Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick debates involving the Ministry of Justice during the 2019 Parliament

Tue 12th Mar 2024
Wed 8th Nov 2023
Tue 6th Dec 2022
Fri 22nd Oct 2021
Assisted Dying Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading
Tue 18th May 2021

Victims and Prisoners Bill

Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick Excerpts
Lord Woodley Portrait Lord Woodley (Lab)
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My Lords, I support this group of amendments. I support of all the IPP amendments debated now and later this evening. First, I express my sincere regret for being unable to speak at Second Reading, as this is a subject, as colleagues know, that is very dear to me and of great interest to me and I have raised several times in your Lordships’ House.

I had the humbling experience of meeting and listening to former IPP prisoners, who had served from five to ten years more than their minimum sentence, and family members of prisoners who have served more than 15 years over tariff. I have to tell the Committee that it was a heart-breaking occasion, knowing that there was no end to their injustice in sight, no hope for the thousands of prisoners and family members who are treated so inhumanely, not enough courses to help them to apply for a review and not enough opportunities within the justice system to even give them a review.

As has been mentioned, IPPs were abolished over a decade ago, so how on earth can it be that so many people—almost 3,000 of them—are still living through this never-ending nightmare? I agree with the Justice Select Committee and the UN special rapporteur on torture that resentencing represents the only way forward for resolving the IPP scandal and for justice at long last to be done.

Importantly, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, mentioned, we must not forget the psychological effects of IPPs on prisoners and families alike, as the Justice Committee’s report so vividly highlighted and has been further demonstrated by the high number of suicides that we have tragically seen. Likewise, the UN special rapporteur, Dr Alice Jill Edwards, describes IPPs as “psychological torture” and says it is

“tragic that so many mental health challenges appear to have been caused—or at least aggravated—by the uncertainty of indeterminate sentences”.

I agree with that. This is a miscarriage of justice on an industrial scale. It may not presently have the profile of the Post Office scandal, but nevertheless it is a cruel injustice that has gone on for far too long.

I understand—as, again, has just been mentioned—that both Front Benches have previously been resistant to resentencing on the grounds of public safety. Of course, in an election year no one wants to look soft on crime. However, to quote Dr Edwards:

“It is the responsibility of the UK government to protect public safety, but citing this as the reason not to review IPP sentences is misleading. The UK, like any society with a strong rule of law, has measures to protect the community after prisoners are released. Locking people up and ‘throwing away the keys’ is not a legal or moral solution”


to this terrible problem. I agree, but if either Front Bench is still in need of more political cover to do the right thing, I suggest that Amendment 167C in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, which we will come to soon, fits the bill. That amendment would delay resentencing until the chief inspector was satisfied that the Probation Service could adequately protect the public following any resentencing exercise. The long- overdue release and justice for IPP prisoners should not be blocked over the excuse that the Probation Service cannot cope, but Amendment 167C might be the compromise needed to unlock that puzzle—a pathway out of this political impasse. I sincerely hope it is.

I urge the Committee to summon the post-war spirit of 1945 and back Amendment 167C from the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox. I know that IPP prisoners and their families are watching us here, hoping but also fearing what might be coming round the corner. Our Parliament must strike up the courage to act and correct the injustices that we can all see if we just open our eyes.

Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick Portrait Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick (CB)
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My Lords, I too support this array of amendments on IPP, both the current amendments and the ones that will follow. As the Committee will know, I am a regular visitor—twice a month—to prisons across the UK, and I will visit another one tomorrow morning. On a regular basis—two a month—I meet many incarcerated men and sometimes women, and many who have left prison over the last 10 years, and I have found relentless IPP tragedies around every corner.

I shall refer to one story from a meeting in December, when a man came up to me and said that he had been released from an IPP sentence 14 years ago but was recalled back to prison in September after he forgot to inform his then probation officer that he had gone on holiday with his wife in August for two weeks to Spain. This is just sheer stupidity, let alone the fact that this system is organising to persecute people compared with recognising their renewal. In his case, and not just because I have now met him twice, he does not deserve the taxpayer to spend nearly £50,000 for an extended period to make sure that he is further detained and punished.

I hope the Minister will gather up all his strength and either accept this array of amendments in one gulp or go back to the Lord Chancellor and determine to bring back an effective set of government amendments that will allow us to end this appalling stain of injustice and unfairness. Another man I met eight years ago from a prison in Kent had been recalled three times. From an initial sentence of seven years, he had done over 24. The persecution of this man’s mental abilities was blatantly obvious; he was no risk to anyone. I can tell noble Lords that since we campaigned for his release, and he has been released, he is an honourable citizen paying his taxes. That is how we should treat many of these men—they are largely men—to see that they are given the opportunity to prove their new life.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Portrait Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts (Con)
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My Lords, I wonder whether I could detain the Committee for one minute on Amendments 156 and 157. The background to this is my time as chairman of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, when, with my noble friend Lord Blencathra, we drew attention to the creeping growth in the power of the Executive at the expense of the legislature in our reports Government by Diktat and Democracy Denied?. Therefore, when amendments present changes to be effected or not effected by secondary legislation, my ears prick up.

First, we have to recognise that there has to be secondary legislation. The SLSC looks at between 600 and 800 regulations per year. To think that those can be put through by primary legislation is fanciful. The Government’s system would be completely gummed up, so something has to be done.

Secondly, we all know that the system for scrutinising secondary legislation is weak, to say the least. There is no chance to amend, even if the House were to agree that one particular provision in a regulation was inadequate or wrong; it is all or nothing. There is no room for ping- pong or other things we see in primary legislation. All those things are important. This House has decided to stand in the way of secondary legislation only six times since 1968. The last time, in 2015, led to a full-scale constitutional crisis, the Strathclyde review, et cetera.

With great respect to my noble friend Lord Attlee, it seems that Amendment 156 would lock us into the structure we currently have. He says that a criminal justice Bill will be along in no time at all; maybe, but we would be locked into the structure we have because the Secretary of State has no power at all. By contrast, Amendment 157, in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, would give the Secretary of State some powers, but only to loosen, not to tighten. It seems to me that, in so far as we are seeking a balance between the Executive and the legislature, between moving too quickly and not moving at all, Amendment 157 is to be preferred, and I hope the Committee would not accept Amendment 156.

King’s Speech

Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick Excerpts
Wednesday 8th November 2023

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick Portrait Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick (CB)
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My Lords, we now know from the gracious Speech that the election is coming because, whenever an election comes, the ruling political party seeks to beat up on criminals and to make crime the centrepiece of its strategy. It feeds into prejudices, so the great weight of the gracious Speech was all about ensuring that the public can feel better and safer. But if it were the case that longer sentences made for less crime, the United States would be a role model for effective community safety, and its poor gun laws, let alone its fraught communities, would prove the point that longer sentences—permanent lock-ups—dealt with the problem. They do not.

The Minister spoke about all the Bills, and there are lots of them. We know the Government are tinkering around, coming up with little hacks here and there, to find a way to make it all look good, but there is one thing they have failed to do consistently since 2019. In their manifesto, they promised a royal commission on the review of the criminal justice system. That is a broken promise: no royal commission. The King yesterday should have referred to his mother’s famous Speech after the election of 2019, with its commitment to a royal commission. No royal commission: promise broken. You cannot keep tinkering with the system, hoping that little hacks here and there will make it better. But it makes the news—hence the attempts by the Government to look better simply by making it nastier.

If only we really had proper, intelligent approaches to crime prevention. I can speak on this subject, having been the founder and chairman of Crime Concern since 1988, the founder and vice-president of Catch22, where I remain vice-president, and, for the last 10 years, the co-founder of My Brother’s Keeper, working in six prisons across the UK on a monthly basis. I see it, I hear it, I experience it and I know it. Because of what I have seen and heard, I can list a few things, other than just tougher sentences, that the Government, if they had a positive, intelligent approach to the issues, could have committed to do.

We have already heard from the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, about 15,000 people on remand, 770 of whom have been on remand for more than two years. I met one man recently who did two years and two months inside on falsified charges: no compensation, the ruin of his employment and his working life, two and a half years waiting to be set free, finally released with no compensation and no apology. Deal with remand. We have to believe, fundamentally, that people are innocent until proven guilty; therefore, locking up endless people in prison blocks up spaces.

There are 2,998 men on IPP lock-ups, when we know that IPP is no longer a legal sentence. It was abandoned by the Conservative Government under David Cameron. It was put in by our dear friend the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, way back, but has now been abandoned. But the lock-up of the 2,998 people who remain in prison means that they are taking up spaces, at £50,000 a year. Why do they remain unsorted? There is an opportunity, if the Minister would care to answer, of an amendment put forward by Sir Bob Neill in another place to the victims Bill. That could begin to deal with the issue of IPP cases, but will the Government actually back it and set these people free from what is effectively an unacceptable life sentence?

There are 2,000 women in prison who do not need to be there, on minor sentences that do not require incarceration. They should be set free. There are endless recalls. I encountered one man recently in a category C prison who had been free for 15 years and made the mistake of not informing his probation officer that he was taking a one-week holiday: he just forgot. He was recalled to prison, at £50,000 a year, for two years. This is madness, absolute madness. If we are really going to deal with the prison population issue, let us apply some intelligence and common sense to the whole issue.

Not only that, but it is important to note, as has already been said, that there are roughly 6 million crimes recorded every year and the police are able to deal with and catch about 6% of those responsible. That means that effectively more than 90% of people who have committed a recorded crime are out there with all of us, but we spend so much energy despising those who are paying the price of their crimes. We should be putting the energy into supporting people who are in the criminal justice system to come out as free men and women.

The need for a different approach is embedded in a chaotic system, and the only way it is going to be turned upside down is by a comprehensive royal commission review that looks at all the areas that we have simply skipped over; not by changing legislation every year but by looking hard at how to improve outcomes. The Children’s Commissioner released an information piece today pointing out that 80% of young people who go on to commit crimes have been involved in permanent truancy. That comes down to a key issue we can actually get to grips with and solve by making educational opportunities much more vivid and not having pupil referral units. If the Government want an intelligent approach to this, please look at practical solutions and do not introduce further laws to make it tougher and more difficult. Those make great headlines, but they do not actually solve the problems.

I finish with one final point. While I have been here in the Chamber, I had a phone call from someone who is inside a prison—I did not take it. He was ringing me to tell me some good news. I know this only because he rang somebody else and they sent me a message. That person is serving a life sentence for a very serious crime, but when you meet him, you realise that he is a human being with an open heart. I urge Ministers and those in No. 10 to stop saying nastiness about those who have committed unacceptable crimes. Treat them as humans, love them and support them to freedom, because, after all, they deserve to be citizens.

Prison Capacity

Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick Excerpts
Tuesday 6th December 2022

(1 year, 5 months ago)

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Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, action is being taken on transgender issues in the prison estate. I do not have the details with me, but I will write to my noble friend with the up-to-date position.

Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick Portrait Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick (CB)
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My Lords, the Minister has already said that if the Government had an alternative, they would put it in place. The issue of IPP sentences has been mentioned: 1,988 men are held under IPP charge. They should be set free. The former Prime Minister from the Minister’s own party decided that that was no longer an appropriate sentence, and why the Government persist with it is a bemusement. The number of those held on remand has tripled in the last 15 years and many of those remand prisoners who are young black men do not need to be held in prisons. They are being treated in a discriminating and racially inappropriate manner, simply because of suspicion. The Government ought to end the excessive use of prison for remand.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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The matter of prisoners being held on remand, particularly black prisoners, is again a matter for the courts, before the question of remand or bail comes. The Government respectfully would not accept that it is a matter of racial discrimination. If it were, it would be regrettable—I can certainly say that. I would point out to your Lordships that, in terms of young offenders, and in particular young black offenders, there is very significant success in diversion from the court process, away from youth courts and so forth, so that the number of young offenders coming before the courts has fallen very significantly in recent years.

Assisted Dying Bill [HL]

Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick Excerpts
2nd reading
Friday 22nd October 2021

(2 years, 7 months ago)

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Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick Portrait Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick (CB)
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My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, and to have listened to the erudite speech of my noble friend Lady Meacher. Like many in this House, I have personal reasons, family reasons—the painful and dreadful death of my own father—why I may be inclined to bend towards sympathy for the Bill, but I oppose it, with a heavy heart. I do so knowing so many experiences of multitudes of those I can call friends, and connections, who feel fearful of what is now proposed before this House, let alone before the country.

The saving grace of the Bill is the final protection of a judge in the High Court, who will make sure that the medical determinations are fair and accurate. Now, I realise that this is not a debate about justice or our justice system, or about race. However, I speak as an advocate of many black people and black organisations, and evidence earlier this year from the Joint Committee of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, which was looking into equal opportunities in health, revealed the fear that black communities, and especially women, have of unfair decisions made by health practitioners, as well as the massive fear in limited minority communities about judicial decisions—especially those of High Court judges.

For 38 years, as the founding chairman of Crime Concern and Catch22, I have visited prisons on a regular monthly basis, and I still do so. I have piles of correspondence about miscarriages of justice and massive misunderstandings of judicial decisions. There is not confidence that, for those who are probably often written off as the “pass by people”, the elements of this structure will deliver a fair opportunity to be considered or heard.

I wish that this was a Bill requiring the other place to invest massively in palliative care and hospital-based pain relief, and to endorse the hospice movement. After all, that is what we need more. We do not need to go down a road on which we know the slippery slopes are already evident—yes, Canada—and when we know that motives are malicious. People often act ungenerously when there is somebody of nuisance around them. When the system is strained, as it is now, it is not helpful to allow them easy ways through, especially when there are those who fear that the decisions made by courts are not fair at the moment.

Child Trust Funds: People with a Learning Disability

Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick Excerpts
Tuesday 22nd June 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, we have decided to consult, and that is a very important point. It should not be thought that there is nothing, so to speak, on the other side of the argument. I have received representations from third sector organisations that are very concerned that people with disabilities should retain the protections that the Mental Capacity Act, in which the noble and learned Lord played such an important part, gives them. The consultation will ask for views on how we balance these important, but sometimes opposing, principles.

Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick Portrait Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick (CB)
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My Lords, this Question raises the wider challenge of inadequate financial literacy for underage and mature individuals with special learning needs. As a parent of young adults now seduced into lock-in accounts by commercial banks, I ask whether there not a public duty that could fall on the Post Office to provide community adult numeracy and financial literacy skills. Should the Government consider investing in designated accounts with higher incentive rates for those less able to grasp the complexities of mortgages, investments and standard banking and thus less able to use the market to make money grow?

Queen’s Speech

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Tuesday 18th May 2021

(3 years ago)

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Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick Portrait Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick (CB)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, began this debate by saying that the wheels of justice never stop turning. I remind the House that in the last gracious Speech in December 2019, we had the promise of a royal commission on the criminal justice system. Subsequently, there were five Questions in this House, and every single time there was evasion from the Ministry of Justice, which said that the purposes of the royal commission were still under consideration. Now it has been abandoned, unless the Minister can tell us in his reply that it will be coming back. That is a massive disappointment to all of us who have been concerned about the reality of justice for those who feel that miscarriage rather than fairness is the normal experience.

This gracious Speech rightly and understandably prioritises victims, and everybody will have sympathy and understanding for that. But there is very little understanding of the needs of those who are in prison now or who may face prison and where miscarriages of justice are normative. I identify myself wholeheartedly with the brilliant speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Dholakia and Lord Paddick, who both identified the treatment of prisoners. A junior Minister in the Ministry of Justice—Alex Chalk MP in another place—issued a statement just the other day saying that prison leaders should not refer to people in prison as “inmates” or “residents”; they must be referred to harshly as “prisoners” so that they can experience the reality of their vileness and crimes. This is not a right and responsible attitude to take towards those who must deserve dignity and human rights. The Government should not be playing to the agenda of the Daily Express, Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph in seeking to constantly push up sentences and to make prisons harder and harsher.

There are those who would respond by saying, “So you are on the side of prisoners and the vile?” Well, let me cite the example of one young man who came to see me just three weeks ago. A young man by the name of Brandon, 24 years of age, was falsely accused and held on remand for 11 months in 2020, during which he was held in his cell for 23 hours and 45 minutes of every single day. When the charges against him were subsequently proved to be false, there was no apology, no compensation and no support. He was crushed as an individual and released with no recognition of the injustice done to him simply because police officers decided that he was to be a target. He now desperately needs support and help.

We see today in the newspapers the wonderful story of the brilliant law firm Hogan Lovells, which spent eight years fighting for compensation for two black men in North Carolina who have just received $75 million as a consequence of falsified convictions 31 years ago when both men were teenagers sent to prison on an inappropriate, inaccurate and non-just basis. This is the largest-ever payout in American criminal justice and the case was pursued entirely pro bono by the international law firm.

In the UK, we do not have a system whereby the Criminal Cases Review Commission brings forward such cases with any speed or determination. We simply allow those who are in prison to falter and fail. I have in my hand just one week’s worth of letters from prisoners telling me of issues of injustice and miscarriage in their cases. One man in particular, whose mother and aunt died as a result of the coronavirus, as a consequence sought to ask the prison if he could watch his mother’s funeral on YouTube. He was denied the opportunity to see his mother buried. That is not fairness and justice, treating prisoners with dignity or a recognition of their human rights.

We therefore urgently need a royal commission and for it to recognise that, yes, there are victims but there are also people whom injustice has locked away for too long.