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The new minister for justice, Lord Falconer, has angered the trade by suggesting that shoplifters and burglars should not receive long jail sentences.

On his first day in charge of the new ministry of Justice (MoJ), Falconer said that he believed jail terms for 'acquisitive crimes' could be too long and that he would be asking the Sentencing Guidelines Council to carry out a review.

He said that alternatives such as community sentences had to be considered when they were "more effective in reducing re-offending and providing pay-back to the community."

The comments are thought to be a strategic move by the government to tackle prison overcrowding, but were labelled as 'irresponsible' by the ACS.

Public affairs manager Shane Brennan said: "It's entirely the wrong approach to remove the sanction of prison sentences for shop theft. For the most persistent offenders there needs to be the threat of prison. Devaluing these crimes by removing prison as an eventual punishment is irresponsible. It sends out completely the wrong message."

Other proposals in Lord Falconer's report include reducing the penalty for criminals who violate their parole. They would instead face a jail term of under 28 days.

Brennan added: "If the government is serious about reducing crime and anti-social behaviour, it must move shop crime up the agenda. Local shops are at the heart of the community and this needs to be reflected in government policy."

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Readers Comments:

Harendra Bhatt:

Government is making retailers accountable for imposing the legislation in shops, but we are not the guardian of the society and also are not paid to impose the law. When the Police don't have manpower, how are we supposed to enforce the smoking rules in our shops ?