Magistrates who have just realised that they will lose the power to send people to prison for less than six months when the Criminal Justice Act 2003 comes into force are calling for short prison sentences to be retained for some cases.

The change - which magistrates argue will prevent them sending drink drivers to prison - is due to be implemented in 2005 for young offenders and in 2006 for over 21s. But the drafting of the act is so obscure that many magistrates are only now waking up to its implications.

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