Yes, clearly we want sentences to be proportional and yes overfilling prisons with people who've stolen a bottle of water is not a good idea when there are so many local council executives who remain at large, but I find one aspect* of this extremely annoying. The horror that sentences should be driven by "populism" is just the bureaucracy being outraged that the proles (that's you, me and any politicians who don't tow the line) should have any influence, however temporary, on how this country is run. That has to nipped in the bud. Who knows where such a thing might end?
*Alright, not just one element.
I have no problems with sentencing policy reflecting the public mood. However, public sentiment is fickle, and can change rapidly. Say, as is anticipated, it takes two years to bring all the offenders to book .. if in the meantime public sentiment has changed, do the people caught later get different sentences? Do we, therefore, accept that people will get very different sentences for what amount to very similar crimes, carried out in the same period?
Or do we suggest that an essential part of justice is an element of consistency ... is that not what the rule of law is about?
I'm not going to disagree. Yes, we want sentencing to be consistent and yes
public opinion can be fickle, especially when panics are whipped up by politicians and the media but as I recall from various stories about opinion polls over the years, the public is consistently in favor of longer sentences and more custodial sentences. The people who run the system are consistently against this. Who comes out on top? What are the results in terms of crime levels?
If you haven't already, I suggest reading A Land Fit for Criminals by David Fraser. He discusses this issue of how the criminal justice system is run and for whose beneft. I'm going to try re-reading it again as I ended up getting too angry the first time and had to stop as I ended up shouting at the walls.
You are right, of course, that moral panics are probably the worst way to affect change and lead to injustices. My point was that much of the kicking back from the bureaucracy is not about balance and justice - it's about keeping the proles from influencing their little domains.