Probation and Court Services: Workload

Debate between Lord Stewart of Dirleton and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Thursday 9th June 2022

(3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, disclosure of and taking into account the views of persons who are connected with or are directly victims of crimes is not a matter which bears directly upon the responsibilities of the probation service, but I assure the noble and learned Lord that the views of the Lord Chancellor in relation to the importance of this are being taken into account.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I want to ask about unpaid work as part of a community sentence. There is a huge backlog. For example, in January the east Midlands probation service had in excess of 100,000 hours of unpaid work which had not been delivered, and a low number of offenders actually complete their unpaid work. This undermines the sentence itself as well as victims’ faith in the justice system. What can the Minister say about the staffing levels necessary to administer unpaid work? Does he believe that this backlog can be reduced by any sensible proportion in the next year or so?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, training for probation staff to equip them with the necessary knowledge and information to be able to superintend unpaid work in the community, as with every aspect of their work, is invaluable. The Government have met their target to recruit 1,000 officers holding professional qualifications in probation for the financial year 2020-21 and 1,500 officers for the financial year 2021-22.

As for the noble Lord’s point about recognition of the importance of such work and how to ensure it is addressed, the Government recognise the importance of unpaid work in the community as an aspect of the sentence, note the backlog and the complex background against which that backlog has arisen—specifically the problems in relation to offender management caused by the pandemic—and are resolving them as quickly as possible.

Humanist Marriages

Debate between Lord Stewart of Dirleton and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Monday 25th April 2022

(2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, I am perfectly happy to arrange that someone from the relevant department should meet the noble Baroness—as, indeed, my colleague in the other place, Tom Pursglove MP, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, has met representatives from Humanists UK, and Crispin Blunt MP. That took place on 24 March.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, the Liberal Democrats clearly support this change; the Labour Party supports this change; the Government in Wales support this change; the Government in Scotland support this change; and, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, it is ultimately going to be a political decision, so why are the Government waiting for the Law Commission’s report?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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Because, my Lords, the question of marriage is a complex one and the Government do not wish to act prematurely where to do so may be to the prejudice of one group at the expense of others.

Coronavirus Act 2020 (Delay in Expiry: Inquests, Courts and Tribunals, and Statutory Sick Pay) (England and Wales and Northern Ireland) Regulations 2022

Debate between Lord Stewart of Dirleton and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Monday 25th April 2022

(2 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Stewart of Dirleton) (Con)
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My Lords, last month, 25 March marked two years since the Coronavirus Act gained Royal Assent. This Act gave us the necessary powers to tackle the direct health impacts of the Covid-19 virus, support individuals, businesses and the economy, and maintain our critical public services during the pandemic. When the Act was introduced, this House and the other place agreed for the temporary provisions within it to have a two-year lifespan. The Government have always been clear that these provisions would remain in place only as long as they are necessary and proportionate to respond to the pandemic. Thanks to the progress made in the fight against the virus, the Government have been able to repeal the vast majority of the temporary non-devolved provisions in this Act. There are now only five temporary non-devolved provisions remaining in force, which are extended by the regulations before us today.

Four of these provisions, at Sections 30, 53, 54 and 55 of the Act, relate to the justice system. They have allowed the system to continue to function throughout the pandemic, enabling the courts to deal promptly and safely with proceedings, and to avoid unnecessary social contact and travel while upholding the principle of open justice. They are now proving vital in our efforts to support court recovery. These temporary measures are so important to court recovery that we intend to replace them with permanent legislation, but we cannot afford any gap in provision while we wait for that legislation to complete its passage through Parliament, albeit some of it is comparatively well-advanced.

Section 30 removes the obligations for coroners to hold inquests with a jury where Covid-19 is the suspected cause of death. An equivalent measure is included in the Judicial Review and Courts Bill, which is expected to receive Royal Assent later this spring. The replacement measure has effect for two years and can be extended by regulations made by the Secretary of State. Neither Section 30 nor the new Judicial Review and Courts Bill prevents coroners from holding jury inquests in cases where they consider it appropriate. I think it is important to emphasise this element of discretion vesting in the coroner.

Sections 53, 54 and 55 enable participation in court and tribunal hearings to take place remotely by video or audio links. They also allow audio or video footage to be transmitted to remote observers and create new offences to prohibit the unauthorised recording or transmission of any live links sent from court. Essentially, it is an updating of the power inherent in the court already to regulate the behaviour of those observing its proceedings.

They are due to be replaced this summer with new provisions in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, subject to parliamentary approval. In the meantime, it is vital that these measures remain in place so that our courts and tribunals can continue to hold virtual hearings in an open and transparent manner. These measures continue to be crucial in helping our courts and tribunals to work more quickly through the backlog of cases that has built up during the pandemic.

Currently, around 10,000 hearings each week take place using some form of remote technology. On 14 February, the Lord Chief Justice issued guidance on the circumstances and types of proceedings where it might continue to be appropriate for advocates to attend Crown Court hearings remotely under these provisions. This includes bail applications, ground rules hearings, custody time limit extensions, uncontested Proceeds of Crime Act hearings and those hearings which involve legal argument only. Conducting these types of hearings via audio and video links means that court-rooms can be reserved for hearings which require participants to attend in person, including trials and sentencing hearings.

Without Section 30, the backlogs in our coroners’ courts would be significantly larger, further increasing the demand on local authority-funded coroner services. Hundreds, possibly thousands of individuals, would have to serve on Covid-19 inquest juries and coroner services would have been overwhelmed by the logistics. If the courts are unable to continue to use these provisions, even for a few months, I submit that it will have a significant impact on our court recovery programme. It will mean that defendants are waiting longer than necessary for trial, more complainers are waiting longer than necessary for justice and the bereaved are waiting longer than necessary for inquests. Therefore, we cannot, I submit, allow these powers to lapse. A maximum six-month extension will enable a smooth transition and avoid any disruption to service before replacement primary legislation comes into force. The provisions we are discussing today will be repealed once this new primary legislation is in force.

I turn to address a provision at Section 43 which relates to statutory sick pay in Northern Ireland. Section 43 is extended by this statutory instrument for a period of six months. This enables statutory sick pay to be paid from day one in Northern Ireland for absences relating to Covid-19. While statutory sick pay is ordinarily a transferred matter in Northern Ireland, Section 43 confers on the Secretary of State the power to make regulations in respect of this provision. In this provision, the UK Government are facilitating the extension of Section 43 on the formal request of the Department for Communities in Northern Ireland.

I take the opportunity today on behalf of the Government to note an addendum in the 12th two-monthly report of the Act, which was published on 24 March. This addendum addresses omission of status updates for two temporary provisions in previous reports. These are Sections 42 and 43 that relate to statutory sick pay and extend to Northern Ireland only. On behalf of the Government, I apologise for this omission and welcome the opportunity to correct it. The addendum provides information about the status of these provisions over the course of the pandemic. I have made inquiry of the Bill team about the way in which this addendum is promulgated and I am told that it together with an accompanying apology is placed in prominent view in the report.

I reassure the Committee and the House in general on behalf of the Government that the reporting omission has not impacted the policy relating to these provisions. The addendum provides information about the status of these provisions over the course of the pandemic.

On behalf of the Government, I thank all front-line workers and those working in our courts, tribunals and coroner services for the sterling work they have done to keep the system running.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this statutory instrument. It is fairly technical in the sense that it is a six-month extension of the current emergency provisions —starting from 25 March—to cover the coming into effect and Royal Assent for the two Bills which the Minister mentioned. In that spirit, we do not oppose this statutory instrument.

The Minister set out the importance of this emergency legislation in dealing with the situation we were in during the pandemic. I remind the Committee that I sit as a magistrate in the adult, youth and family jurisdictions, and have sat in a lot of these courts over that two-year period. I have been active in the two Bills the Minister mentioned, in trying to take the best of that experience and use it in continuing to work with an overburdened court system. I accept the points that he made that we are dealing with 10,000 hearings a week that have some form of remote technology in them and that we should do what we can to do hearings remotely, because it frees up court rooms to try to address the backlog.

Understandably, given the nature of this statutory instrument, the Minister did not address the BBC’s headline news today about the continuing and worsening backlogs for sexual offences. I was just looking up the statistics while waiting for this debate and the figures are getting worse: the average case length for sexual offences is 266 days—nine months waiting for suitable cases to come to court. This is getting worse, so I ask the Minister what the nature of the bottleneck is. Is it, as the criminal barristers are saying, that the number of criminal barristers has fallen over recent years? Is it because the number of judges’ sitting days has reduced? Or is it, as I have also heard, that there is a difficulty and a bottleneck in recruiting a sufficient number of judges to deal with these backlogs, that of sexual offences in particular? The Minister’s predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, made the point in previous debates that the lack of availability is not of courts as such but of appropriate judges. I would be interested to hear from the Minister whether that is still the case.

The Minister talked about Section 43 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 and statutory sick pay provision in Northern Ireland. I noted the correction that he highlighted, which I am happy to take as read; I do not want to go into that any further.

As I opened, we support this statutory instrument. It is a technical measure as provisions within other Bills come into place. Nevertheless, I think the Minister should say something about the seriously bad figures that were produced in BBC programmes and made headline news today.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his contribution and the spirit in which he framed his remarks, acknowledging the justification for this measure to extend the powers brought in under the peculiar and unique circumstances of Covid and the value that they had. As always with the noble Lord, he speaks from a position of expertise and experience of the value of such measures from his position as a magistrate—or, rather, his position as a magistrate informs his remarks.

The noble Lord posed a question on the figures. He sought an answer on the bottleneck and advanced a number of potential causes for it. I can tell the Committee something of the scale of the investment that the Government are making in the criminal justice system over the next three years. The sum of £477 million is to be invested in the system overall, which will allow us to reduce the Crown Court backlog to an estimated 53,000 by March 2025.

To provide additional capacity in the Crown Court, we are extending the sentencing powers in the magistrates’ courts from six to 12 months’ imprisonment for a single triable-either-way offence to allow more cases to be heard at that level in the magistrates’ court and drive down the backlog of cases over the coming years.

The figures we have indicate that these measures are already having a beneficial effect in that the case load in the Crown Court reduced from around 61,000 cases in June 2021 to around 58,500 at the end of February 2022. As a result, we expect to get through 20% more Crown Court cases this financial year than we did pre-Covid. The figures would be 117,000 in 2022-23, compared to 97,000 in 2019-20.

Power of Attorney

Debate between Lord Stewart of Dirleton and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Wednesday 2nd February 2022

(4 months, 4 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Lord for his question, and I can answer it by saying that in England it is a function of local government to carry out those tasks.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I too would like to acknowledge the lifetime’s work done by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross. There are things we take for granted until we no longer have them: our ability to choose; our ability to make decisions; and our ability to express ourselves. When these abilities fade, we need to have confidence that legal processes will protect our interests. We are all bombarded by attempts at fraud, almost on a daily basis, and more vulnerable people are more vulnerable to those attempts. The Government’s stated aim is to create a lasting power of attorney service for the digital world. My stepfather is 97. He does not live in the digital world. How will his interests be protected?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with everything the noble Lord outlined, and I can assure the House that a paper means of setting up these mechanisms will continue, even after digitisation.

Rape Trials

Debate between Lord Stewart of Dirleton and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Tuesday 25th January 2022

(5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to increase the proportion of rape allegations that go to trial.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Stewart of Dirleton) (Con)
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My Lords, the rape review action plan has committed to transforming the criminal justice system to tackle systemic failures on rape. In that, we demonstrate our commitment to transparency and public accountability throughout. Our aims are to improve victims’ experience of the criminal justice system, to increase the numbers of victims who stay engaged in the process and to build better and stronger cases so that more people are charged and, ultimately, more rapists go to prison.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. I will just remind the House how appalling the statistics are: only 1.6% of reported rape allegations result in a court case. As the Minister said, the Government’s response has been to put in place the rape review action plan. On 22 January the CPS published its latest statistics regarding the handling of rape. Five categories of data were published; they showed either a flatlining of the data or a modest improvement. Is the Minister happy with that improvement, or does he think he should put in place some targets?

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Debate between Lord Stewart of Dirleton and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, my first interest in criminal justice came about 20 years ago, before I became a magistrate, when I was a trustee of the Wandsworth Prison visitors’ centre. Like all those centres, it was set up on the recommendation of Judge Stephen Tumim, and we dealt with the needs of the families of prisoners. It was then that I first came across this problem—it is not new—and the fact that it is very much the management of small issues that is of central importance for the prisoners and their families.

We owe a debt of thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson. He has indeed gone into the detail of this problem and come up with a highly practical way of resolving it—tonight, potentially. This House should take advantage of that opportunity. In one sense, I will be intrigued to hear what reasons the noble and learned Lord the Advocate-General for Scotland might give for not pursuing this, but this really is an opportunity. The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, has addressed the three original points made in Committee in his new amendment, and I really encourage the noble and learned Lord to take advantage of this opportunity.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Stewart of Dirleton) (Con)
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My Lords, this amendment seeks to reduce releases on a Friday, or on days before bank holidays, including releases of persons whose release falls on a non-working day, by creating a power for the Minister to establish a pilot scheme via secondary legislation that would grant prison governors the discretion to release earlier in the week, where that would be helpful for the prisoner’s reintegration into society.

I thank all noble Lords who have participated, particularly my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for their constructive and entirely commendable approach to this. As my noble friend put it, rather than simply rehearsing the arguments made at an earlier stage, they have gone away, considered the matter and sought to refine them in answer to the points made by my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar.

The question posed ultimately by the noble Lord, Lord German, rehearsing the one posed by my noble friend, was: what is not to like? Regrettably, I cannot answer that with “Nothing”, which I suspect was the answer being fished for. I will endeavour to explain why.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, highlighted the existence of a discretionary scheme in Scotland, in terms of the Prisoners (Control of Release) (Scotland) Act 2015. We have engaged with the Scottish Government and looked at research carried out by the Scottish Prison Service, and we have seen that the uptake of this discretionary scheme since 2015 is extremely low: only 20 prisoners in that period have been granted early release. I submit that that gives us some indication of the complexities attendant upon the point. It is not as though we have in the neighbouring jurisdiction a solution to this matter which could be taken from the shelf and applied in England and Wales. We plan further engagement with the Scottish Government to look at the matter in more detail, and we will share the results of that engagement with the noble Baroness.

Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments (2005 Hague Convention and 2007 Hague Convention) (Amendment) Regulations 2022

Debate between Lord Stewart of Dirleton and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Tuesday 14th December 2021

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I am obliged. This draft instrument is made under the Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Act 2020, which I will refer to as the PIL Act. The Act currently gives force of law to these conventions and ensures that they are read together with any reservations and declarations made at the time of approval. It also sets out, in new schedules to the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act 1982, the text of the conventions. To ensure that the information is complete and readily accessible, this instrument will insert the text of the reservations and declarations alongside the convention texts in new schedules to the 1982 Act.

This draft instrument is technical in nature and does not alter the UK’s status as a party to either the 2005 Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements or the 2007 Hague Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance. It also brings into domestic legislation the texts of the UK’s reservations and declarations to those conventions. The UK has participated in the 2005 and 2007 Hague conventions since 2015 and 2014 respectively. Previously, we were bound by the conventions by virtue of our membership of the European Union—a status that continued to apply throughout the transition period in accordance with the withdrawal agreement. In September 2020, the United Kingdom took the necessary steps to join the two conventions as an independent party, as part of preparation for leaving the EU. This included depositing the necessary instruments of accession and ratification.

To be able to make this instrument, the PIL Act requires the Secretary of State to consult with such persons as they think necessary. To meet this requirement, the Ministry of Justice, on behalf of the Secretary of State, consulted key stakeholders in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as legal practitioners, academics and judges specialising in private international law, with whom the Ministry of Justice engages regularly. No objections to this instrument were received. In addition, as this instrument will apply to all UK legal jurisdictions, the consent of Scottish Ministers and the department of the Northern Ireland Executive has been obtained.

When rejoining these conventions as an independent party, the declarations and reservations by which the UK had been bound as a member of the European Union were not amended. This instrument will not make any changes to those reservations and declarations. While the existing reservations and declarations have been retained, this will not prevent the United Kingdom from changing them to either or both these conventions in future or withdrawing reservations to the 2007 Hague Convention if at any time it should to Parliament seem appropriate so to do.

Overall, as I have noted, this instrument is technical in its nature and will not alter the application of the conventions, nor their respective declarations and reservations. None the less, it is important to have the text of these declarations and reservations readily available in domestic legislation and alongside the text of the conventions for ease of reference for practitioners. I hope that the Committee will join me in supporting these regulations.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, in his introduction, the Minister said that that was his maiden speech in the Moses Room. I remember having a discussion upstairs about a year ago on some similar legislation, also to do with reciprocal enforcement of maintenance orders—the 2007 Hague Convention, to which I shall refer later in my contribution. As the Minister says, this instrument is technical in nature. We on our side support the Government on it.

The 2005 and 2007 conventions were transferred to domestic law as part of the package of the private international law Act last year; this instrument seems to transfer the definitions within the conventions over to UK law. I open with what may be a simplistic question to the Minister: will the definitions under the 1996 Hague Convention be transferred by secondary legislation in the new year? Is that an additional piece of process that we should expect?

The 2005 Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements ensures the effectiveness of exclusive choice of court agreements between parties to international commercial transactions. These clauses are common, particularly in high-value commercial contracts. The UK previously participated in the 2005 convention by virtue of EU membership, as we have heard; the EU ratified the 2005 convention, and it entered into force from 1 October 2015. On 28 September 2020, the UK deposited its instrument of accession to the 2005 convention to ensure that it continues its independent participation in the convention. The Minister set all that out in his introduction to today’s debate.

The 2007 Hague Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance provides for rules for the international recovery of child support and spousal maintenance. Both the 2005 and 2007 conventions ensure legal co-operation across jurisdictions to provide certainty and fairness for those involved in cross-border litigation. The Labour Party supported the transfer to domestic law of both conventions during the PIL Act 2020, as referred to by the Minister.

Finally, I return to my personal issue—I remember that the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, was there last year when I raised it; I see her nodding her head—with my hat on as a family magistrate. One of the most excruciating things that I do in that role is try to enforce the reciprocal enforcement of maintenance orders. The Minister wrote me a letter, which I have in front of me, in which he fairly set out the legal processes whereby reciprocal enforcement should be done. I accept that my assertion—that there are insufficient powers to enforce maintenance orders reciprocally—was wrong.

The point I wanted to make to the noble and learned Lord is that, whether I was right or wrong, it is still an excruciating process. It is very difficult to do. Very often the reciprocal enforcement of maintenance orders fails. I accept the point that he makes in his letter that it is not because of a lack of powers; maybe it is a lack of administrative will. It is absolutely an excruciating process for me as a magistrate and with the administration process around it. The parties we see in court are often in despair about trying to resolve these issues.

Nevertheless, I understand that we are talking on a more general basis today. I welcome the instrument that the noble and learned Lord has put forward. I am also in direct contact with the relevant Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, on the family court, so he does not need to introduce me to him. I will fight my own battles on this front.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his contribution. I well remember the opening of my account in the Room upstairs. I also remember the noble Lord’s close questioning, informed, as today, by his valuable experience on the Bench of magistrates in the family area of law, if I might put it like that.

The noble Lord posed a question about the 1996 Hague convention. The United Kingdom joined that instrument in its own right rather than through the European Union, so as I understand it no further action on that convention will be necessary.

I note with concern the noble Lord’s observations concerning the excruciating nature of the treatment of these matters in his capacity as a magistrate. I will do what I can, along with my noble friend Lord Wolfson in the Ministry of Justice, in order to assist.

At this stage, I register my appreciation and that of the Government for the assistance we received from stakeholders who engaged in consultation with us in the preparation of these instruments, and for the co-operation of our colleagues in the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive. With that, I commend the instrument to the Committee.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Debate between Lord Stewart of Dirleton and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, this has been a very interesting debate and I thank the noble Baroness for moving her amendment; in general terms we support it. The question marks would be about the standards, which she dealt with very fully, whether emergencies could be covered, and the potential costs. As the noble Lord, Lord Marks, said, there needs to be a transition to harmonising and raising standards in general.

I want to pick up a couple of points made by noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe expressed surprise that there was not already a common standard and I was surprised as well. He went on to talk about there being written records in courts, but that is not the case in magistrates’ courts; they are not a court of record. As a sitting magistrate, I regularly have interpreters in court. In the 14 years I have been a magistrate I can think of three or four occasions when the magistrate colleagues I have been sitting with have told me that the interpretation was wrong. They knew the language and were able to inform us, and we were able to deal with the situation. But, as other noble Lords have pointed out, that will not always be the case. It is not that unusual for interpretations to be wrong.

I want to make a more serious point, which the noble Lord, Lord Marks, also made, about interpreters overreaching themselves. As I mentioned in an earlier group, I regularly sit in the domestic abuse court and I have done various bits of training on that. One of the points the training makes is that you have to be careful with interpreters and translators when dealing with domestic abuse cases in minority languages. It has been recorded that the interpreters overreach themselves and what the witness or the victim is saying in court will get back to that minority group. It is something that the court needs to be very aware of and handle sensitively to prevent that happening—and it does happen. Nevertheless, in general terms, we support this amendment.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, Amendment 280 would restrict the Ministry of Justice to appoint in our courts and tribunals only interpreters who are registered on the national register of public service interpreting—the NRPSI—and possess a level 6 diploma in public service interpreting, or who comply with the NRPSI’s rare language status protocols.

The Ministry of Justice commissions the services of interpreters for our courts and tribunals in England and Wales through its contracted service providers, thebigword and Clarion Interpreting. These interpreters are sourced from the Ministry of Justice’s register, which is audited by an independent language service provider, the Language Shop. All interpreters are required to complete a justice system-specific training course before they are permitted to join the register.

The contract has a clearly defined list of qualifications, skills, experience and vetting requirements interpreters must meet, which have been designed to meet the needs of the justice system. It covers a vast range of assignments, from simple telephone interpreting to deal with a user query to the facilitation of interpretation in a complex criminal trial. The qualifications and level of experience required will depend on the complexity of the assignment and the highest complexity level has qualification criteria comparable to those set by the national register of professional service interpreters.

It is in dealing with that vast range that the noble Baroness’s rhetorical analogy broke down. Of course I would expect my heart surgeon to have the relevant qualifications and experience to fulfil that role. At the same time, if my car developed a minor technical fault, I would not necessarily want to pay out for a consultant engineer to fix it, as opposed to taking it to the local garage.

Complaints about the quality of interpretation or the professional conduct of interpreters are carefully monitored and independently assessed by the Language Shop. The complaint rate remains low at less than 1%.

Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill

Debate between Lord Stewart of Dirleton and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, concluded his remarks by saying that the amendment was “testing the rationale” of these sentences, and that is indeed clearly the case. The first amendment reduces the minimum term in custody and the second increases the period on licence. Both the noble Lords, Lord Thomas and Lord Marks, referred to these as “no-hope sentences”. I understand the sentiment they expressed on these extremely long and very serious sentences being given to children—but they are not really no-hope sentences, are they? YOT and, more likely, probation and the Prison Service will have been working with these people for many years to give them hope that, when they get out of prison and are on licence and, eventually, off licence, they can go on to lead a constructive life.

Now this is a very tall hurdle. I understand that; we are dealing with the most serious sentences that one can imagine. Nevertheless, that is the role of probation and it is very important, I would say, for the young person to see that there is hope at the end of the period, because it is far more likely that, if they see that hope, they will engage constructively with people in prison and carry on that constructive intervention when they leave on licence. So I have some questions for the Minister. What assessment has been done of the likelihood of reform of offenders—is there any data on that? Also, what is the number of young offenders now in custody who are likely to be in custody as a result of this legislation? Are there any examples of where longer custodial sentences have helped young people to go on to lead lives in which they no longer offend?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Stewart of Dirleton) (Con)
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My Lords, it is a privilege to stand and answer points made by the noble Lords who have spoken. I first acknowledge their great experience and wisdom in the field, and the evident compassion that underpinned their observations to the Committee. I know that at least two of them have had the experience that I have of acting for a very young person charged with a crime of the greatest magnitude and severity. I can tell from the way in which their questions were framed that they are aware of the extreme sadness at the loss of potential that the advocate finds when acting for a person in such a position. I hope that noble Lords appreciate that I am fully aware, from the perspective of legislation, of the awkwardness and difficulties attendant upon arriving at an appropriate sentence for these most serious of crimes.

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, my Amendment 35 is in this group. I agreed with everything my noble friend Lord Hunt said when he introduced his amendment. My amendment is different in detail, but the overall approach is the same—that is, to have a realistic and timed review of the various approaches to the Prevent programme which the Government is embarking upon.

I got an interesting briefing on this debate from the probation officers’ trade union, Napo. It made a couple of points, which I will repeat. It said that in the offender management and custody model, it indicates that a high-risk offender should get one hour of individual contact per month with a probation officer. A probation office’s staff have a minimum of 70 clients, so it is impossible for them to meet that requirement. The central point that Napo made in the briefing was that, when one reviews approaches and puts down procedures, the reviews need to result in practical change on the ground, otherwise they are destined to be repeated without effective change.

I was very interested to hear the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, who was a very effective Minister. He talked about his experience in that role. He also, interestingly, talked about the status of prisoners when they are in prison. I occasionally visit prisons, and I have visited Belmarsh on a couple of occasions. Belmarsh is a prison within a prison and there is undoubtedly status for the people on the inside prison; you can tell it from the tone of voice of the prison officers when they talk about the facility they are involved in managing. There is status to be gained through the way you are treated while in prison. I unfortunately know that to be true through friends of friends whose children have ended up in prison. There is a status to be gained within prison, which sometimes young men cannot have when they are outside prison.

I welcome the review of terrorism legislation by Mr Hall. I also note that it is Mr William Shawcross who has been appointed to review the Prevent programme, and I know he has extensive experience on this matter. The purpose of both these amendments is to tease out the progress and practical changes which the Government hope to make through reviewing the Prevent programme.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their amendments, which bring us to a very important set of issues. I discern that the Committee is united in believing that data is necessary in order that we might, as much as possible, develop and devise schemes by which deradicalisation can be accomplished. The Government do not think that a new strategy for rehabilitation and disengagement nor a review of the current delivery is beneficial at this time. However, to reassure noble Lords, I want to briefly set out the important work being done in prisons and probation to turn terrorist offenders away from extremism so that they can be released safely. The Government have a clear strategy for rehabilitation programmes for terrorist offenders. The important work in prison and probation here delivers against the Contest strategy, which was recently refreshed and published. Since then, significant work has been done to strengthen our approach to rehabilitation and disengagement of terrorism offenders. This strategy applies to all terrorism offenders, not only those who will receive the new serious terrorism sentence or be subject to the changes made by Part 1 of the Bill.

Divorce

Debate between Lord Stewart of Dirleton and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Wednesday 6th January 2021

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con) [V]
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The noble Lord’s question addresses aspects of detail as well as recent case law. I do not have the detail and the material with me to permit me to provide the noble Lord with a satisfactory answer. Again, I shall ensure that I correspond with him and put down in writing the answer to his question.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, in November, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, Cafcass, triggered its prioritisation protocol in South Yorkshire and the Humber region, which means it is allocating only the highest priority cases there due to severe understaffing. The trade union Napo has described this as a crisis. What steps is the Minister taking to prevent this prioritisation protocol being triggered in other areas, and what estimate has he made of the extra resources necessary to stabilise Cafcass in this region and to prevent a similar protocol being triggered elsewhere?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con) [V]
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The question covers some of the ground posed by an earlier question but I am happy to answer it. Approximately £3.5 million of additional funding has assisted Cafcass in increasing staffing levels. Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service has recruited approximately 900 additional support staff across jurisdictions and around 700 further appointments are currently sought. Your Lordships will be aware that Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service has established 17 Nightingale courts across England and Wales. These give 32 additional courtrooms to alleviate the pressure on courts and tribunals. These courts are hearing, as well as family cases, civil, tribunal and non-custodial criminal work. I can advise that judicial sitting days in the family court have been increased. Current projections are that a level of nearly 96,000 sitting days for 2020-21 may be accomplished—5,000 more than allocation—and the courts sat for record numbers of days in June and July 2020.

Integrated Communities Strategy

Debate between Lord Stewart of Dirleton and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Tuesday 17th November 2020

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord’s point. As my predecessor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen of Elie, has remarked in your Lordships’ House in the past, the matter is a social and educational question as much as it is a legal one. It is in order to establish the extent of the problem that the Government are continuing to await the findings of the Law Commission and to look in detail at the meticulous research being carried out.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, does the Minister understand that it is relatively common for couples to come to family courts in England and Wales saying that they are married under sharia law, only to be told that the court does not recognise this status of marriage? The Government plan to support awareness programmes arising out of Dame Louise Casey’s review of marriage published in 2015. Can the Minister tell us what steps have been taken to provide such educational material in the citizens advice bureaux and in the family courts across the country?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con) [V]
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My Lords, sharia law is not part of the legal system of England and Wales, and that has been made clear in the past. In relation to the provision of material via the citizens advice bureaux, to which the noble Lord refers, I will write to him about the availability of that material and how it is being promulgated through these bodies.