28/02/2003

Tough new laws considered for rioters

Rioters could face up to 12 months in jail under new legislation being considered by the government, it was revealed today.

The government has announced its intention to change the law and increase sentences for those found guilty of public order offences from six months to a year.

NIO Minister Des Browne said: "Many people still view riotous behaviour as an insignificant crime bordering on the socially unacceptable rather than the criminal.

"This tougher penalty, and the new arrest power, demonstrates that behaving in this way will not be tolerated by this government, the police or the public.

"No one should have any doubts as to the consequences of indulging in this violent activity. The police will arrest rioters on the spot and the offenders will face a lengthy prison sentence."

The change to the legislation will be made through an amendment to the draft Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2003.

In addition, an amendment will be made to provide that the accused does not have the option of jury trial, which would otherwise be available where there is a maximum sentence of 12 months in a magistrate's court. Also, provision will be made to make riotous behaviour an arrestable offence.

Alliance Party Justice Spokesperson Stephen Farry has welcomed the announcement. However, Dr Farry said the initiative must be backed up by a "pro-active policy" of making arrests and prosecuting those engaged in street violence.

"There widespread public disgust at the sight of people engaging in public order disturbances such as street violence or illegally blocking roads. Too often the response of the authorities is to contain the disorder, meaning those involved get away with breaking the law. Often it seems that the more people there are engaged in public disorder, the greater their chance of getting away scot free," he said.

"These proposed changes in legislation may go some way to addressing our problems. However, the real deterrent is when those intent on engaging in street violence know there is a good chance of being arrested and prosecuted."

Consultation on the proposed Order was due to end on March 13. However, to allow extra time for consideration of the additional provision, the consultation period has been extended by one week.

(GMcG)

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