates ignore this (and any future) politically motivated diktat from central government.