London, April 19: Courts must take care not to “overreact in unprecedented times”, a former director of public prosecutions has said, amid concerns that lengthy sentences being imposed during the coronavirus crisis could be excessive.

With courts prioritising coronavirus-related prosecutions, Ken Macdonald QC said acts such as deliberately spitting at police officers or service workers was “more than a nuisance, it is deliberately dangerous and I’m not surprised the courts are jailing the worst offenders in this category”, The Guardian reported.

But of lesser offences, he said: “Prison isn’t the place for nuisances, especially during a pandemic when confinement is so risky and difficult for the authorities to manage. Courts should avoid the inclination to overreact in unprecedented times. Filing up our prisons during a pandemic with people who clearly need psychiatric help rather than punishment is a poor criminal justice policy.”

Lord McDonald’s intervention comes after Max Hill QC, the director of public prosecutions, said crimes relating to Covid-19 were “an immediate priority – anybody jeopardising the safety of the public will face the full force of the law”.

Interim guidance published by the Sentencing Council this month instructs judges to treat “activity relating to transmission of Covid-19 … as an aggravating feature” of common assault offences.

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