YORK’S top judge has met a city MP to give an insight into the workings of the justice system.

The Recorder of York, Judge Stephen Ashurst, met York Central Labour MP Hugh Bayley yesterday to discuss the courts’ role and to raise awareness of the job they do.

Recent figures showed York Crown Court sent 753 people to prison in 2008 compared with 539 in 1997, while dealing with serious criminal cases such as murder, rape or robbery, some of which were on appeal or referred from magistrates’ courts.

Mr Bayley said: “The punishment and reform of offenders is an important job and the courts have to ensure that the criminal justice system is fair. Prison is the right place for the most serious offenders, while fines or community sentences can be more appropriate for first time offenders or those who commit less serious crimes.”

There has been a significant reduction in crime in York and North Yorkshire in the last few years, and Mr Bayley said the York area was one of the safest places to live and work as a result. Overall, crime fell by 17 per cent in the York and Selby area between April 1 and November 1, 2009, compared with the same period in 2008. Mr Bayley said: “The public need to be protected from criminals and it is important that offenders are punished and made to repay their debt to society. “It is also important to try to turn people away from crime to stop them reoffending.

“If someone is a drug addict they need help to get off and stay off drugs, and offenders need help and supervision when they leave prison.”