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Nationwide figures show Sussex courts have a soft touch
Criminals in Sussex are getting some of the most lenient treatment in the country when they are sentenced in court.
Burglars at Lewes Crown Court were more likely to be spared prison sentences than at 96 per cent of courts nationwide when figures were last collected.
And sex offenders at Chichester got the softest justice of all, other than two courts in the country, according to newly released league tables.
Across the county, criminals have faced sharply differing sentencing trends – from the lightest touch to the toughest punishments.
Conservative MP Philip Davies, from Yorkshire, has ranked courts according to the number of convicted defendants they sent to jail in 2009 and 2010.
In 2010, Lewes Crown Court jailed fewer than half its 1,604 defendants.
Only about 60 per cent of burglars were sent to custody that year – 68 out of 112 – putting the court 73rd out of 76 nationwide for its imprisonment rate.
Chichester Crown Court
By contrast, Chichester Crown Court jailed 30 out of 34 convicted burglars in 2010 – at 88 per cent, the second-highest proportion in the country.
In 2009 and 2010, Lewes was in the bottom half of the table for violent crime, robbery, theft, criminal damage, drug crime and driving offences.
Of the crimes included in the survey, it was only in the top half for sex crime (34th) and fraud (12th).
In 2010, Chichester was eighth for violent crime sentencing, second for burglary and 11th for fraud.
In both years it was in the top half for violent crime, robbery and driving.
But it was in the bottom half for sex offences both years. It was also in the bottom half for drugs and criminal damage.
A spokeswoman for the Sentencing Council told The Argus: “Sentencing guidelines provide an approach to sentencing based on the harm to the victim and the culpability of the offender.
“The sentencer must follow the guidelines unless it is in the interests of justice not to do so.
“Other factors taken into account when sentencing include the number and type of previous convictions the offender has.”
But the differences between courts have been criticised by politicians.
After revealing the figures using Parliamentary questions, Mr Davies said: “I am astonished that one court jails nine out of ten while others are sending not much more than one in two burglars to their just deserts.”
Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, Katy Bourne, said yesterday: “We do have to bear in mind that this data is two years old, but I do intend to bring this matter up with my criminal justice partners when we next meet.”
Eastbourne solicitor Rodney Warren, chairman of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, said the provision in place for rehabilitation in areas like Brighton and Hove might mean there are more choices available for sentencing judges in Lewes than elsewhere, where prison might be the only option.
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