Debates between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede during the 2019 Parliament

Mon 19th Feb 2024
Wed 6th Apr 2022
Thu 31st Mar 2022
Judicial Review and Courts Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage & Report stage
Fri 25th Mar 2022
Thu 24th Feb 2022
Mon 21st Feb 2022
Judicial Review and Courts Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage & Committee stage
Tue 25th Jan 2022
Mon 10th Jan 2022
Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Lords Hansard - part two & Report stage: Part 2
Mon 10th Jan 2022
Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Lords Hansard - part one & Report stage: Part 1
Wed 15th Dec 2021
Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Lords Hansard - part two & Report stage: Part 2
Wed 15th Dec 2021
Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Lords Hansard - part one & Report stage: Part 1
Mon 13th Dec 2021
Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Lords Hansard - part two & Report stage: Part 2
Wed 8th Dec 2021
Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Report stage & Report stage: Part 1
Wed 17th Nov 2021
Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - part two & Committee stage part two
Mon 15th Nov 2021
Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Committee stage: Part 2
Wed 10th Nov 2021
Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - part two & Committee stage part two
Wed 10th Nov 2021
Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - part one & Committee stage part one
Mon 8th Nov 2021
Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - part two & Committee stage part two
Mon 11th Oct 2021
Wed 10th Mar 2021
Mon 1st Feb 2021
Domestic Abuse Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tue 26th Jan 2021
Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee stage

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, the ancient court known as the Sanhedrin, at its full complement, sat with 71 judges and had a rule that the most junior judge would give judgment first. I understand the reason was that, if the senior judges had spoken and the junior judge disagreed, that would be arrogant; if they agreed, it would be impudent. I find myself speaking after the noble and learned Lords, Lord Hoffmann and Lord Etherton, who disagreed. Therefore, whichever side of this argument I take, it seems I am going to be guilty of both. I ask forgiveness from each of them.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, I will spoil any questions as to which way I will go by saying that I respectfully agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffmann, and the reasons he gave for supporting Professor Ekins’ paper. It was interesting that, in opening the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, said that for about 20 years the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights has been clear. That is true, but it begs the question: since the European Court of Human Rights has been there for rather longer than 20 years, why did the noble Lord limit his position to 20 years? The answer is that if he had said “for 23 years” the jurisprudence would have said something completely different.

What is remarkable in this area is that this is not a new question. As I said at Second Reading, the question whether the European Court of Human Rights should have the jurisdiction—and this is a question of jurisdiction—to issue interim injunctions or interim measures was specifically debated by the contracting parties back in 1949, and it was deliberately not put into the text in 1950. It was a deliberate omission, not an oversight. The states considered whether the court should have the power and, no doubt for reasons similar to that set out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffmann, decided that it should not. That caused no problem at all.

Year after year, the court operated perfectly well without this power. It ruled, in terms, that it did not have this power in 1991 and, a decade later, in 2001, it upheld that ruling. As I said at Second Reading, you then have a judicial volte face in 2005, and the judgment from which the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, quoted. It is an open question, and it is interesting to consider why there was this volte-face by the European Court of Human Rights. I suggested that it might have been “jurisprudential envy”, because the International Court of Justice held that it had the power to issue interim injunctions. But, of course, that is different, because the statute of the ICJ, particularly the French version, provides a basis in the foundational document of that court for it to have that jurisdictional power.

With respect, question of whether the court has a power to issue these interim measures rests on very slender foundations. How is it now said that the court has the power, and we are bound by it? The primary argument put this evening has been based on Article 32, which provides that the court has jurisdiction to decide on the operation of the convention. What is interesting about that argument is that it is not used by the court itself, which, so far as I am aware, has not based its jurisprudence on the fact that Article 32 gives it the right to say, “This is what our jurisdiction is, and this is what we are doing”. It is outside commentators who have tried to find a proper basis—because Article 34, which the court does rely on, is not one—for the court’s jurisdiction. It is rather like the archer who scores a bull’s-eye not by firing the arrow at the target, but by firing it and then drawing the target around it.

One comes to the conclusion that people would like the court to have the jurisdiction and then say, “Ah, well, there must be a basis for it—what about Article 32?” But it is not an argument that the court itself uses, and it is also a false argument. Article 32 is about disputes about the convention and its operation; they are to be resolved by the court. It is not a grant of unlimited jurisdiction to the court to defy the express terms of the convention, including Article 46.1, which says that states are bound only by final judgments and therefore, by implication, nothing else—and by the history of the convention, which, as I have set out, is contrary to the court having these powers.

Article 32 is not the “get out of jail” card. This is not a new point. A similar point came before the Supreme Court in the case of Pham in 2015—what would happen if the European Court of Justice exceeded its jurisdictional powers? The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, dealt with that issue in paragraph 90. I do not need to go through the answer, but it certainly was not, “Well, the European Court of Justice has a power to interpret the treaties, and if it says it has the power to do this, that or the other, necessarily it does”, which would be the analogue to the Article 32 argument.

With the greatest of respect, Article 32 simply will not do as a basis on which to found the jurisprudence of the court. Of course, there are other points to be made as to the process of the court, and those have already been set out by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks. For those reasons, the point underlying many of the amendments in this group—that the court has jurisdiction to issue these interim measures and they are binding in international law—is wrong. Therefore, these amendments ought to be resisted.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, Amendment 62 in the name of my noble friend Lord Coaker would ensure that a Minister of the Crown making a decision on an interim injunction consults the Attorney-General. This would ensure that, before making a decision on compliance with any interim measures issued by the ECHR for the purpose of blocking a person’s removal to Rwanda, the relevant Minister consults the Attorney-General, creating an additional safeguard. The noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, introduced his speech by saying he was not going to be arrogant or impudent, so I will adopt the same approach in my speech, which will be brief. I am not going to go into the legal arguments—many eminent lawyers have done that—but I am going to go into the politics and address what seems to me to be the question that has been left hanging in the air.

Yesterday morning, I watched the television and Mr Michael Tomlinson, the Illegal Migration Minister, was on our screens and he was absolutely explicit: he said that the flights will take off as soon as the Bill becomes an Act and the treaty comes into force. He said they will be going pretty much immediately. There was no question of the niceties of Rule 39 and all the other things we have been talking about; the subject simply did not come up. That is the politics of it: when the Bill becomes an Act, the treaty comes into force and those flights will be taking off.

My noble and learned friend Lord Falconer went into how the decision on Rule 39 might be made. The question he, and the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, asked, was, would it be subject to judicial review? To me, that is the question hanging in the air, and I look forward to the Minister’s answer, because as far as I can see it will be for the Attorney-General to make that decision, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, and she will be doing that as a law officer. Today’s Daily Telegraph said—I do not know how it knows this—that when Mr Tomlinson was Solicitor-General, he had written legal advice saying that it would be illegal to go against Rule 39. I know it is private advice; nevertheless, that was in today’s Daily Telegraph.

So, there are two issues. First, the Illegal Migration Minister was explicit about the flights taking off on the conclusion of proceedings on the Bill. Secondly, what is the status of judicial review of any Rule 39 decision?

Protection from Sex-based Harassment in Public Bill

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I assure noble Lords that the shortness of my remarks now does not reflect the importance of the Bill: this is an important, focused Bill and a valuable contribution to the fight against this blight on our society. The genesis of the Bill was a consultation announced to this House by my noble friend the Chief Whip in her previous incarnation. My right honourable friend Greg Clark MP discussed the Bill with me before he introduced it into and steered it through the other place. I am grateful to him and to my noble friend the Minister and his department, both in the other place and here. This Bill has had absolute cross-party support, and therefore I am also grateful to the Opposition Front Bench and other Front Benches. I have received support from all parts of the House and I thank the Clerk of the Parliaments and his staff.

I have benefited, as I am sure other noble Lords have, from reading material sent to me by a number of campaigning groups in this area, but what really brought home the importance of the Bill to me was an email I got out of the blue over the summer from someone I will just call Lauren. When I spoke to her, at some length, she explained to me the appalling behaviour to which she had been repeatedly subjected in a park in the part of the country in which she lives. I hope that the Bill will help her and others in her position.

It will not have escaped noble Lords that although this Bill, with the title it has, applies to men and women, women are overwhelmingly the subjects of this appalling behaviour. This Bill has been taken through both Houses by men. There is nothing wrong with that. I suggest that it is absolutely right, because violence against women and girls is not a matter only for women and girls, but for all of us.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I wholeheartedly endorse the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, has summarised the Bill which he has piloted through this House and congratulate him on it. He was right to remind us that its genesis was with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, in her previous incarnation and in an earlier Bill. Nevertheless, there has been cross-party support for it, which I am happy to reiterate.

It is worth reminding ourselves that 71% of women of all ages in the UK have experienced some form of sexual harassment in public. That rises to 86% of all 18 to 24 year-old young women. I have one question which I hope the Minister can comment on when summing up the Government’s position. How will the impact of this Bill be monitored going forward? It is a very specific and quite controversial Bill, even though it has had cross-party support; the Government should see the monitoring of its impact as a proper part of its enactment, so that we can measure its benefit.

Judicial Review and Courts Bill

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD)
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My Lords, I will speak very briefly on this issue. I want to say two things. The first is to express our gratitude to the Minister and the Bill team. The Minister has given all of us a great deal of time, both before Committee and on Report, and that has been used very successfully. I would also like to express my thanks to Opposition and Cross-Bench Peers, particularly those with legal and judicial experience, who have done a great deal of work in improving this Bill. The Bill team also has given us all a great deal of help.

The second point I want to make is that we have made a number of changes to this Bill after really serious consideration in Committee, on Report and following Second Reading. It would be nice to think that, when this Bill now goes back to the Commons, those changes will get some serious consideration, rather than simply being returned to this House after cursory consideration. They are important. We have deployed a great deal of expertise, knowledge and effort in making those changes, and they deserve a proper look from the other place. That said, I give my grateful thanks to everyone.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I echo the thanks of the noble Lord, Lord Marks. I also thank the Minister and his team for their support and the numerous meetings we have had as the Bill has progressed. I would also like to thank the outside organisations that I have found particularly helpful; I mention the Public Law Project, Justice, Inquest, Fair Trials, Transform Justice, Liberty and Amnesty International—I found their support extremely helpful. I would also like to personally thank Catherine Johnson, who has been of great assistance to me as this Bill has passed through this House.

I reinforce the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, about the importance of the amendments we have passed. We have had a different approach from that taken in some other Bills. We have had only a small handful of amendments that have passed for the House of Commons to consider. They have been Cross Bench-led by extremely senior judges and they deserve serious consideration by the other House.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I am conscious that the House has a lot of business before it today, but I will take just a few moments to say a few words to mark the end of the passage of the Bill through this House. Over the last few months, we have had some spirited discussions on our Courts & Tribunals Service and the relationship between the judiciary and Parliament. I am grateful to all noble Lords for their scrutiny of this Bill.

Of course, I was disappointed that the House voted, albeit narrowly, to remove the power for prospective-only quashing orders on Report. I will reflect further on the House’s decision on Report to remove the presumption in favour of using the new remedies from Clause 1. We had detailed debates over the merits or otherwise of the presumption. I can assure the House that I have heard and listened carefully to the arguments made to me both inside and outside the Chamber.

Judicial Review and Courts Bill

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, the Labour Party supports the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, to remove the statutory presumption and make it clear that judicial remedies should be restricted in this way only in exceptional circumstances. The clause’s effect would be for courts to have less power to provide redress or to compensate those affected by past uses of the unlawful decision. At first glance, that might seem quite a small change to judicial review, but the effects, we believe, would be chilling.

There is widespread opposition to the clause, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, quoted a number of the well-respected groups who oppose it. The noble Lord, Lord Marks, cited in particular environmental groups that are worried about the potential effects of the Government’s proposals. I listened very carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Faulks. It is my understanding that the Independent Review of Administrative Law did not recommend prospective-only remedies; it did not recommend presumption for suspended quashing orders; it did not recommend imposing on the courts a list of factors to determine their use; and nor did it recommend ouster clauses. Even the Government’s own consultation paper conceded that a prospective-only quashing order would impose injustice and unfairness on those who have reasonably relied on its validity in the past.

Suspended and prospective quashing orders offer delayed and forward-only remedies. Such remedies could allow environmentally damaging activities to continue in the period between a contested decision and the taking effect of a suspended or prospective-only quashing order.

I listened to the debate with great interest. It was particularly interesting to hear senior lawyers and former judges disagreeing on the points which we have just heard. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, as is typically the case when he speaks, very simply explained his perspective. I think his point was that judges already have broad discretion. They do not need a presumption. A presumption is the only guidance put in the Bill and it is not necessary. He went on to laud the huge benefits we have seen through judicial review and seemed to think that the guidance of the word “presumption” in the Bill would be disproportionately influential, if I may put it like that. That was contested by other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, but surely if that serves as guidance in the Bill, it will be followed unless there is good reason not to—that is the way I understand it.

So we will certainly support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. We will also support the noble Lord, Lord Marks, if he chooses to press any of his amendments to a vote. We see the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, as a compromise amendment that is more in the spirit of the recommendations of the independent review. Nevertheless, the more profound points made by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, are views which we would support if he chose to press his amendments to a vote.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Wolfson of Tredegar) (Con)
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My Lords, I begin by wishing the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, well and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, a safe trip home.

This clause aims to reform remedies on quashing orders in judicial review proceedings so that more flexibility is available to the courts. As my noble friend Lord Faulks noted in Committee, the key for the Independent Review of Administrative Law was that there should be some flexibility to stop some of the “hard edges” that can arise with a quashing order, which operates ab initio, such that the decision is struck down with retrospective effect. This clause is designed to do just that.

I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, for his kind words—dare I say that I wish his cat well?—but I confess that I think he expressed the reasons for the remedial flexibility better than I will. I shall come to the presumption point on which we regrettably differ a little later.

The proposed effect of the clause is twofold. First, it allows for the effects of a quashing order to be suspended, or delayed, for a period. Secondly, the clause enhances the flexibility of the court in allowing it to decide whether the retrospective effect of a quashing order should be removed or limited—that is what we are calling a prospective quashing order. As a number of noble Lords referenced, both in Committee and in indeed in print last week in the Times law section, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, who has not participated for reasons which have been explained, has set out clearly the arguments for this additional remedial flexibility. The way he put it in Committee, where he said that Clause 1 confers on the judiciary a power

“to do justice not just to the claimant in a particular case but on a wider basis”—[Official Report, 21/2/22; col. 57.]

really captures what the clause is intended to achieve.

Against that background, I come to Amendments 1, 2 and 3 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, which would remove prospective-only quashing orders. The noble Lord made a point which has been made before in this regard, which is that there could be situations where a prospective quashing order could cause significant injustice if used incorrectly. The short answer to that point is that we are not forcing the court to use these orders in any case. Just because a power is capable of being exercised, it does not follow that it will be used inappropriately. That is the short answer to the tax case example. It is the answer I gave in Committee, and I stand by it. I say respectfully that I do not think that that sort of example proves any wider point of principle; it is merely an example of a case where this particular remedial order would be inappropriate—in which case the court would not use it. I suggest that that is a complete answer to the tax case example.

The principle of the matter was also covered in this debate. Where we have reached essentially a disagreement is on the constitutional propriety of a court deciding that an unlawful action should nevertheless have some effect and be treated as if it were valid. The short point there is that a judge does not need to go outside their remit of doing justice to the claimant and to the public interest in deciding to use a prospective quashing order. I set out in Committee how such an order could deliver a much fairer and appropriate result in a range of circumstances. I invite the House to consider whether there is a principled distinction between a suspended order and a prospective order. I suggest that the matter comes down to this: you are either in favour of remedial flexibility or you are not. Both proposed new remedies seek to give the courts remedial flexibility. As I shall mention later in the context of Canadian jurisprudence, what we see there are strong conceptual links between the suspended order and the prospective-only order.

Amendment 4 would remove subsections (9) and (10), known as “the presumption”, the intended effect of which is to ensure that the courts will use either prospective or suspended quashing orders if—and this is an important “if”—doing so would provide adequate redress, and unless the court considers that it has “good reason” not to do so. We have heard in this debate good examples of where these remedies would be useful. Against that, two arguments are put with regard to the presumption.

The first argument is that presumption is harmful because it impinges on judicial discretion, and the second is that it is entirely unnecessary because it does not constrain the court in any material manner. The court will use these remedies anyway when it wants to do so. The first point, which is obvious, is that both those points cannot be right: they are materially inconsistent. If I may so, respectfully, only the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, could have managed, with his customary skill, to put both points against me in the same speech. They are inconsistent; I will, nevertheless, take them in turn.

First, I do not accept that the presumption is in any way dangerous or harmful. It is, I repeat, a low-level presumption. The presumption applies only, according to subsection (9) of the new clause inserted by Clause 1,

“unless it sees good reason not to do so”;

the court does not have to use these remedies. Therefore, I respectfully disagree that there is any attack here on the rule of law. Indeed, to respond to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, the effect of these new remedies—as I think I said in Committee—might be that the Government lose more judicial reviews, because the court might be more prepared to interfere in circumstances where the consequences of the court’s ruling is not a complete ab initio uprooting of the decision. Therefore, far from limiting judicial review in favour of the Government, if anything, this actually helps applicants in their judicial reviews against the Government.

The other argument, that it is unnecessary, does have more force. Here I come back to the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. We heard an example from the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, about washing powder. Dare I say that what follows now is not meant to be “soft soap”, if I can continue that metaphor? The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said that my argument on this point was the least attractive argument that I have ever made either in the court of Parliament or in the Law Courts. I am not sure that he appreciates just how high a bar he set by that test.

The purpose of including a low-level presumption is to do just that: it is to nudge the court to consider and use these new remedies where they are appropriate, and to build up a strong body of case law to increase legal certainty. In Canada, as I mentioned earlier, there are the Schachter categories, which have established guidelines for the use of suspended quashing orders. Their use actually encompasses what we would call prospective quashing orders as well. We envisage that this presumption in subsection (9) will nudge the courts into that more rapid accumulation of jurisprudence.

I think that if I were to say any more, I really would be repeating arguments with which the House is now familiar. For the reasons that I have set out, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, we strongly support Amendment 5, moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, which is really an alternative Clause 2. It offers a much improved and fairer alternative to the Government’s proposal to remove Cart reviews entirely. Cart judicial reviews should not be abolished. These are most often used in serious asylum and human rights cases. Cart is a vital safeguard. There is already a high threshold for bringing them and the proposed saving is tiny compared with the human cost of abolishing them.

There are two principled points to make. The first concerns the constitutional role of the High Court in guaranteeing justice in a tribunal system, and the second concerns the constitutional role of the High Court as the guarantor of the lawfulness of any of the acts in any public body. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, gave a forensic examination of the figures. I was writing down some of his numbers. The central point was to cast doubt on the benefit which the Minister claimed in Committee.

The noble Lord, Lord Faulks, described the amendment as a fudge. The noble Lord, Lord Marks, described it as a compromise, which I prefer. Many cases come before the court. I recognise that a relatively large number of them are unmeritorious. As I mentioned in Committee, a number of legal advisers who sit in the magistrates’ court go on to work in the High Court—it is a sort of career progression. They will look at those cases when they prepare for the judges to examine the papers. They have told me that a lot of the cases that they deal with are, in their view, unmeritorious, although they use less diplomatic language. Nevertheless, the route is still there. The High Court is the highest court in the country and the compromise put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, retains that stamp of approval through his proposed amendment, so we support it.

My Amendment 6 would require the Lord Chancellor to carry out and publish a review of the operation of the Cart judicial provisions within Clause 2 not more than two years after the passing of this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Faulks, said that he thought that this may be an expensive and fruitless exercise. I will not be moving this amendment to a vote. Part of its purpose is to ask the Minister to explain how the Government will monitor the operation of the JR system, including this element of it, because the central point is to retain confidence that the system is working adequately. It is to that end that I tabled this amendment.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, a Cart judicial review is a challenge of a decision of the Upper Tribunal to refuse permission to appeal a First-tier Tribunal decision. A Cart judicial review therefore gives the losing party another—or yet another—chance to challenge a decision to refuse permission to appeal, this time by way of judicial review to the High Court, which then opens a further route to the Court of Appeal if permission for the judicial review is refused by the High Court.

The long-established precedent in our judicial system is to have two appeal tiers and for a case to be considered for permission to appeal by two different judges. This is seen with the First-tier and Upper Tribunal system that we have. In this example, the applicant will have lost in the First-tier Tribunal, will have been refused permission to appeal by the First-tier Tribunal, and will then have been refused permission to appeal by the Upper Tribunal, and that should be an end of it. However, a Cart judicial review offers the applicant a third attempt to gain, effectively, permission to appeal, an anomaly not seen in the criminal or civil court systems. It is this third bite of the cherry that we seek to remove. The Bill does this through an ouster clause.

In Committee, we had a short debate about the constitutional propriety of ouster clauses which I will not go into again today, since it was not raised in today’s debate. Whatever position we take on ouster clauses as a matter of principle, I would hope that everyone in the House would agree that we must keep the court system efficient. When we think about efficiency, we look at the nature of the courts and tribunals that we have at different levels of our system. The Upper Tribunal is a senior court with a specialist jurisdiction, so it is well suited to determining questions of law authoritatively and accurately. The fact that it appears to get 96% of its determinations on permission to appeal right re-enforces its place as the best jurisdiction to settle those issues.

I remind those Members of the House who might be saying, “What about the other 4%”, that in every other jurisdiction we do not know the error rate because we only allow two bites of the cherry, and therefore do not know how many of those second bites, if I may put it that way, would have tasted different if a third judge had taken a bite. This clause restores balance in the proper functioning of the tribunal system and fixes a serious inefficiency. I welcome particularly what the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, said about the background to it.

Turning to Amendment 6, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, I heard what he said about the purpose in tabling the amendment and will try to respond to that. This is the amendment requiring the Lord Chancellor to carry out and publish a review. The Government have committed, in our impact assessment, to monitoring the new system, and in particular, the impact on those identified as affected groups within that document.

While I agree that it is important that the Government do not simply legislate to make changes to the justice system and then neglect to assess the actual effects of those changes to the system, creating a duty in legislation to review and publish the outcome of that review within two years would be disproportionate, particularly given that commitment to monitor the effect of this change. Further, it is unlikely that we would see the full effect of this change just two years after its introduction, as the legislation does not apply retrospectively. For those reasons, I cannot accept the amendment, but I hope that I have explained to the noble Lord, and the House, why.

Turning to Amendment 5, in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, replacing Clause 2, rather than ousting the High Court’s jurisdiction over the Upper Tribunal, the new clause would essentially move the ouster one step up the court system. It provides that the decision of the High Court or other relevant supervisory court in reviewing an Upper Tribunal permission-to-appeal decision is final, preventing any escalation to the Court of Appeal but introducing a rather unusual, if not entirely novel, appeal path directly from the supervisory court to the Supreme Court in cases involving a point of law of general public importance. That was the tweak by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, to the amendment, that we saw in Committee.

With or without that tweak, my concern is that the amendment does not address the main problems, which are, first, that approximately 750 Cart cases per year place a burden on the High Court, and, secondly, that the Cart decision and approach undermines the tribunal system and the proper relationship between the Upper Tribunal and the High Court. I recognise that there is a burden on the Court of Appeal at present, as some Cart cases will be appealed to that court. I do not have precise figures, but I understand that those to the Court of Appeal are substantially less than 750 cases of this kind per year. The burden of the current system falls on the High Court and, for reasons of its resourcing and efficiency, that is where we need to concentrate our efforts.

I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, for his engagement with me and my officials on the underlying data. Although there appear to remain some differences between us, I think we have come to a closer understanding on the data point. Let me clarify just one point for the record, which is that the 180 days of judicial time was always estimated as around 150 days of High Court time and the remaining 30 days or so in the Upper Tribunal.

Turning to one of the other substantive points made by the noble and learned Lord Etherton, he mentioned that his position goes further than mine in limiting the exemptions for onward appeal, and that he is concerned that the exemptions in the current Clause 2 will be insufficient to prevent many applications to the High Court. I understand the genesis of that concern but, with respect, I think it is unfounded. The exemptions are narrow and focused. We have seen from failed ouster clauses in other circumstances that clear words are needed for an effective ouster clause. In this case we think that we increase that clarity by some limited exemptions, appropriate to the proper relationship between the Upper Tribunal and the High Court.

The exemptions create a clear and simple distinction: questions of fact and law go to the Upper Tribunal, which is a senior and specialist court, and review is retained in the High Court for jurisdictional or procedural matters. That is a neat and robust delineation. I respectfully say that the dichotomy that the noble and learned Lord presents—that we should either have Clause 2 with no exemptions or take his halfway house—is a false dichotomy. I suggest that the current Clause 2 is a sufficient and well-crafted approach to the problem.

Finally, the halfway house put forward by the noble and learned Lord would perpetuate the current oddity of Upper Tribunal decisions being reviewed by the High Court on grounds not limited to extreme jurisdictional or procedural matters. We should trust the Upper Tribunal to get these decisions right and, as I have said, it does so, to an extraordinarily high percentage. The halfway house therefore does not satisfy the Government’s policy position of correcting the Cart decision. Cart was, with great respect, a legal misstep. We heard in Committee from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, who was party to the decision; he accepted, with hindsight, that it was a legal misstep. We should overturn it effectively, which is what the current Clause 2 does. The halfway house put before us by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, would, I fear, leave us in a legal no man’s land. For those reasons, I respectfully invite him to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, for putting down these amendments which, as he says, are probing amendments. I am also grateful to him for his time in discussing all of these points, I think, in a number of meetings we have had.

What I will seek to do—and I hope the House will forgive me if I do not go into too much detail—is respond to them point by point. I will try to strike a balance between giving a proper response here and not unduly delaying the House with points of detail. It may be that there will be points on which I might write further, but I will try to get the main points on the record, so to speak, because these are probing amendments.

I will start with Amendment 7 to Clause 3 on the new automatic online conviction procedure. This amendment would limit the application of this procedure to non-recordable offences only. I can assure the House in terms that we have no intention of extending this new procedure to any recordable offences. This is a new approach for dealing with certain minor offences, which is why we have committed to reviewing this procedure before considering whether to extend it to any further offences. Any extension of the procedure to additional offences would have to be both debated in and approved by Parliament.

Amendment 8 would allow the Criminal Procedure Rules to make provision about information that should be made available to the media and public on cases heard under the automatic online procedure. Amendment 13 would make a similar provision to Clause 6 for cases dealt with under the new online indication of plea and allocation procedure. This is already provided for in legislation. In fact, current provision in the Criminal Procedure Rules goes further. Rule 5.7 of the Criminal Procedure Rules sets out the basic open justice principle that courts must—that is a “must”, not a “may” as in the amendment—have regard to the importance of dealing with cases in public and allowing a public hearing to be reported. Rules 5.8 to 5.11 set out the process for providing that information and the types of information that should be provided.

The court will therefore provide the media with information about the outcome of these proceedings via the court media register within 24 hours of the case being dealt with. In the case of the automatic online procedure, this would include the conviction and fine imposed. That extends the arrangements currently in place for the single justice procedure for defendants who choose this new option.

In the case of the online indication of plea and allocation procedures, the information on the register would include the alleged date and details of the offence, the indicated plea and whether the case was being sent for trial. Any subsequent hearings for case management, trial or sentencing would be listed as normal and defendants would still be required to appear at a hearing in open court after they had proceeded with the online indication of plea and allocation procedures in order to confirm and enter their plea. I underline that this is because we are dealing here with an indication of plea.

Amendment 9 to Clause 4 deals with the guilty plea in writing. It seeks to raise the age of eligibility for the Section 12 plea, as it is called, by post procedure from 16 to 18 years. However, in distinction to some of the matters I have just referred to, this is not a new procedure. It has been available as an alternative method of summary-only prosecution for defendants aged 16 and over since 1957. That is rather a long time. As I said in Committee, I am not aware of any particular issues of concern being raised for children. Clause 4 will ensure that prosecutors can also offer this long-established procedure for suitable cases initiated by charge in person at a police station and will, if they do that, maintain the same age criterion that already exists for prosecutions initiated by summons or postal charge. This would provide defendants and prosecutors with the option of resolving more types of less serious, summary-only cases without having to spend time and resources attending a court hearing. It is subject to a range of safeguards, which I think I set out in some detail in Committee; I hope the House will forgive me if I do not repeat them all this afternoon.

Amendment 12 to Clause 6 proposes a new written procedure for indicating a plea to a triable either-way offence online. It would require a written invitation from the court to inform the defendant about the real-world consequences of pleading guilty to a crime and getting a criminal record. So far as that amendment is concerned, Clause 6 already states that the court must provide important information about the written procedure when writing to a defendant, including the consequences of giving or failing to indicate a plea online. Clause 6 will also enable secondary legislation under the Criminal Procedure Rules to require or permit the court to provide additional specified information where it is deemed necessary.

Importantly, any indication of plea provided through the new written procedure will not be binding on a defendant until they appear before the court at a subsequent court hearing to confirm it. They can also change or withdraw their indicated plea and, again importantly, if they do that, the indicated plea of guilty cannot be used against them in the proceedings that follow.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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Just to explore that point a little more, does that mean that somebody who changes their plea to guilty, for example, when they physically turn up in court will get the full 30% discount on any sentence that may be given in the court?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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I think that is correct, but let me write to the noble Lord on that point. My understanding is that the indicated plea of guilty cannot be used against them. I appreciate the noble Lord’s point is slightly different. I think the answer to it is yes, but I will write to him so that he is in possession of accurate information before the Bill comes back to this House. He will get a written response from me on that point, unless I get the answer electronically before I sit down—that is a challenge to the team.

Amendment 11 seeks to guarantee that defendants will have access to legal advice before they indicate a plea. As I think I said in Committee, we believe this concern is addressed by the fact that defendants will be able to access the new online procedure for indication of plea and allocation only through their legal representative. This is because the new procedure will be available only through the common platform, which is restricted to qualified legal professionals. I have no objection to making the requirement to seek legal advice clear in legislation, but the right place for this would be in the Criminal Procedure Rules, remembering that this will be a plea indication only, not the entry of a plea at court.

Amendments 14, 15 and 18 seek to remove children from the new written procedures and powers relating to pre-trial plea and allocation proceedings for offences triable either way. So far as Clause 8 is concerned, the same safeguards as apply to Clause 6 apply here. Like adults, children will be able to proceed with the new written procedure for online indication of plea and allocation only through a legal representative, and they will be required to make a subsequent court appearance to confirm their plea. This will provide the same opportunities for the court, as we have heard from the noble Lord’s experience, to satisfy itself that the child has understood the position that currently applies.

Clause 9 creates a new clearly defined set of circumstances that would enable a court to allocate a child’s case in their absence. Again, I explained these conditions in some detail in Committee. The key point is that they are far more stringent than those prescribed for adults, even though children cannot elect for jury trial. Those safeguards guarantee that a child will engage with the court before and during the allocation hearing. Even where that does not happen for some reason, the new power will provide courts with the flexibility to progress the case, but only after they have taken significant steps to confirm that it is appropriate and in the interests of justice to do so.

The new overarching safeguard for written proceedings created by Clause 14 will exist alongside the current legal requirements for a parent or guardian to attend at court during all relevant stages of the proceedings. Therefore, Clause 8, read together with Clause 14, will provide more opportunities to ensure that parents and guardians are involved in children’s cases before the first hearing at court.

Over and above that, the courts have a statutory duty to protect the welfare of children and prevent them offending. Clauses 8, 9 and 14 should help ensure that cases are progressed more expeditiously. That means that interventions designed to tackle offending or reoffending can be made at the earliest opportunity. I also point out that these provisions can help reduce the undoubted stress of travel, with a child having to go to court physically, or the disruption of a child having to miss school to attend preparatory hearings at court, because they reduce the overall number of occasions when the child has to be physically present in court.

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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I was just about to come to that point. I have heard what the noble and learned Lord has said. We will certainly consider what data we can publish that would go towards meeting that point. I would be happy to drop the noble and learned Lord a note on that. We have to think about how this new data fits in the with the current data sets, and we need to publish things in an accessible way. I absolutely understand the underlying point. It goes back to the point I was making in the previous group, which is that we should not just make changes and not then assess how they are working; equally, we do not want to be chasing our tails on data. There must be a way through that.

Let me now come to local justice areas, on which we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, with personal experience. Amendment 37 would require the Lord Chancellor to undertake a consultation with relevant stakeholders regarding the proposed removal of local justice areas. This provision will ensure that magistrates’ courts have the flexibility to assign cases and magistrates in a way that best meets local needs. Ultimately, it is up to the Lord Chief Justice to determine what new arrangements are to be put in place. He has a statutory duty to ascertain the views of lay magistrates on matters affecting them. Magistrates’ courts already work closely with local justice partners to manage court business. I confirm that they will be fully consulted, along with local magistrates, the Magistrates’ Leadership Executive and the Magistrates’ Association, before any changes are made.

I turn to the single justice procedure: Amendment 10 seeks to introduce a new clause which would require a review of that procedure, including its use to prosecute Covid-19 offences, and the transparency of the procedure. I have previously argued to the House that there is in fact greater transparency for cases under this procedure, rather than those that take place physically in court. The press receives a detailed list of pending single justice procedure cases, alongside the prosecution statement of facts and the defendant’s statement in mitigation. On the fairly rare occasions, these days, when the press turn up to a magistrates’ court hearing, they do not generally get that material, so they do get more material online than they do when they turn up.

I am afraid that there are errors in all courts; courts are run by humans and, while people do their best, errors occur. As far as Covid-19 offences are concerned, the majority of errors were detected by the single justice and their legal adviser, and dealt with appropriately by dismissing the case. There are other safeguards in place to address errors where they occur. I am not aware of any evidence to suggest that the error rate for prosecuting Covid-19 offences was higher under the single justice procedure than any other court procedure, or indeed that this procedure was the cause of the errors. We believe that the primary cause of the errors was not the process used; rather, it was the volume of regulations, combined—as noble Lords will remember—with the speed of introduction. Work was done quickly with police forces and court staff to reduce, and to try to eliminate, those errors. The single justice procedure is reviewed on a regular basis to ensure that it remains open and accessible.

There are some amendments in my name which are all minor and technical in nature. I note that there were no questions on these amendments, so I am not proposing to go through them in any detail, unless noble Lords want me to do so. In the absence of acclamation, I will take that as a “Please get on with it.” However, that means that, in my reluctance to spin it out any longer, my team have not been able to get back in time with the answer to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, on guilty discounts. I will have to write to him on that, and I undertake to do so.

I hope that, for those reasons, I have set out the opposition to the noble Lord’s amendments. I invite the House to support the few government amendments in this group.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 7.

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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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Keep taking the tablets, my Lords. When we last debated these clauses, a number of noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, invited and urged me to meet Inquest. I am grateful for that urging, because I had a very productive and informative discussion with it last week on the measures in the Bill and some wider measures. In fact, Justice also attended the meeting. While it is fair to say that there are differences of opinion between us, I assured them that the Government’s priority remains to make certain that the bereaved are at the centre of the coronial process. The measures in the Bill support this priority. We seek to reduce unnecessary procedures in the coroners’ courts and that will, in turn, reduce delays in the inquest process, and reduce again the distress to bereaved families.

The amendments in my name in this group are minor and technical. They are consequential on Clause 39, which allows a coroner to discontinue an investigation should the cause of death “become clear”, and they remove some obsolete references to post-mortems from existing legislation.

Those are the government amendments. However, I am conscious that the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans have other, more substantive amendments in this group. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, will speak on the noble Baroness’s behalf. I will let them propose their amendments before I respond to them.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, Amendment 21 would ensure that certain safeguards were met before a coroner could discontinue an investigation into a death. Family members and personal representatives of the deceased must be provided with a coroner’s provisional reasons for considering that the investigation should be discontinued, helping to ensure that family members make an informed decision as to whether to consent to the discontinuation.

Amendment 22 would provide that the Lord Chancellor should establish an appeal process for families who disagree with a decision to discontinue an investigation. Amendment 23 would ensure that inquests were not held without a hearing if that was against the wishes of the deceased’s family. Amendment 24 would ensure that certain safeguards were met before a remote inquest hearing is held and that interested persons were provided with the reasons why a remote hearing is to be held. I am glad that the Minister met Inquest and Justice. The amendments, which are in the name of my noble friend Lady Chapman, would address the various perceived shortcomings within the coronial system. I look forward to the Minister’s answer to them.

Amendment 28 would allow coroners to record risk factors relevant in a death by suicide and require the Secretary of State to issue guidance on the risk factors that the coroner must consider and the form in which they are recorded. The right reverend Prelate will speak to his amendment in due course. It is part of his attritional campaign for, often, young men who commit suicide because of gambling habits. I support his intention.

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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for their contributions to this short debate. I am conscious that the fact that the debate has been relatively short is not a reflection of the importance of the issue. On the contrary, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, said, this is a long-running issue. It is not quite as long- running as the coronial office, but it has been before the House before and doubtless it will be again.

I start by assuring the House that the Government believe that bereaved families should be at the heart of any inquest process, but we consider that, although there are some exceptions, which I will come to, legal representation and legal aid are not required for the vast majority of inquests. As I said on the previous group, the coroner’s investigation is a relatively narrow-scope inquiry to determine who the deceased was and how, when and where they died. In my meeting with Inquest last week, we obviously discussed the availability of legal aid for inquests. Again, I should put on record that although there are undoubtedly areas where Inquest would like the Government to go further, we had a productive and useful conversation.

Amendments 25, 26 and 27 all seek to expand access to legal aid at inquests. However, the amendments would also make that access to legal aid entirely non-means-tested. That would lead to significant and potentially open-ended cost to the taxpayer. It would also go against the principle of targeting legal aid at those who need it most, because these amendments would provide public funding for those who could, in fact, afford the cost themselves. Over and above that, I am not persuaded, with respect to my former and current colleagues, that having more lawyers at an inquest will provide an improved experience for the bereaved. Indeed, it could have the unintended consequence of turning an inquisitorial event into a complex defensive case, which would likely prolong the distress of bereaved families.

We do, of course, recognise that bereaved families need support and guidance. We have been working on several measures to make inquests more sympathetic to the needs of bereaved people. That includes publishing new guidance on the coroner service for bereaved families, engaging with the chief coroner on training for coroners and developing a protocol. I think this goes to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, that, where the state is represented, the protocol now is that the state will consider the number of lawyers instructed, so as to support the underlying inquisitorial approach to inquests.

I turn to the availability of legal aid. First, legal help is available under the legal aid scheme, subject to a means and merits test, which bereaved families can access if they require advice and assistance. Further, where certain criteria are met, legal aid for legal representation may be available under the exceptional case funding scheme. Where these criteria are met, we are of the view that that process should be as straightforward as possible. Therefore, as of January this year, there is no means test for an exceptional case funding application in relation to representation at an inquest or for legal help at an inquest where representation is granted.

Thirdly, we considered our approach to initial access to legal help at inquests in our recently published Legal Aid Means Test Review. This is something of an intimidating document, but I invite interested noble Lords to have a look at it. There, we have proposed to remove the means test for legal help in relation to inquests which relate to a possible breach of rights under the ECHR—it is generally Article 2, but not exclusively—or where there is likely to be significant wider public interest in the individual being represented at the inquest. We published that review on 15 March; a full consultation is currently open and will close on 7 June.

For those reasons, which go both to the nature of the inquest and what the Government are currently doing in this area, I invite the noble Lord who is proposing the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, to withdraw them.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate and have supported these amendments. The opening line from the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, was that the Government should not hide behind the inquisitorial defence, if I can put it like that, and that is exactly what we have heard from the Minister today.

He chided me for limiting the amendments to public bodies. I accept that criticism to a certain extent; nevertheless, this is an opportunity for a radical improvement of the inquest system to provide a genuine public service. I absolutely agree with the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, about the importance of public service, and this is a route to do that to the benefit of people in a distressed situation.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, gave a historical perspective, if I can use that expression, saying that coroners have changed and adapted over the years. Here is another opportunity to change and adapt for the public good. I think that if the Government are not willing to make that change, I would like to test the opinion of the House on Amendment 25.

Prisons: Death Statistics

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Wednesday 30th March 2022

(2 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, without getting into the statistics too much, comparing the 12 months to September 2021 with the 12 months to September 2019—post and pre pandemic—it is 23% higher. On the female estate, which is quite small, we acknowledge that female prisoners are overwhelmingly those who have had significant problems in their lives pre prison, and they are therefore a particularly vulnerable group coming into prison. That is why we focus on the female estate in particular. I am very pleased that, as I pointed out earlier, we had no self-inflicted deaths in the female estate last year.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, in the 12 months to December 2021, there were 371 deaths in prison, including the suicides referred to earlier. This is despite recent reductions in the prison population. Over about the same period, there were 7,780 assaults on prison staff, which is an 8% reduction on the previous year. Does the Minister think that those two statistics are connected to each other? Does he agree that the key to improving prisoner and staff safety is the recruitment and, crucially, the retention of prison staff?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, the figures are perhaps connected in this way: we want to make sure that we have as few self-inflicted harm incidents as possible and as few assaults on staff as possible. On staff, we have rolled out body-worn video cameras and we have better drug testing coming into prisons. But I and the Government are far from laid back about the current situation; we want to get these figures down further. But I point out to the House that we have seen some significant improvements in the figures recently.

Coroners (Determination of Suicide) Bill [HL]

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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I too have no wish to delay the House, but I will say a couple of words to congratulate the right reverend Prelate on the progress he has made with the Bill and on his expressed wish to take the matter further with a further Private Member’s Bill. My experience of Private Members’ Bills is certainly that it is an attritional process that he is engaged in, and I am glad to hear that he is working constructively with the Minister. As we heard in the earlier debate, the Minister is very keen on data and he will no doubt be focusing his question—if I can put it like that—on how the coroners’ service can address the concerns which the right reverend Prelate has quite rightly raised.

The right reverend Prelate told a very moving story when he introduced the debate today and gave some statistics on the reality of addictive online gambling products. I have to say that anyone who has had anything to do with young men will know that such products are absolutely ubiquitously used, and there are all sorts of ways of enticing people into gambling further. So I wish the right reverend Prelate—and the Minister—well with future Private Members’ Bills.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Wolfson of Tredegar) (Con)
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My Lords, I too have no wish to delay the House but, like the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, I also thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for highlighting this important issue and enabling us to have the time in the House today. I thank him for giving me his time earlier in the week. With all respect to other meetings which I had during the week, that was one which I found really interesting and from which I learned a lot.

I will say word about the legislation and, as the right reverend Prelate indicated, the Government’s approach. The legislation would require a coroner or inquest jury to record gambling addiction and any other relevant factors in a conclusion of death by suicide. Of course, the Government endorse the sentiment behind the Bill and recognise the importance of gathering quality information on the circumstances leading to self-harm and suicide, including the role that gambling can play. However, the Government do not agree that these proposals are the appropriate way to tackle the issue. As my noble friend Lady Scott set out at Second Reading, they would result in a significant expansion of the coroner’s jurisdiction to identify the perceived reason—the “why”—behind an individual’s suicide death, and we do not consider this to be appropriate for the fact-finding summary process of a coroner’s investigation, which is really focused on the hard factual questions of who, where, how and when. We also have a concern that information gathered in this way would likely be both incomplete and inconsistently obtained and therefore would not provide a sound basis for delivering the interventions needed to secure improved outcomes in this important area.

Prisons: Releasing Women into Safe and Secure Housing

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Monday 21st March 2022

(2 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister in answer to my noble friend’s question said that his vision was that no women prisoners should be homeless. We have seen from the questions of noble Lords, and from the noble Baroness, Lady Sater, my former colleague, the breadth of the problems that women prisoners face when they come out of prison. Can the Minister say something about how he will monitor the impact of the Government’s policy to see that this integrated support, which is the only way in which to prevent reoffending, is actually working?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, integrated support is absolutely key—I agree with the noble Lord on that. We have done a number of things; we have set up a scheme to offer 12 weeks’ accommodation to prison leavers with support to move to settled housing and, by 2024-25, we will be investing £200 million per year to transform our approach to rehabilitation. But of course we need to be held to account on this, and we hold the Prison Service to account on this. We publish data, and the data is meant to be clear and transparent. There has been an improvement in the figures, and I want to see them improve even more.

Early Legal Advice Pilot Scheme Order 2022

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Thursday 10th March 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, has given us an historical context for what we are receiving through this statutory instrument. We of course support it, because it goes some way to ameliorating the position we have had since the massive cuts in 2013 with LASPO. The noble Lord has made the broader points, with which I agree.

I want to focus on two particular questions, one of which was asked by my honourable friend Afzal Khan when this matter was debated in the House of Commons. He contacted the Greater Manchester Law Centre and the Law Society there, the only two welfare benefit and legal aid providers in Manchester city and the only two debt legal aid providers in Middlesbrough, one of which also advises on welfare benefit law. He made the point in the House of Commons that the scheme will undoubtedly create an increase in demand. There was scepticism, from that limited number of providers, whether the three-hour limit is enough in itself and whether the pay is enough for those three hours. How, given that there is very likely to be an increase in demand, will the ministry respond?

The Minister used a couple of phrases that I thought were appropriate when he talked about the problem of the clustering of cases around a multitude of different contexts—housing, welfare and the like—and about the problem of escalation. From different parts of our working lives outside this House, we all know that both of those things are right and true, both in the housing context and the criminal justice context as a whole—something I know from my work in magistrates’ courts.

The Minister said that there was limited evidence of financial benefit from early intervention. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, expressed extreme scepticism, and I agree with him: there is a multitude of reports about the benefits of early intervention, and I have lost track of the number of early-intervention pilots that I have seen on the criminal justice side that have fallen by the wayside for various reasons.

I will raise another question, which comes from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee report’s appendix 2:

“Further information from the Ministry of Justice on the draft Early Legal Advice Pilot Scheme Order 2022”.


Question 1c is as follows:

“The wording of the SI indicates that those who are selected but receive no advice will also be informed that they are part of the pilot—will that control group also be required to fill in any evaluation or description of their experience? Otherwise, they will be just like any other Housing benefit claimant—what marks them out?”


That is to say, what marks them out as different in the data collected? The answer is:

“The pilot is seeking to develop robust quantitative impact evidence, and so how to best collect control or comparison group evidence is a priority issue to be examined. The specific criteria and process for identifying and engaging the control or comparison group is to be determined based on feasibility work to be undertaken by the independent evaluator.”


I did not read that out very well, but I understand what it means. My experience on the family court side is that a large number of people drop out of the system. Advice is made available and people start accessing it, but then the process becomes difficult and tiresome and people just stop engaging.

So, arising out of that question and answer, my question to the Minister is: will there be an evaluation of people who start the process but do not finish it? That is part of the overall cost, and it is also a demonstration of the impact or otherwise of these schemes. As I say, from my experience in a different context—family law—a very big part of the overall picture is the people who do not pursue the advice and support that are available to them because doing so is just too burdensome.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I am very grateful for the contributions from the noble Lords, Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede. I will pick up a few points in response. On the Treasury being behind it, I say that this is not a Treasury-driven measure, in the sense that the sole focus is not the public purse. But we have to recognise that the Treasury is ultimately behind the legal aid system: it is funded by the public purse, and we have to make sure that we get value for money.

One of the things that we are doing here is trying to answer this question—we all feel this instinctively, perhaps, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, said, there are lots of people in the market, so to speak, who say, “Spend some money now; you’ll save more money later on”. But we want to have some robust evidence to see to what extent that is actually the case—and also to see to which particular groups it applies more and to which it applies less. We have a very diverse population, and one of the things that we will be able to do in the pilot is look at people with different backgrounds and needs and see the extent to which the early legal advice actually helps. Although I am well aware of the research by the various NGOs that the noble Lord mentioned, that is not empirical evidence. We do not have the robust, quantitative evidence that we will get from the pilot.

I will pick up the points made the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, who asked a few questions around time limits and associated points. First, on the appropriateness of the fee, I explained the 25% uplift. To obtain the figure for the underlying fee, we used the existing non-London hourly rates for housing and family matters; that generated the baseline fee for the work. We added the 25% uplift to increase the extra costs. We are confident that that will mean that we get proper take-up from providers.

Judicial Review and Courts Bill

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I agree with the final sentence of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. We all want to see this system work well, and we all want to see adequate safeguards. It seems to me that the safeguards may be built into the regulations, but of course we can build in further regulations and safeguards through the process we are going through now. We are not hostile to these procedures as such; we are just concerned that proper safeguards are built in, either through primary legislation or the regulations.

The noble Lord, Lord Marks, set out fully the broad gamut of issues relating to these types of online convictions, where people plead guilty and receive a computer-generated sentence based on certain summary, non-imprisonable and relatively minor offences. All noble Lords who have spoken raised the point about the ramifications of people making guilty pleas because it seems easier to just get it out of the way, and that the possible consequences of having that criminal conviction, even though it is a non-recordable conviction, are not readily known.

I spoke about this point when I had a meeting with the Minister last week. The wording in the Bill is “recordable offences” and I made the point that there are plenty of offences which are recorded, but they are not recordable in the sense of going on the Police National Computer. For example, when I sit in court as a magistrate and deal with people who have non-recordable offences such as evading train fares, the information is available to me that they have previous convictions for avoiding train fares. I am aware of that information, even though it is not a recordable offence, and that will obviously have an impact on the sentence I give to the person who has not paid their train fare for a second or third time. So there is a distinction between offences which are recorded and offences which are recordable.

I will briefly run through the amendments in my name. As the noble Lord, Lord Marks, said, they are trying to mitigate the possible problems with this approach, to which all noble Lords have spoken. Amendment 26 would require all accused persons considered for automatic online convictions to be subject to a health assessment and that only those who do not have any vulnerabilities or disabilities are given the option of being convicted online. Under Amendment 27, the automatic online conviction option would be available only if the prosecutor is satisfied that the accused has engaged a legal representative. Amendment 28 would exclude any recordable offences from the automatic online conviction option. Amendment 29 would raise the age of eligibility for written procedures for entering guilty pleas from 16 to 18 years old.

As the noble Lord, Lord Marks, said, those four amendments in my name attempt at this point to probe the Government’s response to the potential pitfalls of this approach, to put in adequate safeguards for vulnerable people and children and to make sure that people do not plead guilty out of a sense of convenience. I was particularly taken by the argument used by the noble Lord about ensuring that, when people plead guilty, they know the full ramifications of the possible costs of their guilty plea. As he said, there is the cost of the fine itself, the cost of the prosecution and the cost of the victim surcharge, and all those numbers add up. When one sits as a magistrate, one has discretion over the fine and the costs but no discretion over the victim surcharge, so it is not a straightforward calculation. Depending on the means of the person one is dealing with, one would make a suitable adjustment.

After one has put the fine in place, one puts in place a collection order. This is where you give a specific and direct warning to the person you have just fined that, if they do not pay the money, there is a power for debt collectors or bailiffs to come to their house to collect goods to the same value. I go on and warn them that that makes things more expensive because the bailiffs also charge their costs. So there is quite a bit of procedure that one can adjust when one is sentencing, according to the nature and means of the person in front of you. The noble Lord, Lord Marks, asked a good question: how will this online procedure have the flexibility that the in-court procedure has to make sure that a fair disposal is reached?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Wolfson of Tredegar) (Con)
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My Lords, I will first deal with the general argument for Clause 3, not least because the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, gave notice that she would oppose the Question that Clause 3 stand part of the Bill.

As we have heard, Clause 3 creates an alternative new automatic online conviction and standard statutory penalty procedure for some single justice procedure cases. I should say at the outset that it comes with a number of safeguards. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, that, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, fairly said, we all want to see the system work well. This is about putting in place a system that is appropriate and fair.

The procedure would provide defendants aged over 18 and companies that wish to plead guilty to specified offences the additional option of accepting a conviction and pre-agreed standard penalty online without the involvement of the court. Importantly, prosecutors will offer this to defendants only in cases that they consider can be dealt with appropriately through this procedure. It is unlikely even to be offered in cases where, for example, there are aggravating factors or the defendant is a habitual offender.

The procedure is entirely optional on the part of the defendant. Defendants can choose to have their case heard in court at any time before they accept a conviction. Defendants who opt in to using this procedure will be guided through the process and provided with all the information they need to make an informed decision, including—the noble Lord, Lord Marks, made this point—the consequences of accepting a conviction and the full details of the prospective fine. I will say a little more about that in a moment.

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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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First, the legislative architecture, so to speak, is not just Clause 43: I have already mentioned other statutory provisions that require consultation. There has been consultation on this, although I do not have all the details of it to hand. If I may, I will drop the noble and learned Lord a note setting that out.

I was just about to thank my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay, and I apologise for standing up when he was about to speak. I respectfully say that he summed up perfectly the balance that is required between the need for a local link and for flexibility when it is useful.

Finally, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, explained—I received the message—Amendment 37 essentially a probing amendment for me to explain what is going on. It would formally require an inquiry into the adequacy of the criminal courts in relation to women and girls. We are doing significant work in this area, both to improve the experience of women and girls in the criminal justice system—or, in some instances, the justice system more broadly—and to better scrutinise the agencies involved. As she said, a number of agencies are involved, and this is a cross-government issue.

We are already taking specific actions. I shall set out some of them now, although it is a non-exhaustive list. We know that pre-recorded cross-examination can help to improve the experience of victims, so we are rolling out the use of this measure, known as Section 28, for sexual violence and modern slavery complainants to all Crown Courts nationally. We have introduced a single source of 24/7 support for victims of rape and sexual violence. We are working with the police and the CPS to reform approaches to disclosure, and I am sure that the noble Baroness has heard the DPP talk about that in particular. In July last year we launched a violence against women and girls strategy that contained a number of commitments to keep women and girls safe. I will not read those into the record, but I know the noble Baroness is familiar with them.

On a cross-government basis, we have cross-system governance structures to hold criminal justice system partners to account. We published the first criminal justice system scorecard for adult rape in December last year. Publishing and monitoring that data will enable us to improve how adult rape cases are handled at each stage of the criminal justice system, focusing on key metrics such as—I apologise for using this phrase because I hate it, but it is the phrase that is used—“victim attrition”. It sounds terrible but we know what it means.

Finally, there are reviews and inquiries, similar to the one proposed in this amendment, already in place. On 5 October last year the Home Secretary announced the Angiolini inquiry to investigate the issues raised by the conviction of Wayne Couzens for the murder of Sarah Everard. Among other issues, the inquiry is looking at what police forces are doing to identify and deal with misogynistic and predatory behaviour.

In October last year, the Metropolitan Police announced that it had commissioned the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, to lead an independent review of its culture and standards following Sarah Everard’s murder. The review will assess the extent to which the force’s leadership, recruitment, vetting, training, communications and other practices effectively reinforce the standards that the public should expect. Finally, the Victims’ Bill consultation, which recently closed, explored how to amplify victims’ voices, improve the accountability of criminal justice agencies and generally improve support for victims, and we will of course be responding to that in due course.

I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for raising the issue. I hope she will forgive me for not mentioning everything in response, given that her amendment is a probing one, but obviously I can assure her that this is right at the top of our priorities across government. Formally, though, I respectfully ask noble Lords not to press their amendments.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I have to admit that Amendment 54 provoked more comment than I was anticipating. I particularly thank my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer for his observations about the importance of local justice areas, and my noble friend Lady Whitaker for her experience of local justice areas. The same point was made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay.

I understand that there needs to be a balance between getting rid of artificial boundaries and recognising the importance of locality. While the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Beith, about rural local justice areas is absolutely right, where people have to travel a great distance, in a big conurbation such as London I personally feel very much connected to the area where I sit as a magistrate.

I want to add one extra point to this debate, which I understand will be going on, about the importance of the pastoral role of the Bench chairman. I sit as a chairman for the Greater London Family Panel, and quite literally every day I deal with pastoral matters for my magistrate colleagues. It is a very important role and one that my colleagues appreciate. I think it is important that that role should continue in some way, because it is a way of maintaining the morale of magistrates within a particular area. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Judicial Review and Courts Bill

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I agree with the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Marks—I too enter this discussion with some trepidation. I will first set out the Labour Party’s overall view, since the debate on this group has been fairly wide-ranging. We believe that the proposals for judicial review in Clauses 1 and 2, which we will come to in group 4, are regressive and uncalled-for. More especially, when many aspects of the justice system are in crisis, we do not believe that there is a need for this review in the first place. The Ministry of Justice is trying to fix something that is not broken, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Beith. We believe that overall, the Government’s changes to the judicial review process will have a chilling effect on justice, deterring members of the public from bringing claims against public bodies and leaving many other victims of unlawful actions without redress. These are proposals that will make it harder for individuals to hold this Government to account. As a result, unlawful decisions made by this Government, or by any government or public body, will go unchallenged.

I put my name to Amendments 1, 4 and 5. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, as ever, introduced those amendments very fully. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, asked me about Amendment 3. In my brief, I am embarrassed to say, it says that Amendment 3 is consequential on Amendments 1, 4 and 5; I have had a look at it while the debate has been progressing, and I cannot add any more to that. It may be that what I have been provided with is wrong in that respect.

Amendment 6 would, as set out in the explanatory statement,

“protect collateral challenges by ensuring that if a prospective-only or suspended quashing order is made, the illegality of the delegated legislation can be relied on as a defence in criminal proceedings. This would prevent individuals from being criminalised under defective and illegal ministerial powers.”

The noble Lord, Lord Faulks, said that he did not think that the problem existed. It would be very useful if the Minister could confirm that he too does not think that the problem exists, because, in a sense, it is an inquiry about whether there is any potential for this problem existing. It would be helpful if the Minister were to confirm what the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, has said.

My noble and learned friend Lord Falconer entered into a very interesting debate with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, about the development of suspended quashing orders through common law and whether that was appropriate. My noble and learned friend was very much against proposed new subsection (1)(b); he thought it was quite wrong to give power to judges to, effectively, change the law unilaterally and retrospectively. He argued very strongly that that was not the case.

That point was dwelled on by a number of noble Lords. It is not the point, really, that comes out in this group. We may return to some of the elements which were discussed on that point, but as I said, I enter this discussion with some trepidation, as I understand the amendments in my name—Amendments 1, 4 and 5—much more clearly. We will be debating further amendments to quashing orders in the next group, where we can further look at other prospective amendments. For now, I lend my support to the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, the previous two contributors to the debate noted that they spoke on these matters with some trepidation. In responding to the amendments in this group, I declare a non-interest: unlike so many of your Lordships, I confess that I did not sit on, or even appear in, any of the various cases cited to the Committee. Therefore, with that significant handicap, I will instead start by reminding the Committee of the rationale for including Clause 1 in the Bill. However, in these remarks I will not address the list of factors in subsection (8), or the so-called presumption in subsection (9), because we will deal with those in later groups.

The clause aims to expand the remedies available in judicial review proceedings to provide more flexibility to the courts. As I put it at Second Reading, we want to put another couple of remedial tools into the judicial toolbox so that they can be used when appropriate. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, that this has nothing to do with dismantling judicial review or an elective dictatorship. The Government and I recognise the importance of judicial review to good government, which is lawful government. But one also has to recognise that, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, reminded us, we have lots of different sorts of cases where we want flexibility of remedy—and that judicial review applies to many decision-makers who cannot sensibly be described as “government” in the way that the noble Baroness was using that word.

The current position is that quashing is typically both immediate and retrospective, depriving the decision of ever having had legal effect. It is as if the decision had never been made; it is a legal nullity. This makes a quashing order something of a blunt instrument, and it can have unintended consequences when applied to nuanced problems.

The clause seeks to give the court a discretion to change quashing orders in two ways, as we have heard. The first is to allow the effects of a quashing order to be suspended for a period, as the court sees fit. The Independent Review of Administrative Law—I listened very carefully to the contribution of its chair, the noble Lord, Lord Faulks—recommended this additional remedial flexibility, and the clause therefore seeks to implement its recommendation. I agree with the noble Lord that the word “may” is critical to the way that this clause operates. The suspended quashing order allows courts to suspend the effect of an order for a period of time to allow the decision-maker to prepare for the effect of the quashing. This could give them time lawfully to make a new decision before the unlawful decision is quashed or to implement some other transitional arrangements.

The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, which aims to remove the whole clause, would remove this new remedy, which I had thought was broadly supported. Although I heard the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, say, “If the judges want this power, they can create it”, we have heard that it is far from clear, to put it at its lowest, that the common law would actually enable the judges to do this. More importantly, there are circumstances where suspending a quashing order will allow the court to provide a remedy that better serves the interests of justice, and we should therefore ensure that it is a tool available to the courts.

The second modification, which would be removed by Amendment 1 and the consequential Amendments 4 and 5 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, is the ability to make a quashing order prospective only. I accept that that has been more controversial in the Committee this evening, so I will set out some of the parameters of the debate, as the Government see it.

We have heard examples from those in the other place, and indeed from some noble Lords this evening, where, prima facie, a prospective quashing order could cause significant injustice to the claimant, the applicant or third parties. There will be cases where a prospective quashing order could cause injustice, which is why we are not forcing the courts to use the powers in any case where it would cause injustice or, indeed, be inappropriate. Therefore, I suggest that we leave those discussions aside, because there is remedial flexibility, and concentrate on whether prospective orders make sense in principle, given the wide variety of cases that come before the courts. We could therefore answer the question: are there cases in which their use could be appropriate?

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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Lord. I was going to come to interests of justice slightly later, but let me take the point now. I do not want to drift into the presumption, but these issues are related to an extent. If it is not in the interests of justice to make the order, there would be good reason not to do so in new subsection (9). Therefore, the noble Lord’s question answers itself.

Amendments 2 and 9 add further factors to the list, including a condition that the court may use the new remedies only where it is satisfied that their use will be in the interests of justice. In addition to the point I have just made to the noble Lord, Lord Pannick—perhaps I am putting his question in reverse—I struggle to foresee a situation where the court, having considered new subsection (8) and the presumption, would think it appropriate to apply one of the new powers where the court none the less considered it against the interests of justice to do so. Indeed, I am making the same point: you do not get there, because if it is against the interests of justice, there must be “good reason” not to use one of the orders.

Furthermore, coming back to the amendments, if timeliness is relevant to the case, the court can consider that under the current drafting, in particular the factors set out in new paragraphs (c) and (f).

Those amendments sought to add some factors. Amendments 8 and 11 seek to remove a factor from the list and remove an important provision—the need for the court to consider

“any detriment to good administration that would result from exercising or failing to exercise the power”

and the need for the court to consider actions that a public body proposes or intends to take but has not yet taken. The point of clearly specifying that the court should have regard, not only to actions taken but to actions proposed to be taken, is that actions a public body proposes to take could sometimes be a relevant factor. For example, let us say that a government department recognises that regulations may be quashed but has already stated its intention to make new regulations and has announced the date by which they will be in force. This could help a court to reach a decision on whether a suspended quashing order is appropriate in principle and to determine how long the suspension period should be.

Amendment 10 seeks to modify the fourth criterion, paragraph (d), making it so that the defendant is responsible for identifying the interests of those who rely on legislation being quashed. I suggest this amendment is unnecessary. If a suspended quashing order, or a quashing order with limited retrospective effect or none, might be appropriate, it will always be in the interests of the defendant to set out why that is the case. The defendant would want to encourage the court to use that remedy rather than the ab initio quashing order. So, in effect, the onus is already on the defendant or respondent to demonstrate who will be affected if the impugned act is quashed immediately, ab initio; and that would obviously include identifying who has relied or is relying on the impugned act.

Amendment 12 seeks to modify the same factor in paragraph (d) by providing that the principle of good administration includes the need for administration to be lawful. I think I said in the previous group that that really is, if I may say so, motherhood and apple pie. Good administration is lawful administration. We all expect our Government and all decision-makers to abide by a set of lawful principles and duties that are conducive to effective administration. I am therefore not persuaded that legislating to say that good administration is lawful administration adds anything that is not already obvious or, indeed, inherent in the drafting.

Amendment 15 seeks to remove the requirement in subsection (10) for the court to take “particular” account of any action taken or proposed to be taken, or any undertaking given by a person with responsibility, in connection with the impugned act. This is intended to draw the court’s attention to any response the defendant may have already provided, or be in the process of providing, to the relevant defect. We see this subsection as a positive measure which could encourage a defendant to consider how to resolve matters proactively by offering suitable redress where it is appropriate, before the court need order it. It is also aimed at ensuring that the court takes particular care in considering any redress already provided so that defendants do not feel that they have to provide redress twice.

Finally, I come back to the point I was making about tax. I think the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, asked me whether I was satisfied with the phrase “offer adequate redress”. I certainly am satisfied with that phrase, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, has an amendment in the next group that focuses on it. He certainly raised it at Second Reading, and I will be coming back to that. When I was referring to tax in the previous group, I was saying it would be very unlikely that a court would want to use a prospective remedy in that situation. I did not say “never” for two reasons. First, it is always up to the judge in any particular case. Secondly, one has to consider other effects even in tax cases. There could be cases where, for example, under tax legislation, somebody has not paid, but they have been given a refund, or they have a rebate or a tax credit. In those situations, it may be right, if it is positive to the taxpayer, so to speak, to use a prospective remedy even in tax cases. That is why I do not say “never” but in the case the noble and learned Lord was putting in the previous group, of when people have paid, in no circumstances does it seem likely that a prospective remedy would be appropriate.

I hope I have dealt with all the points raised. For the reasons I have set out, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. As my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer said, this suite of amendments was really an attempt to get clarity. Some of them were probing amendments, and some we may return to at a later stage. As my noble and learned friend said, there are potential conflicts, and he gave the example of that between subsection (8)(c) and (d). Those two elements would need to be considered within the broader context of the whole of subsection (8).

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I open by noting that my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti said that Amendment 14, to which I have my name, is a probing amendment and I think that she rightly said it is less preferable to Amendment 13 if we can clear up the element of new Section 29A(1)(b) about removing retrospective quashing. I agree with her point on that.

I want to address a different point. It was actually raised in the House of Commons by the government Minister at the time when he talked about unintended consequences. I will read out the briefing I have on this. In Committee, the Minister suggested that limiting the retrospective effect of remedies could mitigate the potential negative and unintended consequences that some public interest judicial reviews could have. For example, if a statutory instrument concerning social security is quashed, immediately it could remove all the social security protections provided for in that statutory instrument because they would no longer have any legal effect. But the argument is not convincing. The mere fact that some judicial reviews could potentially produce unintended consequences does nothing to argue in favour of a presumption. I was amused by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, picking up that the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, referred to a so-called quashing order. In the vast majority of cases, a court will not issue a quashing order in any event. In most cases, a court merely declares a statutory instrument to be unlawful and leaves it to the Government to amend the instrument in a way thought necessary by the Government. Indeed, even where human rights were violated between 2014 and 2020, the courts have quashed only four statutory instruments out of 14 successful challenges.

So we are not talking about very many cases and the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and in support of his amendment, I think, are absolutely right. I shall listen with interest to the Minister’s response.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I begin by responding to the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, to whom I am grateful for his characteristically kind words and his tender concern that I am replying to these matters not so much on my own and without a Leader as on my own and without any juniors. That is, I am without much support from those Peers who also take the Government Whip. I would not want to make this point publicly, but in the undoubted privacy of these discussions I can perhaps venture the suggestion that the undoubted attraction of a debate with the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and others, about the finer points of judicial review might possibly have failed to outshine the annual dinner—which has now been awaited for a couple of years—of the Association of Conservative Peers. But that is mere speculation.

More substantively, let me turn to Amendments 13 and 14. These amendments seek to remove subsections (9) and (10), which have come to be known as the presumption, but I stand by calling it a so-called, or low-level, presumption, for reasons that I will set out. As I explained in answer to the question put to me in the previous group by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, if the court regards there as being good reason not to apply either of the new remedies, then it does not have to; the presumption essentially falls away. The question then put to me, which I will come to, is: why have it in the first place? That is the either/or which a number of contributors have put to me this evening.

The aim, as I have said in previous groups, of Clause 1 is to aid good administration and provide greater flexibility to the court in giving remedies. The new remedies are a very useful addition to the courts’ toolbox —to use that metaphor again—and the presumption, we believe, allows the courts to consider their use and will make sure that a body of case law develops quickly around the appropriate use of new remedies.

The policy intention, therefore, behind the inclusion of the presumption is to encourage judges to use the new remedies where appropriate, and for that I really do make no apology. I do not see that as any fetter on judicial discretion or as the Government intruding into places where they should not be. The independent review, as we have heard, recommended that courts should be given a statutory power to make suspended quashing orders, as it thought that they would be beneficial if used appropriately. We believe that the suspended quashing order and the prospective order are useful additions, but they can only be beneficial to the jurisprudence if the court considers their use.

The presumption is therefore phrased in a way which encourages the court to consider their use, but we are not trying to fetter judicial discretion or to steer—I think that was the word used by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich—the courts to a particular decision. As now, it will remain very much up to the court to decide what remedy is appropriate in the individual circumstances of the particular case.

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I want to comment on Amendment 23 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton. The amendment retains the Cart supervisory jurisdiction but bars

“any appeal from the court exercising the supervisory jurisdiction or any other challenge to decisions of that court whether by way of renewal or otherwise”,

and the decision of the High Court will be final. As the noble and learned Lord put it, this is a middle way. In a way, it is a shame that it was not degrouped from this group of amendments because, essentially, we have been having two debates in parallel. Also, it might have been more appropriate as a Report stage amendment.

By way of introduction to my comments on the amendment itself, one of the experiences of being a magistrate is that a lot of legal advisors leave magistrates’ courts to go and work in the administrative courts; it is a career progression for a number of them. Some, who I would count as friends, have said to me how utterly hopeless are many of the cases they have to deal with and prepare for the judges; so, interestingly, a number come back to the magistrates’ courts because they prefer the work there. Anyway, that is an aside.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, questioned the figures presented by the Minister. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s response to that. A number of noble and learned Lords proposed further amendments. The noble Lords, Lord Trevethin and Oaksey and Lord Pannick, also proposed further amendments, which may come back on Report; we wait to hear. I noted that the noble Lord, Lord Marks, also supports the approach taken by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton. I think that an encouraging statement has been made by all these noble Lords.

As I said earlier, we oppose Clause 2 standing part. I am grateful for the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord Evans, on that, but I intend to withdraw my amendment after the Minister has spoken.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I will begin by addressing the clause as a whole before dealing with specific amendments, as a number of Members of the Committee have indicated that they believe the clause should be wholly removed from the Bill.

As the Committee is aware, Clause 2 overturns the Cart and Eba judgments, removing the route of challenge known in short hand as a Cart judicial review. Let us be clear exactly what that is: it is a challenge of a decision of the Upper Tribunal to refuse permission to appeal a First-tier Tribunal decision. The claimant has already had a case before the First-tier Tribunal, which the claimant has lost, and the claimant has then been refused permission to appeal by both the First-tier and Upper Tribunal. A Cart judicial review allows an applicant to challenge in the High Court the Upper Tribunal’s refusal of permission to appeal—and that is not the end of the matter. If permission to apply for judicial review of the Upper Tribunal’s decision is refused by the High Court, that itself opens a route to the Court of Appeal, as we heard from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton.

It should not surprise anyone that the Upper Tribunal, which is a senior and specialist tribunal, in some cases presided over by a High Court judge, appears to get over 96% of its determinations on permission to appeal right. In this context, “right” means that, sometimes, another High Court judge sitting on an application for a judicial review did not give permission. That should not come as a surprise because the Upper Tribunal is a senior court with a specialist jurisdiction, with senior judges sitting on it, so it is well suited to determining those questions of law.

I have heard it argued that we are removing a lifeline for claimants, but that argument can be extended to any system that has a limit—and there must be a limit. The question for Government and Parliament is where to draw the line. It is commonplace in our judicial system, so far as applications for permission to appeal are concerned, for that application to be considered by the original judge and the putative appellate judge, but no more. That is what the tribunal system does already.

Some members of the Committee may remember the decision in Board of Inland Revenue v Haddock, a decision of the Court of Appeal, comprising the Master of the Rolls, sitting with Lord Justice Ratchet and Mr Justice Apple, but reported only by one AP Herbert in his collection Uncommon Law. Subtitled

“Why is the House of Lords?”—

referring, I hasten to add, to this House in its former judicial capacity—the report posed the question why there should be three tiers of appeal: judge, Court of Appeal and then what he referred to, somewhat impertinently, as the

“wild wager on the final race”,

as he described the former Judicial Committee of this House. This metaphor meant that the Court of Appeal was relegated to

“a minor handicap taking place at 3.30”.

However, we have moved on since then. There is often now one tier of substantive appeal. If you want to appeal from a master to a judge, and then from the judge to the Court of Appeal, there are very special rules for second substantive appeals, and even showing that the judge was probably wrong is not enough to get you a second appeal. This is not even a substantive appeal; it is a question of permission to appeal where both the First-tier Tribunal and the Upper Tribunal have refused permission.

As I have said, the Upper Tribunal does not err often, with only 3.4% of claimants who were refused permission to appeal being granted an appeal and then having that appeal found in their favour. That can usefully be compared to a general 30% to 50% success rate for judicial review cases. Due to this, and the sheer number of Cart JRs per year—around 750—the IRAL recommendation was for Parliament to legislate to remove the Cart judicial review process.

I obviously listened very carefully to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, said about the time and motion study and the assumptions set out therein. I know that he and my officials have had a number of useful exchanges on this. We have striven to count as accurately as possible the days taken at each point in the process, and we set that out in our impact assessment. I think that the noble and learned Lord omitted the time taken by the Upper Tribunal for reconsideration, which is not insignificant. Whatever the number of cases that reach the Court of Appeal, it must be more than zero. Therefore, I argue that there is a risk that we are actually underestimating the judicial time spent on Cart reviews. But, for present purposes, I can say that I am very happy to continue discussion on these matters ahead of Report. I will also write to the noble Lord, Lord Marks, about the data, if there is any—I do not know whether there is—on the settlements and the other points that he mentioned.

The second contention put against me is that the means by which we propose to implement the recommendation is a dangerous one. There are two points here. First, are ouster clauses appropriate in principle? I know that I will not persuade the noble Lord, Lord Marks, on this but, to put it briefly, parliamentary sovereignty means that an ouster clause can be appropriate in principle, I suggest. Legislation can change any aspect of the law and can also include an ouster clause. Although I respect and understand the argument that they are wrong as a matter of principle, I and the Government do not agree with this argument, and we consider that they are appropriate in particular circumstances.

The question now is: in this case, is the ouster clause the proper measure? We say it is: this is the best way to make Parliament’s intention clear vis-à-vis the relative and respective competences of the Upper Tribunal and the High Court. I absolutely accept that the clause’s drafting has been influenced by the arms race, one might say, between Parliament and the courts on ouster clauses in a series of cases. Parliament says X; the court says, “Did you really mean X? Maybe you meant Y.” Parliament says, “No. We are now saying Y.” “Well, what about Z?” You can see that development of the cases from Anisminic through Privacy International and thereafter. That is why the clause must in the form it is: otherwise, the point from Privacy International will be put: “Why does it say ‘purported’?” I think that was the Privacy International point. That is why the clause is drafted in the way it is.

Amendment 23 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, creates a procedural bar, providing that the decision of the High Court or any other supervisory court in reviewing an Upper Tribunal permission to appeal decision is final, preventing any escalation of that point to the Court of Appeal. Although I accept that that approach would create some efficiencies compared with the status quo, they would be significantly fewer than the approach we are taking. It also does not address the conceptual issue, with the High Court overseeing permission to appeal decisions of the Upper Tribunal, which is a senior court of record with specialist subject knowledge.

I am also concerned that some of the nuance in the original ouster clause, which still allows review in certain circumstances, has been lost in that revised version. The procedural bar proposed by the noble and learned Lord would seem to be absolute, not only on the refusal of permission point but, as was identified in the debate, in the substantive disposal were permission granted. As the debate went on, it seemed to me that the lid would not be as tight-fitting as he intended. Indeed, it sounded to me that as more additions and exceptions were built into the amendment, we would be back at either square one or, perhaps at best, at square two. Therefore, although I appreciate that the noble and learned Lord seeks a compromise solution, his amendment, especially with the additions accreted thereto, would not meet the Government’s policy intent.

Amendments 16 and 20 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and Amendment 21 from the noble Lord, Lord Marks, add a variety of exemptions to the ouster clause in particular cases but, in short, the Upper Tribunal is well placed to know the circumstances. It deals with matters of immigration law on a regular basis, and I therefore see no justification for treating those circumstances as exceptions to the ouster clause.

Amendments 17 and 18 apply to the natural justice exemption. This provision was amended by the Government on Report in the other place to read in the words now in the Bill. That was not, as my colleague James Cartlidge explained, a change of policy. Our intention is for substantial procedural impropriety to remain reviewable but for errors of fact or law within the Upper Tribunal’s remit to be ousted. The new wording is intended to be clearer. The amendments would undo the clarification on that point. As to whether fundamental breach is particularly different from material breach, that is perhaps something of a moot point. The intention is to set a high bar which will not be susceptible to erosion over time or cause an unnecessary number of applications, which would undermine the entire purpose of the ouster.

In that context, Amendment 19 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, which would allow the High Court or the other supervisory jurisdictions to carry out a JR of an Upper Tribunal permission to appeal decision where there is a “fundamental error of law”, risks taking us back, I am afraid, almost to where we started. That amendment attempts the same thing the Supreme Court attempted in Cart itself—to create a route for judicial review on errors of law but with a sufficiently high bar not to create a flood of cases. That attempt obviously failed, and I fear the noble Lord’s amendment will take us back and, essentially, repeat the same mistake.

Criminal Justice: Royal Commission

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Monday 7th February 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot go further than what I have already said. We are looking at it, and we want to make sure that we maintain our current programmes. In the last six months we have published a victims consultation, the prison White Paper and national criminal justice scorecards. We have the Judicial Review and Courts Bill this afternoon, and there is a consultation on juries in the consultation on human rights. That is not too bad, for the last six months.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, a significant proportion of people on community sentences report having mental health or drug addiction issues, yet very few of those community sentences include mental health or drug treatment requirements, partly because these services are simply not available in many areas. This must change if we want community sentences to be fully effective in helping offenders turn their lives around. Will the royal commission on criminal justice include a review of community-based sentencing?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I am reluctant to write the terms of reference for the royal commission from the Dispatch Box, but we do know that such services are absolutely essential for people who have come out of prison. My department works closely with the DHSC to ensure proper join-up when people leave prison, so that they can access services in the community.

Social Welfare Law Cases: Legal Aid

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Tuesday 1st February 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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The right reverend Prelate is right: we want to ensure that people do not go to court when they do not need to. During the pandemic we invested £5.4 million in not-for-profit legal support services, to make sure that people can have access to early legal advice so that only those who need the assistance of a judge go to court.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, it is 10 years since the LASPO Act came into force, which so dramatically reduced legal aid funding. The Government’s review of LASPO, published in February 2019, pointed out that the housing sector was particularly affected by these cuts, and that when housing legal advice was in scope, people were still failing to get access to the relevant legal advice. What will the pilot that the Minister has talked about do to help people get the advice which they are entitled to in any event?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, the pilot that I was referring to is a general pilot in relation to social and welfare entitlements. Regarding housing possession cases, as the noble Lord knows, there is a housing possession court duty scheme. We are running a specific focus on that, because there are areas where people are not getting the advice that they need. That was paused during the pandemic because we put a complete halt on repossessions, but we are now looking at the best way to make sure that we get focused housing advice to people who need it, when they need it.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I too would like to echo the thanks for the Minister. He has, in a sense, been a lobbyist within the Ministry of Justice to get this modest amendment over the line. The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, summed up the position very well when he described it as the first crack in the wall. I was alarmed by the figures he quoted from his Written Question, where he seemed to indicate that there would be more prisoners in jail because of recalls, so the problem is likely to get worse and not better.

The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, referred to the Minister’s reference to Newton’s second law—that it is easier to move an object that is already in motion. My first degree was in physics, and I would phrase that slightly differently, in a way that is relevant to the politics: the rate of change of movement is proportional to the impressed force. We on this side are certainly interested in increasing the impressed force on this object which is currently under way.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful for the kind words a number of noble Lords have said. This may be a modest start, but it is a start, and I am sure that the conversation will continue. In particular, as I said when we discussed this matter substantively, I am well aware that the Justice Select Committee is looking at this matter. It will be reporting soon and, while I cannot go quite as far as my noble friend Lord Moylan would want me to by saying that, if the committee recommends, for example, changing the qualifying period from 10 years to five years, the Government will adopt it, I can say—which I hope would be obvious anyway—that we will take anything that comes out of the Justice Select Committee extremely seriously and look at it with very great care.

The action plan has been provided to the Justice Select Committee. We will review it again following the publication of its report to take account of our consideration following its recommendations. I hope the House will forgive me if I do not respond to everybody who contributed. I am conscious that we are at Third Reading and there is other business before the House. But I thank everybody who has contributed to this short debate. In particular, I respectfully thank the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, for our conversations and the correspondence we have had, which she knows I have been dealing with.

I am conscious that Newton has now been invoked on a number of occasions. I am not altogether sure whether Newtonian physics applies to government action, but I will proceed on the basis that it does. I will try to push things as far as I can, but for present purposes, the only things I will immediately seek to move are these amendments.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, we support this amendment and every element of what the noble Lord, Lord Marks, said when he was introducing it. It is about criminal sentencing. My noble friend Lord Bach raised the question of a royal commission on the criminal justice system as a whole, and I will be interested to hear the Minister’s response on that.

The noble Lord, Lord Faulks, correctly identified that in this Bill the Opposition have supported some measures that have led to increased sentences. In a sense, the heart of the problem is that the constant inflation of sentences is leading to the overarching problem we have now with overcrowding and squalor in our prisons and a lack of effectiveness in our out-of-court sentences. I understood that to be the main purpose of the royal commission.

I want to give a very simple example of my role as a magistrate sentencing, as I was yesterday, in a magistrates’ court in London. As a magistrate, I have powers to sentence up to six months’ custody for a single offence. When, on occasion, I do that, I simply do not know how long that person will spend in custody. When I first became a magistrate about 14 years ago, I used to say to the offender, “You will spend half your time in custody and then, at the discretion of the prison governor, you will get out”. I do not say that any more because I do not know whether it is true. Sometimes the offender will get out after one-quarter of their sentence, if there are particular reasons and it is a non-violent offence, and sometimes, if they commit relatively less serious offences while they are in prison, they may serve their whole term, so I simply do not say that any more when I am sentencing.

That is a very particular example; there are many examples within sentencing as a whole where any sentencer, including a magistrate, is asked to use fairly obscure phrases which are not simple to understand for the person being sentenced. There is a role for an overall look at this to try to have consistency in sentencing and the words used while sentencing. The noble Lord’s amendment goes further than that as it is looking at community sentences as well. There really is a strong need for an overarching view of criminal sentencing.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, this amendment, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, would require the Secretary of State to establish a royal commission to review and report on criminal sentencing. The amendment was tabled in Committee and I am glad to have the opportunity to further clarify the Government’s position on this matter.

First, let me pick up the direct question put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Bach, which I think was echoed by my noble friend Lord Cormack and mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede. The 2019 Conservative manifesto did commit, as noted in Committee, to set up a royal commission on the criminal justice system. Work to set up that royal commission was slowed at the onset of the pandemic to focus on the very practical matter of ensuring that the criminal justice system could continue to operate—as it did, thanks to a lot of hard work by staff up and down the country—in a Covid-safe environment. As work on the commission was paused, officials were redeployed to other work and other roles in government.

Significant new programmes of work have now been stood up to support recovery and build back a better criminal justice system. That means that many of the areas the royal commission was due to look at are now being progressed more quickly, for example on efficiency and effectiveness of the system. That includes ensuring that all component parts of the extremely complex system—which we call the criminal justice system but is an amalgam of all sorts of systems—work together to deliver swifter justice for victims. As I said on the last group, on 9 December we announced our consultation on a new victims’ Bill to improve the level of service victims can expect from the criminal justice system. We remain committed to delivering our manifesto commitments. However, we think it is right to continue to pause the work on the royal commission on the criminal justice system while we focus on delivering these priorities over the coming months. We will then revisit what further role there is for the royal commission.

At the same time, let me clarify a point of confusion, which may have been behind the noble Lord’s question— I do not know. To be very clear, the amendment, as drafted, calls for a royal commission on criminal sentencing, not a royal commission on the criminal justice system. For the record and to make it very clear, when my noble and learned friend Lord Stewart of Dirleton previously responded and assured the Committee that a royal commission of this nature was unnecessary, it was the royal commission on criminal sentencing in the amendment that he was referring to. I see the noble Lord nodding and I am grateful; I did not want there to be any confusion on the point.

The sentencing White Paper published last year set out the Government’s proposals for reform to the sentencing and release framework. Work is under way on the non-legislative commitments made there; the legislative measures are being delivered by the Bill. I can assure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, that we want to adopt a strategic approach here. We believe that the White Paper delivers that, but I am sure that the conversations on these points will continue. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beith, that the taxpayer’s pound is an important factor here. We want value for money in this and other areas of government. The rationale of the White Paper is to deliver a smarter, more targeted approach to sentencing. The most serious violent and sexual offenders should serve sentences that reflect the severity of their offending behaviour.

I say to the House in general, responding in particular to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, that it is crucial that the Government listen when there are issues on which the public feels strongly, and there are some offences that society finds particularly concerning and, indeed, offensive. At the same time, for lower-level crimes, we are making community sentences more effective, so they can offer an appropriate level of punishment and address the underlying drivers of offending. As part of that—to pick up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb—we do of course look at the particular issues facing women in prison. We have discussed that on a number of occasions, and I intend no discourtesy by not repeating now what I have said before. We have spoken, and we have focused as a Government, on the needs of women in prison and sentencing women to prison, particularly the primary carers issue, which we have discussed and debated.

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I support my noble friend, who is quite right in everything she has said. Sexual abuse and rape can quite often take decades to come to light. The anomaly, which she has outlined very clearly, is within the power of the Government to put right, and I urge the Minister to do so.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, before I turn to this amendment, I begin with an apology. I made an incorrect statement in an earlier group. On Amendment 104B, I said that in September 2019, we rolled Section 28 out to a further four courts” and then I identified them. I should have said “September 2021”, not “September 2019”. I have already sent a written note to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, correcting the point, but I take this opportunity to correct the record and apologise to the House for that error.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, for tabling the amendment, which is aimed at a narrow but important category of cases that remain subject to a highly unusual time limit—we do not usually have time limits in our criminal law—and I thank her for the very useful discussions that we have been able to have on this topic. The amendment affects offences under Section 6 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 of unlawful but consensual sexual intercourse with a girl aged 13 to 15 that were committed before 1 May 2004, when the Sexual Offences Act 2003 came into force and replaced the 1956 Act. It was a requirement under the earlier statute that a prosecution for this under Section 6 had to be commenced within 12 months of the offence. There is no time limit for the offences under the 2003 Act that have been chargeable since 1 May 2004, but when the offence was committed before that date, the 12-month limit for commencing a prosecution continued to apply. That, of course, has long since expired.

As my noble and learned friend Lord Stewart of Dirleton explained in Committee, Parliament usually acts on the principle of non-retroactivity. Although removing the time limit in circumstances where a prosecution was already time-barred would not have amounted to substantive retroactivity in the sense of criminalising conduct that was not previously unlawful, it still would have exposed a person to criminal liability where there had not been any before.

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for giving those very good and relevant examples of abuses of trust in dance, music and drama. I remember the points that the Minister made when we had this debate in Committee: he did indeed ask for examples, and I thank the noble Lord for providing them.

Surely, the similarity in everything that we are talking about is the nature of the relationship. It is a trusting relationship where a lot of time may well be spent alone with the young person, and it is open to abuse. The Minister had other arguments about why dance, music and drama should not be included, and I would be interested to hear how he rehearses them, given that there is unanimity in the views expressed in today’s debate. I do not know whether the noble Lord will press his amendment to a vote—I think probably not—nevertheless, I will listen to the Minister’s answer.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beith, for again raising this matter for debate. I am also grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, who is not in her place but who gave up a lot of time last week to discuss this with me and the noble Lord.

I start by clarifying what we mean by a “position of trust” in this context—there may have been some confusion in Committee. The position of trust offences that we are discussing are set out in Sections 16 to 19 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. They are necessarily narrow in scope and were never intended to apply in all scenarios in which a person might have contact with, authority over or a supervisory role over another person, even those aged under 18. Rather, these offences were created to tackle potentially abusive relationships between those under 18 and adults who were in specific positions of trust.

The existing positions of trust, as set out in Section 21 of the 2003 Act, were so drafted in an attempt to capture situations where the young person had a high level of dependency on the adult involved, often combined with some vulnerability. These included those caring for a young person in a residential care home, hospital, school or educational institution. In these contexts, the power dynamic is such that Parliament considered that any sexual activity should be criminalised.

The law was created, therefore, in recognition of the risk inherent in these types of position and the power the individual could have over the young person, which could impact on and affect the young person’s ability to consent. As such, the offences are committed as soon as the adult in one of these specified positions engages in sexual activity with the young person they are caring for; there is no need to prove any abuse or actual manipulation.

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I was sitting in the City of Westminster magistrates’ court yesterday with our Bench chairman, Jane Smith, who was aware of this government concession. We had a very constructive discussion about how welcome it was. In Westminster magistrates’ court we have a specialist DA court, which is not that common among magistrates’ courts. While the noble Lord, Lord Russell, described the problem cleverly—in the best sense; I mean that as I say it—as being hidden in plain sight, it is a problem that we see regularly in that court. It shows that when the Government listen and move quickly, that does get wider recognition. This was certainly recognised and appreciated by my Bench chairman.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I am very grateful for the support that the amendment has received across the House. This ought to be a cross-party issue and I am very pleased that it has been. I repeat my thanks to all those who worked with me and my ministerial colleagues to get this amendment before the House this evening. As it is a cross-party matter, it is quite right for me also to thank Yvette Cooper in the other place, who did a lot of work on this issue. Sometimes parties do not matter; it is about the work that we do. I thank her for getting the ball rolling on this very important issue.

We will keep the matter under review, as we do with all legislation, and certainly for something such as this. Again, I do not want to take the House’s time, although this is an important topic. I instead invite the House to join me in supporting the amendment.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Earl: he has been dogged in his pursuance of this and I understand he has had constructive discussions with the Minister. I look forward to what the Minister is going to say to, in the noble’s Earl words, flesh out the proposals in the White Paper, and how these may lead to greater support for prison officers. One specific question for the Minister is how they propose to monitor potting and whether it is done by somebody acting in extreme distress or whether it is part of a planned tactic, if you like, within the prison.

In conclusion, I repeat my tribute to the noble Earl—it appears to me that his time in the TA may have led to his having some empathy with prison officers. I do not know, but nevertheless I support his amendment.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I also thank my noble friend Lord Attlee for tabling this further amendment on potting, which is vile behaviour and undoubtedly a horrific experience for those who become victims of this practice. I say unambiguously that it is therefore right that such incidents are prosecuted where there is sufficient evidence or that they are otherwise dealt with through prison adjudication.

My noble friend was particularly concerned about the availability of spit kits to collect evidence where crimes are committed. I hope that I can reassure him by saying that some prisons already purchase spit kits locally as a matter of course, but we will consider further whether there is a need to make them available to prisons nationally, as part of our focus on reducing crime in prisons.

Earlier discussions with the police and CPS confirmed that the use of body-worn cameras, rather than spit kits, would offer the greatest means of providing evidence to enable prosecution of crimes in prisons. That is why we have concentrated on providing these. Indeed, we are introducing a new generation of body-worn video cameras during this year, with newer, more technologically advanced cameras that will be available to every prison officer who needs one. They include a pre-record facility that effectively records and overwrites footage—so the pre-record footage is saved when you press a button. They are similar to cameras that are available to other people in the criminal justice system and mean that it will be easier to provide evidence of potting and therefore to support a prosecution.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, correctly identified that, in the amendment, this is a preparatory offence and tries to capture behaviour even where the act of potting itself may not yet have occurred or have occurred at all. The offence would apply where an individual possesses, provides or allows others to use their bodily fluids, intending them to be used for malicious purpose—and where an individual has assisted, aided or encouraged a crime. Of course, doing those preparatory acts is already a crime under Sections 44 to 46 of the Serious Crime Act 2007 or possibly under the Criminal Attempts Act 1981. The penalties for those preparatory offences are the same as those for the substantive offence.

We are also concerned about a practical difficulty: collecting urine samples may be impeded by the wording of this amendment. We are also concerned that it does not offer, in terms, a defence for those who do not intentionally facilitate this but whose bodily fluids are used by someone else for a malicious purpose. However, I will not say any more about that because my noble friend has recognised that the Government have listened to him on this and are taking the matter seriously. We recognise that more can be done to improve the effective prosecution of crimes in prison. It is a priority, and we will continue to work to ensure that those agencies and organisations prioritise serious crimes, enabling clear criminal consequences when they occur. HMPPS works with the police and CPS to improve rates of prosecutions for crimes committed within prisons.

I know that my noble friend is motivated by his admiration of the work of prison officers—I will not speculate about the genesis of that. But the fact is that they have to deal with some of the most difficult and dangerous members of our society. We in the Ministry of Justice share that view. In the prisons White Paper, published in December last year, we set out a zero-tolerance approach to crime in prisons. We will set up a crime in prisons task force, which will identify and expose any systemic failings that allow continued criminality in prisons, enhancing our capabilities to disrupt crime and ensuring that evidence and investigations lead to more criminal justice outcomes. We will commission the taskforce to look specifically at potting offences.

The White Paper also sets out our commitment to refer the most serious crimes, such as assaults on prison officers, to the police, in accordance with the crime in prisons referral agreement, which exists between Prison Service, the CPS and the National Police Chiefs’ Council. I appreciate that I have dealt with that fairly quickly, but I hope that I have reassured my noble friend that the Government have listened very carefully to what he has said.

I will respond to the point put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. Offences of potting are captured in published statistics—specifically the quarterly Safety in Custody Statistics. But if I can add anything to what I have just said, I will write to him. I hope that, for those reasons, my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I too will be relatively brief. This debate is about balancing rights and balancing vulnerabilities, and I have been following it over months if not years. Unfortunately, I did not go to the teach-in organised by the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson. However, I have been to other events on Zoom where I have spoken to prison officers and the people involved in managing the situations discussed here. It is apparent to me that there has been an evolution in the prison officers’ and governors’ approaches. I have spoken to a number of them several times. I spoke to one women’s prison where transgender units operated for a period, and the way they were operated was later changed. I have to say the governors I spoke to seemed—I do not want to use the word “relaxed”—to think that they could manage the situation. That is what I was told, and I have every reason to believe in their professionalism in dealing with an evolving situation—as we have heard from noble Lords, there is an increase in trans prisoners; the figure of 20% since 2019 was mentioned.

I have visited quite a few prisons over the last 10 years and I am always impressed by the quality of the prison staff, the governors and the prison officers. The basis of my view is that I trust them to make the right decisions. I think they are dealing with very difficult circumstances and I think that they can manage risk. As the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, said, they have policies which have evolved over a period, which include the safety of the prisoners and the staff. I was pleased to hear that during the teach-in the Minister said that he is willing to support further research into this matter. It is an evolving situation, but for my part I am content that the current complex case boards that make these difficult decisions should continue to do their work.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, this amendment relates to the management of transgender prisoners. The result of the amendment would be that transgender prisoners would “ordinarily”—and that word is used twice in the amendment—be held in a prison matching their sex as registered at birth. I will come back to that word “ordinarily” later on.

I should first record my sincere thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, for his time. I am pleased that he found the teach-in with officials from the MoJ and HMPPS to be helpful. I am grateful also that my noble friend Lord Cormack and the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, were able to attend the teach-in. I am conscious, from what they said then and this evening, that I did not persuade them at that time. I am not sure that I am going to persuade them in the next few minutes, but I am going to try.

I am not proposing to refer to anything said on Twitter. That is despite the fact that I think I am one of the few ministerial twitterers—or is it tweeters?—around. My tweets have become a lot duller since joining the Front Bench, but I can say that on this subject Twitter exhibits heat and no light whatsoever. I am grateful for the relative safety and sanity of your Lordships’ House.

Under the amendment, transgender prisoners who are not held with prisoners matching their sex as registered at birth would be held in separate accommodation such that they have no contact with people of their acquired gender. That is the inescapable result of the amendment. I suggest that it is unnecessary. Transgender prisoners can already be held in prisons in matching their sex as registered at birth where this is assessed as appropriate. In practice, the vast majority of transgender prisoners are already held in prisons matching their sex as registered at birth. The small number who are held otherwise have been through a rigorous multi-disciplinary risk assessment process. There is already provision, as I will explain in a moment, for transgender prisoners to be held separately from other prisoners of their acquired gender if doing so is deemed necessary.

We take the allocation of transgender prisoners extremely seriously. This is a subject which, as the last hour or so has demonstrated, arouses a lot of controversy and passion. But the approach we have put in place allows us to strike an appropriate balance—the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, put his finger on that as the right word, as it is a balance—between the safety, rights and well-being of transgender prisoners and that of all other prisoners in the estate.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I have also put my name to these amendments, so ably moved by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, and I support them. I have to confess that, as she was speaking to each amendment, I was mentally going through the processes I go through as a sentencer. She introduced her comments by talking about probation reports. As I have mentioned, I became a magistrate about 14 years ago, when there were no oral reports, and fast-delivery reports were only just being introduced. Most of the time, we saw standard reports. There has been an evolution over the last 14 years. There are oral reports, fast-delivery reports and standard reports. In the youth court we have far more enhanced reports, which are 10 to 20 pages long, and in the domestic abuse courts we will be more informed of the family situation when sentencing somebody convicted of a domestic abuse-related offence.

I do support these amendments. The reports put in front of magistrates’ courts and Crown Courts need to be appropriate, and, of course, they need to include the family circumstances of the person being sentenced. The great dilemma, in any system, is to get enough information in a timely manner but not so much that it delays things. I remember that when oral reports were first introduced in magistrates’ courts, we very much appreciated that, because we had experienced probation officers who would interview the offender on the day and come to the court and tell us the various pros and cons of the sentencing options. We knew those probation officers and trusted them to give us a balanced view and guidance on the appropriateness of certain sentences.

That is a good example I have just given. There are, of course, less good examples where we may not have been made aware of the family responsibilities of the person we were sentencing, and there is an absolutely consistent dilemma, whenever one is sentencing, over whether one has a whole picture.

As I say, I support these amendments. This is all based on the data. It is about having appropriate data at the time and about recognising the domestic situation and whether there are responsibilities. Everyone here today has mentioned the position of children, but a lot of people I sentenced also had responsibilities for older parents or other caring responsibilities, and that needs to be taken account of as well.

While I support these amendments, I think more can be done. Reports need to be focused in the right way, and the probation service needs to build on its links with appropriate local social services, as it does when I sentence domestic abuse-related incidents. Much more needs to be done, and I will support the right reverend Prelate if she decides to press her amendments to a vote.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Wolfson of Tredegar) (Con)
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My Lords, this group of amendments relates to primary carers in the criminal justice system. We debated it at some length during previous stages, and, as I noted in Committee, the proposed new clauses have their origins in previous work by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Let me just take a moment to echo the tribute paid by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, to those who give evidence to that committee and the other committees of this House. While the Government support the principle behind these amendments and have listened carefully to the arguments in support of them, we are still not persuaded that they are necessary.

I will explain the Government’s reasoning regarding each of these proposed new clauses. Amendment 88 would require the Secretary of State to take reasonable steps to collect data centrally and publish it annually on how many people sentenced have parental responsibility for a child or children under the age of 18 or are pregnant. We have publicly acknowledged the gaps in our current data collection on primary carers in prison and believe that understanding the position in prison is where we should focus our improvement efforts regarding data. This will provide an evidence base to develop policy solutions to offer proper support to primary carers who are imprisoned, and their children.

I am sorry that progress has been so slow, but I am pleased to say that the necessary changes to the basic custody screening tool will be made during the first quarter of the coming year. From that point we will be able to collect data on primary carers in prison and the numbers of their children. An important caveat is that our data collection is necessarily dependent on prisoners declaring the information. Although we do our best to encourage people to provide information, there will always be some people who, for various reasons, do not disclose what the underlying position is. We continue to look at this issue to ensure that our data collection is as good as it can be. I heard the right reverend Prelate say that she would be keen to continue discussions on that point. She knows from previous issues that I am very happy to discuss this with her. I will keep her informed of our progress.

Amendment 88 also refers to collecting data on women who are pregnant when they are sentenced. The Government’s view is that the primary focus should be on those who are pregnant and sentenced to custody. We have already taken steps to acknowledge previous weaknesses in our data collection. We are now collecting and publishing data on the number of pregnant women in prison in the HMPPS annual digest, which contains a weekly average for self-declared pregnancies, and the total number of births to women held in custody over the year, in location categories.

On the closely linked topic of maternity services in prisons, this week I met the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, to discuss the breadth of work already completed and under way to address learning from the appalling “Baby A” case, as per the existing statutory obligations. I am grateful to her for the time that she spent discussing the matter with me. HMPPS has accepted and completed all the PPO recommendations. The PPO’s recommendations for health have either been completed or are in the process of being completed.

This work includes investment by NHS England and NHS Improvement of recurrent funding for an improved maternity service at HMP Bronzefield that will be delivered by Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. All the work that we have completed or are in the process of implementing is set out in a joint action plan that we have submitted to the PPO, and which is available publicly on its website. Nationally, as part of the jointly commissioned women’s estate health and social care review, a perinatal steering group has overseen the development of a pregnancy and post-pregnancy service specification for health and justice commissioners. Publication is anticipated for early next year.

Turning to Amendments 86, 87 and 105, which concern remand and sentencing decisions in cases involving primary carers and pregnant women, I will not repeat the points that I made in Committee, but we consider these amendments unnecessary, since a series of relevant and adequate considerations for courts making such decisions are set out in relevant case law and sentencing guidelines, and, as I dealt with on earlier groups today, ensure that custody is a last resort in all cases.

The case law and the sentencing guidelines, which the courts have to follow, are clear that courts should give full and proper consideration to the fact that someone is either a pregnant woman or a primary carer. However, without wishing to diminish the importance of their consideration, we have to acknowledge that courts have to consider various and often complex circumstances relating to the offence or the offender. Regrettably, there will be cases where the risks posed by the individual or the seriousness of the offending is such that, despite the existence of dependents, custody is deemed necessary.

I listened carefully to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and the noble Lord, Lord German, about recall. In the time that I have had to respond specifically to that point, I can tell them that in the three years from June 2018 to June 2021 there was an 18% decrease in the number of women recalled to custody while the comparable decrease for men was 4%. So I acknowledge that there is an issue on recall and I am happy to continue that conversation, but the position has got better.

However, we are clear that delivering public protection and confidence across the system is not just about the better use of custody. As set out in our female offender strategy, we want fewer women serving short sentences in custody and more being managed in the community. As part of that strategy, we have committed to piloting residential women’s centres, which will offer an intensive residential support package in the community for women at risk of short custodial sentences.

I turn to Amendment 85. As I set out in Committee, current legislation already requires the court to obtain a pre-sentence report in all cases unless the court deems it unnecessary on the facts of the case—for example, if the offender had been before the court three weeks earlier and a pre-sentence report was obtained then. This requirement is reflected in the sentencing guidelines, which courts have to follow. When sentencers request pre-sentence reports, guidance introduced in 2019 mandates probation practitioners to request an adjournment to allow time to prepare a comprehensive pre-sentence report in all cases involving primary carers and for those at risk of custody.

I am keen to reassure the right reverend Prelate that a key objective of this Government’s reforms is to improve both the quality and the prevalence of pre-sentence reports in the justice system. We heard first-hand experience from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, about the quality of pre-sentence reports, which can be extremely good. We want to ensure that that quality is consistently good.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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I think the point I made is that they are extremely variable.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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I am looking at the glass as half full. I acknowledge their variability but we want to improve their standard across the board. It is a little simplistic, if I may respectfully say so, always to assume that a written report is better than an oral report. I know the noble Lord was not making that point but I have heard it elsewhere. He was quite clear from his experience that a good oral report may be better than a written report.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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If appropriate, exactly; it all depends. The sentencers have experience of the nature of the reports that are appropriate in each case.

On that point, we acknowledged in our sentencing White Paper that pre-sentence reports have decreased over the last decade. We specify in the White Paper that, although we do not propose to alter current judicial discretion, we want to build the evidence base around pre-sentence reports. We therefore commenced a pilot scheme in 15 magistrates’ courts in May this year, in collaboration with the judiciary and HMCTS. It strategically targets female offenders, and some other cohorts, for fuller written pre-sentence reports. The process evaluation will be published in autumn next year and will give us the evidence base to drive improvements in pre-sentence reports and make future decisions. We want to preserve a balance between the current legislation and sentencing guidelines and the independence of judicial decision-making. We very much hope and expect that that pilot scheme, which takes into account operational considerations in the courts as well, will enable us to improve the position significantly.

I hope that what I have said—I hope not at too great a length—will persuade the right reverend Prelate and noble Lords that the Government share the concerns underpinning these amendments and, importantly, that existing law and practice, together with the action we are already taking, make these amendments unnecessary. I invite the right reverend Prelate to withdraw the amendment.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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I am happy to respond in writing a little more fully, but I can say—with the caveat that I absolutely share concerns about ethnicity proportions in the youth justice system, and indeed through the criminal justice system generally—that the number of black, Asian and minority ethnic children entering the youth justice system for the first time fell in the decade between 2009 and 2019 by 76%. So there is progress but there is still work to be done. I will look at the Official Report and write with anything further.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I will speak first to Amendment 82A, to which I put my name, together with the noble Lord, Lord German. It specifies that short periods in custody should not be an inevitable response to someone with a history of relatively minor offending and that sentencers should be required to state the reasons for giving a prison sentence up to and including six months.

A coalition of views has been expressed in support of the amendment. We have, if she does not mind being described in this way, a campaigning right reverend Prelate who consistently talks about short prison sentences, particularly as they affect women, and my noble friend Lord Bradley with his expertise in this area regarding harmful effects on women in particular but also people with mental health problems. I also include myself in the coalition, because I regularly sentence short sentences.

The point I have made in these debates before is that, while the reoffending rate is indeed as bad as the right reverend Prelate said—there are high reoffending rates—in my experience as a sentencer, I sentence short sentences only when a community sentence has failed. I literally cannot remember a time when I have sentenced a short custodial sentence where there have not been—sometimes multiple—failures of community sentences. When I sentence, I am comparing a 100% failure rate for the community sentences of the people in front of me with the 60% failure rate of those who come out of short custodial sentences and reoffend within a year, so I am making a very unfortunate calculation when I give short custodial sentences.

Nevertheless, the noble Lord, Lord German, made absolutely the right point. We are trying to help the Government realise their own policy. The Government acknowledge what I have just said regarding the inevitability, sometimes, of short custodial sentences. The real answer is to come up with a robust, community-based approach that works and that sentencers have some level of belief in. I look forward to the Minister’s response to Amendment 82A.

I turn to the other amendments in the group. As I said in Committee, the Labour Party will abstain—with reluctance—if the noble Lord, Lord Marks, chooses to move his amendments to a vote. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, was essentially the point the Minister will make, which is that what we are seeing here is the Government’s response to a particular set of offence types and that it is a policy decision on behalf of the Government, which they are entitled to take and which they see as a response to public demand. Frankly, I am not comfortable with the position I am taking on this, but the view of the Opposition is that we will abstain if the noble Lord, Lord Marks, decides to move his amendments to a vote.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, this group of amendments broadly covers topics related to custodial sentences. We debated them at some length in Committee. The Government have listened carefully to the arguments put forward by noble Lords in support of these amendments. In particular, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, and others for discussing them with me. However, the Government remain unpersuaded that these amendments are necessary. I will briefly explain the reasons why and will begin with Amendments 71 to 78 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Marks.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, reminded us, we had a lengthy debate in Committee on Clause 102 and minimum sentences. For the avoidance of any doubt, this clause does not introduce any new minimum sentences or new offences. Rather, it seeks to ensure that courts depart from imposing the minimum sentence only in exceptional circumstances. We are making sure that in these cases, where a minimum sentence applies, the criteria by which the courts can depart from the minimum sentence are consistent and are set out.

The amendments use the term

“contrary to the interests of justice”.

This term is not itself unusual, indeed at Section 59 of the Sentencing Code courts are directed to follow the relevant sentencing guidelines unless

“satisfied that it would be contrary to the interests of justice to do so”.

However, as the noble Lord, Lord Marks, accepts, these amendments would create a new and different test in respect of which a court can depart from imposing a minimum sentence when sentencing for these specific offences. The noble Lord’s amendment could be seen, as I think he tacitly accepted, as creating a lower threshold at which the courts may depart from imposing the minimum sentence, whereas the Government intend to raise and clarify the threshold.

As I explained in Committee, the necessity for this measure is supported by the data. In 2020, approximately half of all adults convicted for a third-time domestic burglary offence received less than the minimum sentence, even after taking account of the early guilty plea. We should not forget that minimum sentences are, in the main, for repeat offences which have a large community impact.

I know that concerns have been raised that Clause 102 may lead the courts to impose the minimum sentence in situations that they regard as unjust, because they cannot find the circumstances to fall within the ambit of “exceptional circumstances”. Concerns have also been raised that what constitutes “exceptional” might be treated as being subjective, leading to inconsistent application.

I can, I hope, reassure the House that courts are well accustomed to determining whether there are exceptional circumstances. There is a body of case law relating to the minimum sentence for certain offences involving firearms which already applies unless there are exceptional circumstances. This provision aligns the minimum sentence provisions with that test. Without wishing to turn Report stage into a seminar, in R v Nancarrow—the reference is 2019, EWCA Crim 470; old habits die hard—the Court of Appeal established a number of relevant principles, including that circumstances are exceptional if the imposition of the minimum sentence would be arbitrary and disproportionate. The court should also take a holistic approach and consider whether the collective impact of all the relevant circumstances makes the case exceptional. Therefore, judicial discretion for the court to consider fully the facts of the case and decide on the appropriate sentence in light of the statutory regime is retained in this measure.

I respectfully disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Marks, that this is an attack on judicial discretion. It is not a case of the Government not trusting judges; indeed, we have minimum sentences. The noble Lord is not suggesting that we should not have any minimum sentences, so the issue between us is not whether a judge has full discretion or no discretion—I am not advocating no discretion; the noble Lord is not advocating full discretion—but the ambit of that judicial discretion. I suggest that that is a matter of policy and therefore properly a matter for Parliament.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, it appears that there has been some constructive discussion behind the scenes in preparation for this debate—I can see the Minister nodding his head.

I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, for his very clear exposition of the issues he is raising with this. Essentially, his points were that the law should not threaten prison if somebody is careless, when a disqualification is more appropriate, and that adding the word “very” before the words “careless” or “serious injury” is not an appropriate way forward and there should be another approach. I hope we may hear from the Minister on that in due course.

I support the opposition to the clause itself expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and also listened with great interest to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Marks, on whether the Minister thinks there may be any possible increase in prosecutions under this new definition of carelessness. I hope that is not what the Minister intends.

I also share the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, that in magistrates’ courts you often see dangerousness and carelessness charged in the alternate and it is up to the court to decide which is the more appropriate charge. Having said all that, I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Wolfson of Tredegar) (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, referred a moment ago to constructive discussions. There have indeed been discussions between me, the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, and, so far as I was concerned, they were constructive. I am grateful to both of them for the time they gave to those conversations. I will set out the Government’s position, and I hope it will reassure them on the various points they raised.

Clause 67 introduces a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving. By creating this new offence, the clause fills an admittedly small but, we think, significant gap in the current legislation. We considered the creation of this new offence and the maximum penalty it attracts very carefully during the review of driving offences that cause death or serious injury. We remain of the view that there is a clear gap in the law. That view was supported by the vast majority of people who responded to the consultation and by the other place.

Although I understand why the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, says that this clause is wrong in principle, I respectfully disagree. I will explain why we think there is a gap in the law by looking first at the position with regard to dangerous rather than careless driving.

For dangerous driving, there are three main offences. The most serious—causing death by dangerous driving—has a maximum penalty of 14 years, to be increased to life by Clause 66. Secondly, there is causing serious injury by dangerous driving, which has a maximum penalty of five years. Thirdly and finally, there is the basic offence of dangerous driving—for example, where there is no injury. That has a maximum penalty of two years.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I stand on these Benches to support, or at least not to oppose, the Government. But I have to say that I am reluctant to go ahead and make this speech, based on the contributions we have just heard. The amendment inserts provisions into the Sentencing Code that require a court to impose a life sentence on an offender convicted of unlawful and dangerous act manslaughter against an emergency worker. As we know, this is known as Harper’s law, and it has been campaigned for by PC Andrew Harper’s widow after he was killed in the line of duty in 2019.

I listened very carefully to the Minister, and he made much play of the word “exceptional”. My noble friend Lord Carlile made the point about the interpretation of the word being fairly narrow in the Court of Appeal. I have to say, in the more “wild west” approach of magistrates’ courts, we interpret “exceptional” quite liberally at times. Having said that, I acknowledge that the Minister did make the point that this excludes those convicted of gross negligence manslaughter and includes only those convicted of unlawful act manslaughter, which I thought was an important point.

As I say, we on this side will support the Government in their amendments. However, I do recognise that some very serious points have been raised in this debate.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all those who have contributed and I can start by reassuring the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that I always listen. We may not always agree, but I certainly always listen. I can also reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, that this is not law made by press release, nor is it law in the guise of a political policy statement. We have considered this issue very carefully. Indeed, it is because we have taken time to get the policy right as we see it that the amendment is here now and not earlier—to deal with one of the points made by my noble friend Lord Hailsham.

We believe this is the right approach to these circumstances. Of course, I carefully read the judgments in the Harper case, in particular the Court of Appeal judgment. I hope it goes without saying that, standing at this Dispatch Box, I have great respect for that court, as indeed I do for all courts. But that does not mean that Parliament is unable to or should be cautious to legislate in the area of sentencing, or should be prevented or inhibited from doing so. We are entitled to do so, and in this case, we ought to.

I will pick up on a couple of the points made by contributors. First, on exceptional circumstances, I seem to be being criticised both for refusing to define “exceptional circumstances” and for putting it too broadly. I deliberately did not gloss or parse the phrase. “Exceptional circumstances” is a phrase used in other legislation, for example the Sentencing Act 2020 and the Firearms Act 1968. We believe it is best to leave it to the courts to interpret and apply that phrase, and not to parse or gloss it from the Dispatch Box.

The noble Lord, Lord Marks, picked up on the word “totally”, which appears, as he said, in a press release form the Ministry of Justice. That shows the importance of leaving it to the words in the statute and not looking at anything else when the courts interpret those words.

An example was given of an off-duty police officer intervening in a fight in a pub. It is right to say that there is no requirement for the offender to know that the victim is an emergency worker acting as such. We stand by that. That is already the approach in other legislation passed by Parliament—for example, the Assaults on Emergency Workers Act 2018. There is no requirement in that Act, either, for the defendant to know that the victim is an emergency worker, although in most cases that will be apparent to the defendant.

For the unlawful act of manslaughter offence to apply in this case, the defendant must have been committing a criminal offence. If the actions of someone are such that they not only commit a criminal offence, but their actions further result in the death of an emergency worker who may be attempting to relieve that very situation, the Government believe the behaviour warrants a life sentence.

I come now to what we mean by a life sentence. I have already dealt with the “exceptional circumstances” point, so I turn to the point on life sentences raised first by my noble friend Lord Hailsham—regarding tariffs—and then more directly by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. When a person is sentenced to a life term and not a whole life term, the judge will set out what the tariff is. Then it is a matter for the Parole Board to determine release, and the person will be under a life licence thereafter.

These provisions do nothing to circumscribe the ability of the trial judge to impose whatever tariff they think is appropriate in the circumstances. If the trial judge thinks a lower tariff is appropriate—the word “modest” was used by my noble friend—no doubt that is what they will impose. As in the case of murder, we believe the offence warrants a life sentence with a tariff and the consequences therewith.

I hear the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that a life sentence does not normally mean that the person stays in prison for their whole life. That is the case across a swathe of criminal law, and maybe on a future occasion the House can decide whether that is an appropriate way to continue. Given that that is our sentencing structure—which I think is correct—it is also appropriate in this case.

I think the debate comes down to whether one accepts that the example given by my noble friend Lord Hailsham of the off-duty officer in civilian clothes who intervenes in a fight—

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, we support this amendment from the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. As she said, there is a cycle of offences for vulnerable people with drink and drug problems. In many ways it forms the vast majority of cases that we see in magistrates’ courts. I have come from Westminster Magistrates’ Court today and I can assure her that I dealt with as many drug and alcohol cases as I usually do. To use the word of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, the numbers are stuck where they are. Things are not getting better.

The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, gave a very full and insightful summary of the statistics. I have been a long-standing member of the drugs and alcohol all-party group. This is an intractable problem that we see throughout the criminal justice system.

The initiative from the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, is to have a residential rehabilitation unit at the start, essentially, of any potential custodial sentence, and if people dropped out, they would then get a custodial sentence. It might work and it may well be worth a try. I will make one comment—I hate doing this, because one of the consequences of being a magistrate is that one becomes a sceptic, but nevertheless I will say that I think drug therapies work better when people do them voluntarily. I often say to people when I release them on bail on a drugs offence, whatever the offence, “If you can engage voluntarily in drug rehabilitation”—very often those are the same services that they are statutorily required to go to—“then any sentencing court when you come back to be sentenced will look on it more favourably.” Sometimes that message gets home.

Despite that note of scepticism, I still support the noble and learned Baroness’s amendment. It is another approach. There needs to be a multitude of approaches to address this scourge, and this particular approach is worth a try.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, this probing amendment from the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, would require the courts to impose a sentence with the requirement to attend a residential rehabilitation unit where the offender has a drug or alcohol addiction, unless they had been convicted of murder, manslaughter, a terrorism offence, or a sexual offence. So, we are dealing here with the position at sentence. I will come to my noble friend Lord Attlee’s point about drugs in prison, although that is a slightly different, albeit related, point from that raised by the amendment.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, my name is on this amendment as well. I have the same briefing as the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Newlove, so I do not have anything additional to say, other than that obsessional behaviour is a problem that one sees throughout the court system. While of course I support home detention curfews, it needs to be recognised that obsessional, fixated behaviour is a source of very serious risk—mainly to women, but not exclusively to women. I have seen, relatively recently, obsessional people in breach of a restraining order, a non-molestation order, bail conditions and licence conditions all at the same time. So I support the amendment in my name.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, twice over. First, I thank her for tabling this amendment, which has enabled us to have this short but interesting debate. Secondly, I have to say mea culpa, because I failed to thank her for her contribution in the last group. I should have done so and I apologise for that. I hope that she will be able to hear what I am saying now, via the screen.

The home detention curfew—HDC—scheme has operated since 1999. It provides a managed transition from custody to the community for lower-risk offenders who serve sentences of less than four years. They may be released a maximum of four and a half months earlier than the date on which they must be released in any event, but on average they are released on HDC within three months of their automatic release date.

Offenders who are released under the HDC scheme are released under strict licence conditions. An electronically monitored curfew of at least nine hours a day is mandatory. Location monitoring may be added in cases where practitioners advise that it is required. Importantly, research suggests that offenders released early on HDC are no more likely to commit further offences than if they were released at their automatic release date. Compliance with the curfew conditions is closely monitored and breaches are dealt with robustly, which can lead to a swift recall to prison where necessary.

As my noble friend Lady Newlove pointed out, certain offenders are excluded in law from HDC. They include registered sex offenders, terrorists and those imprisoned for specified violent offences. But, as I have said, most offenders serving sentences of less than four years are eligible for the scheme. I underline the word “eligible”. The fact that a particular offender is, in principle, eligible, does not mean that that offender is suitable for release under the scheme. As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, has just said, offenders can, for example, exhibit obsessional behaviour. No offender can be approved for release on HDC without a robust risk-management plan in place. Where necessary, the governor can set additional licence conditions that can include exclusion zones or location monitoring. If the result of the assessment is that the offender cannot be safely managed at the proposed curfew address, HDC will simply not be granted.

We recognise that the release of offenders with a history of stalking, harassment, coercive control or domestic abuse can cause additional distress. We do not believe that adding those offences to the list of offences excluded by law and putting a blanket ban in place would be proportionate, or an effective means of safeguarding victims while maximising the benefits of the scheme. But we are currently reviewing the HDC policy framework to ensure that all the appropriate safeguards are in place to protect victims and the public and that unsuitable offenders are not released on HDC. With these reassurances and for these reasons, I urge the noble Baroness to withdraw this amendment.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, is to retain simple cautions. The examples he gave illustrate the point I made earlier: that this is a very complex area, with a lot of history of government trying to manage out-of-court disposals in different ways. He gave the example of 27 minor offences which can be dealt with by fixed penalty notices and asked what happens with cannabis and khat warnings. I would be interested to hear the answer.

The noble Lord asked—I think rhetorically—what else a police officer can do other than give a conditional caution. The answer is that they can do nothing. They can give the person they are dealing with a talking to; in my experience, police officers are perfectly capable of doing that. Nevertheless, as I said in an earlier group, this is a very complex area. The Government have tried a number of different out-of-court disposal regimes in recent years; I am not aware that any approach was particularly better than previous ones. Indeed, the noble Lord gave examples of the not obvious success of the pilot schemes for this regime.

Nevertheless, I think that out-of-court disposals are appropriate. They need to be handled in a proportionate way and with the right amount of training for the police officers dealing with them. Clearly, an appropriate level of intervention would, one would hope, be for the benefit of the offenders, given that it is very likely that a large proportion of the offenders will be drug and alcohol users. Having said that, I will be interested to hear why the Minister thinks a simple caution is not appropriate to retain on the statute book.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Wolfson of Tredegar) (Con)
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My Lords, it is fair to say that this group of amendments goes to the heart of why reform to out of court disposals was needed and the aims of the new cautions framework. The background is that the public consultation on out of court disposals showed that more than half of respondents did not believe that they deterred offending. As such, it was felt that there should be a framework with more meaningful and proportionate consequences and a move away from “warnings” and “simple cautions” to a system with, on the one hand, repercussions for the offender but, on the other, an opportunity to reduce reoffending and address often complex needs.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has indicated his intention to oppose Clause 97 standing part of the Bill. Removing that clause would allow existing cautions to remain in use. That would undermine the entire reform and change that we are trying to bring about and would continue the current inconsistent approach that we have across police forces. We do not want to stick with the status quo; we want to improve it.

As I understand it, Amendments 187 and 188 are consequential to the removal of Clause 97. Amendment 189 seeks to retain the option to use the simple caution as well as the new diversionary and community cautions. It also means that, if any existing cautions were retained, the giving of these disposals to offenders would then be taken into account in any repeat offending. Clause 96 deals with the provisions of restrictions on multiple use of cautions, so I will not expand further on that point at this stage.

Following the joint government and police review of out of court disposals between 2013 and 2014, it was established that the existing disposals framework needed reform. The National Police Chiefs’ Council developed its own two-tier out of court disposal strategy in 2017, which removed the need for the simple caution, penalty notice for disorder and cannabis and khat warnings. I will come back to the specific point the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked about. Since then, one-third of forces have moved to the two-tier framework, using conditional cautions along with the non-statutory community resolution. We believe that attaching conditions to the caution means that the recipient must engage in some way with the outcome as well as accepting responsibility. That is a more proactive and robust approach than the simple caution, which requires no further engagement by the offender and is often nothing more than a warning.

Removal of the simple caution does not mean that there is no provision for offenders where conditions requiring higher levels of engagement are considered unsuitable. As I said in response to an earlier group, we want to ensure a wide range of conditions is available, including those that require a low level of engagement on the part of the offender; indeed, it goes down at the bottom end to an expectation not to reoffend, so that such conditions can be selected where appropriate. The critical point is that there should be flexibility in the conditions that may be set in terms of the level of engagement that is required from the offender, so that the authorised person has discretion in this regard when choosing the conditions.

On the specific point of cannabis and khat warnings, which the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, also echoed, the community resolution already replaces cannabis and khat warnings. This is NPCC policy. The community resolution will be retained by the police as the only non-statutory option. Police are well practised in using the community resolution for this type of drug possession, and it does not require a formal admission of guilt either.

The final point I make is that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, implied—I think; I may have got this wrong—that removing the simple caution meant that a low-level offence could be dealt with only by means of a diversionary or community caution. Fixed penalty notices do not fall under the reform to out of court disposals and will still be available for use where relevant. The example of littering given by the noble Lord may be dealt with by those means or indeed by community resolution, which is an alternative and non-statutory disposal that police forces will retain. I hope that answers his question on the khat point and also his point on littering.

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for tabling his amendment. As we have seen through this debate, it has inspired many contributions on a wide range of points about whether and when a caution should be spent: after three months or immediately when the caution is given.

I remember sitting on the Michael Sieff Foundation report, and our discussions about whether all youths should effectively have their criminal records expunged unless there were particularly serious matters in there. I also remember debating that point very well, because I was sceptical about it at the time. The argument that I found most convincing was from the lady who was an academic helping us. It was based on the inadequacy of the record-keeping system for having any sort of differentiated approach for expunging a criminal record. It is really much better and more reliable to expunge the lot unless there are extreme reasons not to. That way gave young people the best chance of getting a good job and starting their career.

All noble Lords who spoke in this debate made interesting points. My noble friend Lady Chakrabarti made one particular point about the record-keeping of the internet. This is a huge issue; the internet does not forget. Of course, employers make their own checks through the internet, whether or not they have been given permission to. In my experience, young people are conscious of this and spend a certain amount of time editing their internet history to make sure they get any job they are offered. That is a flippant point. Nevertheless, this was an interesting debate and I would be interested to hear the Minister’s reason for why a caution should not be spent at the time it is given, rather than after three months or whatever period it was. I too had the briefing from Transform Justice, which made a good case, so I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, first, I will pick up one point from the last group to make it very clear: if I have made any errors, I am happy to correct them. As far as I am aware, there is no doctrine of ministerial infallibility; I say that with all due respect to my colleagues. Because the Cabinet table is still terra incognita to me, I hope I am on the right side of good behaviour even speaking from this seat.

I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that we are not introducing any changes to the current regime for rehabilitating offenders who receive a caution. The proposed diversionary caution replicates the current system for the conditional caution, with the same spending period. I also point out that the lower-tier community caution being introduced has no spending period, and therefore mirrors the current adult simple caution. In effect, we are maintaining the position that pertains with a spending period for the lower-tier and higher-tier cautions. We think that is a sensible position to take.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, that the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act was, to use her phrase, a wonderful thing. It is an important piece of legislation and the principle underpinning it is important. It seeks to strike a balance between protecting the public and rehabilitating offenders, and it does that by requiring that in most cases a criminal record must be disclosed for a period of time but—this is the important “but”—after that period, the offender no longer needs to disclose it for most types of employment. I hear the point made by my noble friend Lord Hailsham that cautions sometimes have to be disclosed, but it depends for what purposes and when. There is an important spending period.

The real question at the heart of this debate is whether diversionary and community cautions should have the same spending periods. It is at that point that I respectfully diverge from the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, because, if a diversionary caution were to be treated as spent at the time a caution is given, it would suggest that there is nothing in favour of public protection that requires the disclosure of that caution, and the offending it relates to, for even a limited time—up to three months—after it has been given. That position is simply not tenable, once we recall what the diversionary caution is all about. Let us remember that the diversionary caution requires the authorised person to be satisfied that there is sufficient evidence of offending to charge the offender, and the offender themselves must both admit to that offending and consent to the giving of the caution. Public protection therefore continues to be engaged after it is given as, unlike a community caution, criminal proceedings may be instituted if the offender does not comply with the conditions.

Over and above that, again unlike the community caution, the diversionary caution can be given for indictable offences, admittedly in exceptional circumstances and with permission of the Director of Public Prosecutions. That again highlights the importance of placing a time-limited spending period on cautions that relate to more serious offences. Removing, therefore, the spending period for diversionary cautions blurs the important distinction between the two sorts of caution.

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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I thank my noble friend Lady Massey for introducing these amendments. She did so comprehensively, and I shall speak very briefly in support of them.

When most young people go into custody, they will serve half their sentence in custody and the other half out on licence or on a training order. The gist of the Bill is to increase the custody element to two-thirds, while the amendments would put that back to half the period. As I have said on other amendments, I have an aversion to sentence inflation, and this is an example of it. There is no evidence that I am aware of that it would reduce reoffending. Rehabilitation is available within both the youth estate and the adult estate, but it is so much better if it can be engaged while outside prison.

On principle, I am against sentence inflation. My noble friend has set out with her normal expertise why, when looking at a wider context of international law, this example of sentence inflation is not appropriate. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, these amendments, which I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for putting down, all relate to custodial sentences for children. There were one or two points that she made that I shall perhaps respond to when we get to group 9, because there is a little bit of an overlap with some of the points there. I hope that she will forgive me if I respond to some of the points then, but I shall seek to respond to the majority now.

As the Committee will be aware, there is a separate and distinct sentencing framework for children. When sentencing children, the courts have to take into account two statutory considerations: the principal aim of the youth justice system, which is to prevent offending by children and young people, and the welfare of the child. I hope that overlaps with some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord German, emanating from the Sentencing Council.

Although, therefore, custody should always be a last resort for children, there will be some cases where it is necessary, and we believe that the court is best placed to determine the appropriate sentence. But those who commit the most serious offences, and who pose a risk to the public, should serve an amount of time in custody which reflects the seriousness of their offending.

Against that background, let me go through the relevant clauses and amendments. Clause 101 relates to—and I underline this point—minimum sentences. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, on a few occasions referred to “mandatory” sentences. The clause is not headed “mandatory sentences”; the words “mandatory sentence” do not appear in this Bill, except in one place, Clause 101(8), which refers back—it is a pity that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, is not in his place, because we have a nice piece of parliamentary drafting here—to Section 399(c) of the Sentencing Code “(mandatory sentence requirements)”, but that refers to a minimum sentence where the conditions set out in the clause do not apply.

I have two points to make in this regard. First, minimum sentences are not mandatory in the sense that they must be imposed. They are a mandatory consideration that the court must make before passing a sentence unless the provision in the sentence is met. Secondly, the Bill does not introduce minimum sentences for under-18s for the first time. Offenders aged 16 or 17 are already subject to minimum sentencing provisions if convicted of threatening with a weapon or bladed article, or a repeat offence involving a weapon or bladed article.

The threshold for courts to depart from imposing a minimum sentence is open to them, the question being whether the test is met. This amendment aims to ensure that the change in the threshold will not apply to offenders aged 16 and 17 who are convicted of these two offences. In Clause 101 we seek to ensure that courts depart from the minimum sentence only in exceptional circumstances.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I listened with interest to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. As he says, in this part of the Bill the police are investigators, prosecutors and sentencers. They also decide whether the matter should be sent to the CPS, with the people charged and sent into the court system. Of course, once the case gets into the court system, magistrates are judge, jury and sentencers. There are different roles at different stages of the system. The burden of the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, is in some way to codify, limit and guide the police when they are doing this pre-court intervention with the type of cautions set out in the Bill. I look forward with interest to the Minister’s response.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for putting forward this group of amendments. If I can put it this way, the noble Lord realistically recognised that we have covered some of this ground before—not this particular issue but the conceptual underpinning on which it is based. I hope, therefore, that the Committee and the noble Lord will not take it amiss if I reply relatively briefly, because we have covered some of the points before.

Amendments 174, 176, 182 and 185 relate to the delegated powers contained in Part 6. The amendments propose to remove the clauses that allow the maximum amount of the financial penalty and the maximum number of unpaid work and attendance hours to be specified in regulations and would replace that by putting the details in the Bill. Amendments 175, 183 and 184 set out that the maximum penalty attached to a caution would be fixed at £200 and would make it explicit that an offender’s ability to pay must be taken into account.

The Bill contains powers to set and amend the amount of the maximum financial penalty and to amend the maximum number of unpaid work or attendance hours by regulations via secondary legislation. As I explained on a previous occasion, it was drafted that way to ensure maximum flexibility when responding to the needs of operational practitioners. Any changes to these regulations will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny in the normal way, but removing the delegated powers in their entirety, which is what Amendments 174, 176, 182 and 185 would do, would mean that there is no flexibility to amend either levels of financial penalty or the number of unpaid work hours. If we have the maximum financial penalty on the face of the Bill, to change it or update it, whether because of inflation or anything else, we would have to have to come back to primary legislation. I respectfully suggest that that is not a great use of parliamentary time.

Finally, as to the matter of whether the offender’s ability to pay should be explicitly set out in statute, of course it is a relevant factor, but we believe that this—alongside a range of other relevant factors around giving a financial penalty, the amount that it is set at and how quickly it is going to be paid—is better set out in detail in a statutory code of practice rather than in the Bill. With apologies for taking that a little shortly, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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If the noble Lord will give way, the point I was making is that there is an inconsistency in the scrutiny of out of court disposals, not just the out of court disposals themselves.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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Absolutely. Let me deal with the out of court disposals themselves. I hope I have answered that point. There will, we hope, be a greater consistency of approach, but there will be differences. As for the scrutiny, as I said earlier, the code of practice will, we hope, provide a level of consistency of scrutiny that we also want to make sure is part of this structure. As I said earlier, that will be subject to an affirmative SI.

I am conscious of the time. I think we have drifted into Tuesday, so perhaps I should just conclude by thanking the Committee for contributions and invite the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment, although I am sure the discussions will continue. I also beg to move that the clauses stand part of the Bill.

Child Trust Funds

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Monday 11th October 2021

(2 years, 6 months ago)

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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, we have consulted widely across industry with the major providers. I have to say to my noble friend that it is the case, I am afraid, that there was a lacuna here. I think the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, who is not in his place now, candidly accepted that when child trust funds were put in place, no thought was given to people who would not be able to give instructions to banks at the time they turned 18. The Mental Capacity Act in 2005 only made that position more difficult. So we are now dealing with a problem that has been exacerbated by subsequent legislation. The way to deal with it is a small payments scheme: that is what we are going to consult on.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, a few weeks ago, I spoke to Teddy Nyahasha, who is chief executive of OneFamily, a financial services firm that has administered 1.6 million child trust funds. The central point Mr Nyahasha made to me was that small donations or payments of up to £5,000 are made through something called the fair access protocol. He was seeking some recognition of that. If there was some recognition, there would be wider access for other charities and providers to expand the fair access protocol. Can the Minister say what he is doing about this?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, my officials met Mr Nyahasha on 17 August, and we are well aware of this proposal. The problem is that it is not a matter of the Government recognising the scheme; the scheme, I am afraid, is inconsistent with the Mental Capacity Act, and it is fundamental to the rule of law that the Government act in accordance with legislation passed by this Parliament. Therefore, we cannot just bless schemes that are inconsistent with the legislation. If we want to solve this, we have to change the legislation. That is what the consultation is aimed at.

Libel and Defamation Cases: Cost to Public Funds

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Monday 14th June 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that the law is well balanced. We think that the Defamation Act 2013 is working well. I thought I heard the noble Lord say that Section 9 applies where a claimant is domiciled outside the UK, but I think that it is actually where the defendant is so domiciled. With that small correction, I agree with the noble Lord.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, in October 2019, the MoJ published its post-legislative memorandum regarding the operation of the Defamation Act 2013 since it came into force. It concluded:

“There has not been any body of opinion calling for a review … of the Act. That may be because … it is still too early to feel their full impact—


that is, of its provisions—

“given the length of civil litigation.”

Following the concerns raised in November last year in an article in the Guardian, we have now heard further concerns from my noble friends Lord Rooker and Lord Browne, who mentioned how women who allege abuse may face libel threats from wealthy former partners. In the Minister’s view, does this not all add up to a re-review of the operation of the 2013 Act?

Hillsborough: Collapse of Trials

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Monday 14th June 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, following the collapse of the trials relating to the Hillsborough disaster, on 10 June in response to the UQ in the Commons the Lord Chancellor said that he would very carefully consider

“the points made by the … Bishop of Liverpool …. in his 2017 report”

and the conclusion of the trials, and publish an

“overarching response … having further consulted … the families.”—[Official Report, Commons, 10/6/21; cols. 1128-29.]

In addition to this, the Government have undertaken to respond to the Justice Committee’s report on the coroners service by the end of July this year, specifically to its recommendation that bereaved families should be legally aided at inquests where public authorities are legally represented. Does the Minister accept that, in these two responses, the overriding concern should be that bereaved families and victims feel that their interests come first, and that no public authority or individual working for that public authority is above the law?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Wolfson of Tredegar) (Con)
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My Lords, on a personal note, I was still living in Liverpool at the time of the Hillsborough disaster. I remember listening to Radio Merseyside that fateful Saturday evening as the news of the deaths came in and the figure mounted higher and higher. I have nothing but admiration for the families and their supporters who sought justice for the 96 over so many years and in the face of so many obstacles. In response directly to the noble Lord’s question: yes, the overriding concern must be that bereaved victims and families feel their interests come first. We want to place them at the centre of our response to the inquiry under the former Bishop of Liverpool. Certainly, I agree that no public authority or individual working for that public authority is above the law.

Criminal Justice Review: Response to Rape

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Wednesday 26th May 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, there is a lamentable state of prosecutions for rape in England and Wales. Equally, there is a shared desire between all parties to see better, fairer outcomes and support for victims as they travel through the criminal justice system. The Minister in the other place spoke yesterday about a new structural and cultural change to increase the number of rape prosecutions that we see in our court system. I have a couple of questions for the Minister. First, will the rape review, which we expect to be published relatively soon, commit to indicators of progress, similar to those that we see in the violence against women and girls Act in Wales? Secondly, will the review commit to a support plan for rape survivors, as recommended in the Labour Party’s recently published green paper? If the Minister can give positive responses to those questions, it will go some way towards sharing a way forward to improve this lamentable position.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Wolfson of Tredegar) (Con)
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My Lords, as the Minister in the other place made clear yesterday, the underlying statistics in this area are indeed regrettable. He made it clear that he is taking personal leadership on this matter because rape is a cross-agency issue. We have the police and the CPS, both of which are rightly independent of government, and we have the Courts Service and the judiciary. Everybody must come together to improve the current performance.

The rape review will be published shortly after the Recess. I am afraid I cannot provide advance notice of its details today but I very much hope that, when they read it, the noble Lord and the whole House will welcome it because we intend it to be a transformational document that will lead to transformational change. Supporting victims of rape is an absolute priority for this Government; we have invested significant sums in that.

Let me give the House just one example of a change that can be made and which has real consequences. We have put in £27 million to create more than 700 new posts for independent sexual violence advisers. They stand with victims throughout the process. We have seen what is terribly called victim attrition. People opting out of the system goes down by 50% and more than 50% of people stay in if they have these advisers to help them. We will work, I hope with the noble Lord, to improve the statistics in this area.

Domestic Abuse Bill

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Wednesday 21st April 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, as is often the case, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, put the point simply and persuasively: that there should be common standards for all those who provide services under child contact centres.

We have heard about the welcome exchange of views between the signatories to this amendment and the Minister. In the email we received from him, he seemed to acknowledge that the DBS regulations should be assessed, and potentially amended, to see whether they apply to individuals setting up contact centres—so, he has acknowledged that deficiency in the existing arrangements. Further to that, in the concluding paragraph of the Minister’s email he undertakes to ensure that appropriate arrangements are in place for anyone who seeks to set up as a provider, and to explore further whether that is indeed the case.

The starting point is that there are uneven levels of regulation across the network of child contact centre providers. I accept what the Minister has said regarding private law in our courts and that the existing memorandum of understanding is going to be updated and revised, but that very fact may be an acknowledgement that improvements are needed. I have to say, speaking as a family magistrate, that all the child contact centres I have ever referred children to have been accredited by the NACCC. The Minister also set out the existing public law statutory architecture, which is more complex, but as so many speakers have said in this debate, we are talking about private providers—providers who may come and go and may come from particular communities which do not trust existing services. Those are the difficult cases that we are seeking to include in this extension of regulation.

As the Minister will be aware, we are talking about some very difficult cases—cases which are difficult to put in the public domain—and a few cases, not the many cases which he claimed. The Bill is an opportunity to close this loophole. We on the Labour Benches will support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, if she chooses to press it to a vote.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I am mindful of the views which have been expressed across the House. I start with a point on behalf of the Government and of myself. So far as the Government are concerned, like the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, they are committed to the welfare of children—that is not a phrase with which any of us would disagree. For myself, if I may accept the point put by my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, I do have a human side. Notwithstanding that I am a lawyer and a Government Minister, something of a human side still pokes through occasionally.

There is nothing between us on the aim; what is between us is the means. I therefore remind the House of two points. First, of course anything said by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, in this area has to be heard with care and listened to diligently, but it is the case already that the vast majority of people in child contact centres will have to have certain checks through NACCC accreditation and because of the local authority obligations. That is the first general point.

The second general point in response to one of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, is that the fact that the memorandum of understanding is being updated and revised is no indication whatever that there is a problem with it. For example, one of the revisions which is being made is to substitute the name of the previous President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, with the name of the new president, Sir Andrew McFarlane. Updating and revision of an MoU does not indicate that there is a problem. A lot of very good documents are continually updated and revised.

One is therefore back to the essential point, which is: what is the evidence which underpins the proposed amendment? It is all very well to talk of a loophole, but the real question is whether there is an underlying problem. It is the evidence base with which we have concerns. I say with genuine respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, that anecdotal evidence is not a sufficient basis in this area on which we should be legislating. Of course, staff must be trained and we must look to see whether there are legislative gaps, but we have to proceed on proper evidence.

So far as my email is concerned, I do not pull back from that at all; I stand by every single word of it. In particular, with regard to DBS checks, I am happy to repeat from the Dispatch Box precisely what I said in the email: “I am ready to explore whether there is a case for ensuring that there are appropriate arrangements in place for anyone who seeks to set themselves up as a provider of child contact centres to be subject to criminal record checks. The issue is that the regulations with regard to DBS are about eligibility for DBS checks, not whether they are mandatory.”

I suspect that where we end up is on the question of whether there is a proper basis to legislate in this space, given my assurances that we would be looking at the DBS point and that there is no cogent evidence that the current system is not working. The protocol is in place and has been endorsed at the highest level by the judiciary and Cafcass. There are statutory and regulatory requirements in the public law cases. Indeed, the only first-hand evidence which we have heard this afternoon from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, has been that the matter is working well. As he confirmed, he sends his cases to an accredited centre only.

That is the position. Even at this late stage, I respectfully invite the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, to withdraw the amendment.

Child Trust Funds: Children with Learning Disabilities

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Thursday 25th March 2021

(3 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, the short answer is yes. We have put in place mechanisms on fees to ensure that anybody applying to the Court of Protection, in respect of a child trust fund only, does not have to pay any fees. I know that the court is looking at the forms to make sure that they are suitably accessible, so that one can fill them in and make an application without having to pay a solicitor.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the Minister last met The Investing and Savings Alliance some two months ago and, as far as I understand, there are no further dates in the diary. When will the Minister next meet The Investing and Savings Alliance?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I am looking to arrange meetings with it, but have been working on the issues that it has raised in any event. In particular, I have looked at whether there is a trust law solution to the problem, but I am afraid that there is not. The route is to make sure that people can get applications through the Court of Protection as quickly and cheaply as possible. That involves the judiciary, which rightly controls the Court of Protection, and I am getting good engagement from the judiciary.

Covid-19: Impact on the Prison System

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Monday 22nd March 2021

(3 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, the position on money is that prisoners are released with a discharge grant. There can also be an extra payment to an accommodation provider, together with an appropriate travel warrant. However, accommodation is key. We are launching a new accommodation service which provides up to 12 weeks of basic temporary accommodation for prison leavers who would otherwise be homeless. We are trialling that in five of the 12 national probation regions in England and Wales. We believe it will mean that 3,000 prison leavers will be kept off the streets. Keeping people off the streets and giving them money until they can access social benefits is critical.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, does the Minister agree with Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, when he said:

“Empathy and kindness from many staff have made a real difference”


to prisoners,

“and it will be full active days spent out of the confines of a nine foot by six foot cell that define recovery in the longer term”?

Does he also agree that videoconferencing can play an important role in keeping prisoners in contact with their families?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I am in substantial agreement with the noble Lord on both points. I am very grateful that he mentioned videoconferencing, because that is something we have put a lot of time and resource into. Of course it is not as good as seeing somebody literally face to face, but I believe we have all found out over the last few months that videoconferencing is a decent substitute when real face-to-face contact is not possible.

Prisons: Self-harm Among Women Prisoners

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Monday 15th March 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, my noble and learned friend raises an important point. As I said, one of the factors in self-harm is, no doubt, being separated from one’s children. One would therefore want to know how many women in prison are mothers, and indeed how many children they have. Perhaps I can undertake to look into the particular point which my noble and learned friend has raised and write to him on it.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, given the stark 24% rise in self-harm by women in prison in the most recent Ministry of Justice statistics and the need for a whole-system approach to address substance misuse, stable housing and abusive partners, what measures are the Government advocating for the probation service to adopt to give sentencers the confidence to use community-based sentences? As we are coming out of lockdown, when will probation be able to offer women offenders on community sentences full access to face-to-face interventions and the support that is expected by the sentencers?

Domestic Abuse Bill

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said, the Minister has been generous with his time and has spoken with the group twice. The purpose of this amendment is well understood by the contributors to this short debate and by the Minister. The purpose is simple: it is to close a loophole, to make sure that all child contact centres reach the necessary standard, that there is some form of overview and accreditation and that there are consequences if that standard is not reached.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, succinctly put it, we know that, as far as the courts are concerned, only accredited child contact centres should ever be used. However, what about other referrals to child contact centres? What about private referrals or referrals by local councils or other organisations such as Barnardo’s?

In the discussions that we have had with the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, he has asked for proof that there is a problem. As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, said, it is difficult to provide proof, because you are looking for organisations and child contact centres that do not necessarily advertise their services. If they run into problems, they can easily withdraw the advertising and re-emerge in another form, but with the same people running them. At the moment, there are no consequences for people playing fast and loose with the system, if I may put it like that. There needs to be some consistency across the range of services and regulated services that children use. This anomaly needs to be addressed and I can see no better place to do it than in this Bill with this amendment right now. I and my party will support the amendment if it is moved to a vote.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, as I indicated in Committee, I fully recognise that the provision of child contact centres is extremely important to supporting families and enabling parents to have contact with their children, while at the same time providing a safe environment that protects children and adults from potential harm. As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, put it, there is no agenda here, in the sense that we all have the same aim. The question is the best means of achieving it.

It is essential that all children experience the same high level of care and safeguarding where circumstances have necessitated their involvement with the family justice system and child contact centres or services. I thank noble Lords and the National Association of Child Contact Centres for their engagement with me and my officials since Committee. I have met, on a number of occasions, several noble Lords who have spoken in support of this amendment. I have found those discussions extremely helpful and I am grateful to them for the time that they gave to discussing the issue with me in more detail.

This amendment differs from the amendment debated in Committee, because it provides that the child contact centres should be accredited in accordance with national standards to be specified in regulations laid by the Secretary of State. The amendment in Committee did not specify who would set the accreditation standards. I continue to question whether the statutory accreditation proposed in this amendment is required or would provide a more effective form of regulation than that which currently exists through the NACCC accreditation framework and the statutory regulations governing local authorities.

I extend my sincere thanks to the NACCC for the useful overview of the current landscape of unaccredited child contact centres and services in England and Wales that it produced following Committee. That review was conducted at some pace and has been used to inform further discussions on this matter. While I accept and take on board the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, that it is hard to identify evidence in this area, it is fair to say that the work that was done was at a somewhat high level.

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, powerfully moved this amendment and went into the detail of the problems that arise when refuge addresses are revealed. I fail to understand why judges, in her words, are turning a blind eye to the requirement to keep the secrecy of a refuge; I fail to imagine why that might be the case. Nevertheless, either mistakes happen or some judges—very few—have an alternative view. What I understand from the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, is that she wants the Minister to put on record that guidance will be updated and to make it absolutely clear that this should not happen again. I do not know whether she is going to move her amendment or what will happen, but I would have thought that, at the very least, the Minister should be able to do that and say that guidance will be updated.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Uddin, both have experience of working in refuges and they know the importance of keeping these addresses secret. I hope we will hear from the Minister something that sufficiently reassures his noble friend Lady Bertin that this issue can be properly addressed once and for all.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lady Bertin for her continued engagement on the issue of the confidentiality of refuge addresses. I take this opportunity to thank refuge providers and others in the sector who took time out of their very busy diaries to meet me on this issue: we had a very useful discussion.

As with many issues with the Bill, it seems to me that we all agree on the issues of principle. Refuges are places of safety. They play a vital role in effectively responding to domestic abuse, and in supporting victims and their children. Therefore, I am in complete agreement with the principle underlying my noble friend’s amendment, that those in refuges must be protected. As such, it is right that the Government and those involved in family proceedings carefully consider both whether existing measures offer enough protection and whether there are further steps that could be taken better to protect domestic abuse victims living in refuge accommodation.

In Committee, I outlined that those engaged in family proceedings are not required to disclose their address, or that of their children, unless specifically directed to do so by the court. Where such a disclosure direction is made, addresses are disclosed to the court only, and it is for the court to determine whether information it holds should be disclosed further. Where there are known allegations of domestic abuse, the court should hold this information as confidential. I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that the formulation I used in Committee was certainly intended to indicate agreement.

Turning to the service of orders at refuge addresses, I again thank those from the refuge sector with whom I discussed this issue and their experience of it. They gave some valuable evidence, and we heard some more this evening from the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin. As I indicated in Committee, existing measures, particularly Part 6 of the Family Procedure Rules, enable the court to direct bespoke service arrangements, and orders can be served at alternative addresses, such as the refuge office address. This approach should be taken wherever possible.

I noted the way that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, put it: service on a refuge should be avoided. However, as I said on the last group, the real question is the welfare of the child, which is of paramount consideration in family proceedings. I remain of the view that there can be limited circumstances where the court may need to serve an order on a party at the refuge they are staying in because not doing so would pose risks to the safety of children involved in family proceedings.

One can envisage such cases, and I would not wish to limit the court’s ability to act quickly in those circumstances to safeguard a child, which might occur were we to place a blanket or inflexible restriction on addresses at which an order can be served. However, I would expect family proceedings where an order needs to be served at a residential refuge address to be very few and far between. Although the question must ultimately be a matter for the judiciary and not for the Government Front Bench, one would expect that a refuge address would be used only when there is no other viable alternative in the circumstances.

I have indicated that existing measures enable protection for victims in refuges. However, I am persuaded that there is a legitimate question of whether those measures could be strengthened to ensure that victims are better protected, that addresses are not disclosed to perpetrators, and that service of orders at refuge addresses is directed only when absolutely necessary. While I am clear that primary legislation, and therefore this amendment, is not the appropriate response here, there are other routes to explore, as I have discussed with my noble friend since Committee.

This issue has been discussed between Ministers and the President of the Family Division in recent bilateral meetings. I assure my noble friend that the judiciary is taking seriously the concerns raised. I appreciate, in this context, that the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, wanted some reassurance from the Government; I hope I am giving it to him. The Whips may not agree, but one of the benefits of making slightly slower progress on Monday than we intended is that I can now say that this matter was discussed at the meeting of the Family Procedure Rule Committee on Monday, which was a couple of days ago. The committee agreed to work on this issue and will be giving it detailed consideration in the coming weeks and months.

The Government are committed to protecting vulnerable victims of domestic abuse from further harm by their abuser. I am confident that this issue is being properly and carefully considered by members of the senior judiciary and by the Family Procedure Rule Committee. I have full sympathy with the motivation behind this amendment. I understand why my noble friend has maintained this, and why the noble Lord, Lord Marks, had considerable sympathy with it on the confidentiality point, although I note that he did not engage with the lack of any exception to the proposition set out in subsection (3) of the proposed new clause—that is, service on a refuge address.

I have used my response to set out what the Government are doing and the steps being taken. I hope that, having provided that assurance to my noble friend, she will now be content to withdraw her amendment.

Learning Disabilities: Child Trust Funds

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Thursday 11th February 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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The noble Baroness is certainly right. Virtually everybody does have the best of motives, but there have been cases where the protections afforded by the Mental Capacity Act 2005 have, unfortunately, been needed. One has to remember that, ultimately, one is dealing with the funds of somebody who lacks the capacity to deal with them themselves. That is why the Mental Capacity Act puts in protections which may well be needed.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab) [V]
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A professional actuary has been helping campaigners to identify the aggregate amount of money that disabled young people could lose from their child trust fund as a result of the current court process. The results estimate that, if one in four parents give up pursuing these funds because of the perceived difficulty in accessing the money, £107 million could be lost to those children over the next 10 years. This money is being locked away forever in individual accounts. What assurance can the Minister give that any new solution will be designed to make it as easy as possible for these families to access the benefits for young people?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I do not want anybody to give up accessing money which is rightfully theirs. There are a number of provisions in place for fees but, to sum this up, the Government’s intention is that no one who needs to apply to the Court of Protection solely to access a child trust fund will pay fees.

Domestic Abuse Bill

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Committee stage & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 1st February 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 View all Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 124-IV(Rev) Revised fourth marshalled list for Committee - (1 Feb 2021)
Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, there will be correlations and differences between various orders in this context. I can certainly undertake to write to the noble Lord on this point, but I hope I can go one better: if, in addition to a letter, a conversation would be helpful, I am very happy to offer that as well.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I will start with the point that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has just made about the read-across between knife crime prevention orders and DAPOs. I would certainly be very interested in attending the meeting that the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, has just offered because the earlier point that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made was strong: that it is reasonably likely that perpetrators might be subject to both of those orders, so there is merit in having a similar approach, whether it is a knife crime prevention order or a DAPO. I would be very happy to join the meeting that the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, has offered.

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken on this group. I was interested in the comparison made by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, between these orders and TPIMs. He said that these are much more widely drawn, which was an important point. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, sought to contrast treatment and punishment, which, I suppose, is a theme here—although we are not dealing with convicted criminals but prevention orders. The point I invariably make when I am sentencing in court or making an order like this is that, even if it is a punishment, it is for the benefit of the people who have positive requirements made of them in whatever that sentence might be. When I make that point, I invariably get a nod from the person I am sentencing, so people understand that point, in my experience.

I listened carefully to the explanation and summary given by the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, but I think I have quite a strong pack of cards, if I can put it like that, and although I will withdraw my amendment I may consider coming back at a later stage.

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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for explaining the contempt of court point in more detail and for setting out the question of the standard of proof. I will be happy to include a paragraph on that in my letter as well.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab) (V)
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My Lords, this has been a very wide-ranging debate with a lot of legal detail. I will respond to the fellow laymen who have taken part in the debate. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, I should say that I have found the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, to be very helpful and I certainly have not found him to be dismissive in any way. In fact, before this debate he went out of his way to help me and other colleagues.

I turn to my Amendment 81, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall. Although it is my amendment and it does say that there should be agreement to any drug, alcohol or mental health treatment, perhaps I may say a word against it. I believe that this should be a judicial decision. It is a difficult one and obviously it is better if the participants in the courses agree and sign up to them. Nevertheless, there are occasions where it is helpful to make this part of a court order. If there is some ambivalence, it can be made very clear that they should go on the courses. So, even though I moved the amendment, I believe that the decision on whether to make it compulsory should be a judicial one.

As I have said, this has been a wide-ranging debate and I too will read the response of the Minister and the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, very carefully. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. It was not my intention to be specious. I was trying to be accurate and constructive. I have already said that I will engage with the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, if she provides evidence that there is a systemic problem with the current arrangements that cannot be resolved by the existing mechanisms. That was a genuine offer. I am sure that the noble Baroness will take me up on it. I will be very happy if she does.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the Minister has invited comments about potential systemic problems. I draw his attention to one group of cases which he did not refer to: people who self-refer to contact centres. They are not sent there by social workers or by the courts, but are self-referring for their own reasons—trying to sort out the issues themselves. They could easily end up at unregulated contact centres, which may well be cheaper, so if the noble Lord is looking for systemic problems, I suggest that this may well be one.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for that point. As I said in my response to the main debate, even unaccredited centres are still subject to the various requirements that I set out, but I am very conscious of the noble Lord’s expertise in this area. In a previous answer, I committed to writing a long letter to him. I do not want to add to it now, but perhaps he and I can have discussions, with the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, which include the point he raises. I hope that is helpful.

Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill

Debate between Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 26th January 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill 2019-21 View all Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill 2019-21 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 129-I Marshalled list for Committee - (21 Jan 2021)
Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Wolfson of Tredegar) (Con)
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My Lords, I hope that the Committee will allow me to take a moment to thank the noble Lords, Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, for their very warm words of welcome, which I appreciate.

Amendment 1 is a minor technical amendment that removes references to offences in the Space Industry Act 2018 from Schedule 17A to the Sentencing Code, which deals with serious terrorism offences. References to those offences will instead be inserted, on their commencement, by Schedule 22 to the Sentencing Act 2020 so that they are dealt with consistently by that Act. I beg to move.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I understand from the Minister that this is a minor amendment. I too welcome him to his position. He has been very helpful to me both on this Bill and on the Domestic Abuse Bill, with which we are dealing almost simultaneously. I have a couple of minor questions for him. First, what would happen if this amendment were not put in place? How would that have affected the position, and what could the consequences have been? Secondly, what level of consultation has he done externally to ensure consistency in Sentencing Codes and parliamentary Acts?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful for the words of the noble Lord. To answer his two questions, I say that this is essentially a tidying-up matter because of the different pace of legislation going through Parliament at the moment. The question of what would happen if this amendment were not made is an interesting one. At the very least we would be left with inelegant legislation, and I know from my previous incarnation that inelegant legislation is bad for Parliament but very good for lawyers, so let us try to make it as elegant as we can while we are at it. Much of the consultation on this matter preceded my involvement in this Bill and indeed my introduction to this House, but I am aware that there has been very significant consultation. Of course, if the noble Lord wishes to raise any particular points with me, my door is always open to him.

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the noble Lords, Lord Marks and Lord Thomas, have explained their thinking behind the amendment to replace “exceptional” with “significant” to give more discretion to the judge. As the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, said, in any event a judge will explain the reason for finding exceptional or significant reasons for reducing a sentence.

My questions are for the Minister. What does he believe are exceptional circumstances, and what exceptional circumstances would justify a lesser sentence? In what circumstances would such lesser sentences be appropriate?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, explained, this amendment seeks to amend and change the circumstances in which a sentencing court could impose less than the 14-year minimum term for a discretionary life sentence imposed in a serious terrorism case by changing the circumstances from “exceptional” to “significant”. I respectfully agree with the noble Lord that the logic of his amendment would also apply to Clause 4. However, I respectfully disagree over whether such an amendment is appropriate.

The purpose of Clause 11 is to ensure a consistency of approach when sentencing those convicted of serious terrorism offences. It would not be appropriate for a court to be able to impose a life sentence with a lower minimum term for a serious terrorism offence other than where there are exceptional circumstances. If the circumstances of the offence and offending are such that the court imposes a life sentence, and unless there are exceptional circumstances, there should be no possibility of the offender being released earlier than someone given a serious terrorism sentence. That is what Clause 11 achieves.

By contrast, the amendment would remove that consistency, so that the court could consider a wider range of circumstances when setting the minimum term in a discretionary life sentence than when doing so for a serious terrorism sentence, although all other circumstances would be the same. While I accept that there is a distinction, in that the prisoner serving a life sentence may be considered for release only after the minimum term is served, it would be unprincipled for him or her to be released earlier than a counterpart serving a serious terrorism sentence.

A number of questions were asked about “exceptional circumstances”. That is a principle already established in sentencing legislation. It is used, for example, in connection with minimum terms that can apply to certain firearm offences. I must respectfully decline the invitation of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for a Minister to gloss from the Dispatch Box what “exceptional circumstances” might or might not be. It is a phrase used elsewhere in statute and known in law. Those are straightforward English words and it would not be appropriate or even helpful for me to gloss them on my feet at the Dispatch Box.

By contrast, I respectfully point out to the noble Lord, Lord Marks, that as far as my research has indicated—I am happy to be corrected if I am wrong—there is no existing “significant circumstances” principle in sentencing legislation. Therefore, if accepted, the amendment would create an entirely new test, which in our view is unwarranted and likely to lead to litigation, which cannot be in our interests as parliamentarians in passing this Bill.

As far as the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, is concerned on judicial discretion, we are really talking about the extent of the judicial discretion and whether the test should be “exceptional” or “significant” circumstances. The question is not to the existence but to the extent of judicial discretion. As part of the Government’s recent White Paper, A Smarter Approach to Sentencing, we have committed to changing the criteria for other minimum terms for repeat offences to reduce the occasions on which the court may depart from the minimum custodial length.

For those reasons, I do not consider the amendment to be necessary or appropriate, and I respectfully invite the noble Lord to withdraw it.

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab) (V)
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My Lords, we have had interesting debates on both this and the previous group. In closing the previous group, the Minister said that the proposed lack of involvement of the probation service in this particular group of prisoners was a consequence of the sentencing structure and was not a reflection on the Parole Board itself. I understand the point he has made, but what has been said repeatedly on both groups is that there is expertise in the Parole Board. My noble and learned friend Lord Falconer asked whether there were two elements here. One is the possibility of early release, while the second is a point raised again just now by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, about the conditions of release for a prisoner who has served their whole term. I do not understand why that level of expertise should not be accessed when considering these types of prisoners.

I shall make a couple of other brief points which are different from those which have been made by other noble Lords. They arise from briefings that I have had from the trade unions. The Prison Officers’ Association believes that removing hope from prisoners puts its staff at risk. It is a point that the association makes repeatedly and is an important one to feed into this debate. The second point has been made by the National Association of Probation Officers—that is that the workload of probation staff working on the ground in prisons is so high that they are not managing to deliver to their required standards. They are being allocated around 70 prisoners each. I understand that the Minister has talked about these various programmes, and I know that we are talking about a very extreme group of prisoners. Nevertheless there is the practical working position of prison officers, probation staff and others in prisons to consider in trying to make these institutions work and to reduce recidivism when prisoners are released.

Even so, both the group of amendments we are speaking to now and the previous group illustrate the potential for changing the Bill to bring the Parole Board back in. That would reduce the potential risk to the public.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, the Committee will appreciate that there is a significant overlap between this and the previous group. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, and indeed no other participant in this debate, will regard it as discourteous if on some occasions I take as read, as it were, points that I made in the previous debate. If the Committee finds it helpful, I propose to say a few words about each of the clauses and schedules to which objection has been taken and then come back to address some of the particular points raised by participants in the debate.