All 1 Baroness Watkins of Tavistock contributions to the Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Act 2020

Read Bill Ministerial Extracts

Wed 20th May 2020
Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill
Lords Chamber

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

Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Scotland Office

Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 20th May 2020

(4 years ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 102-I Marshalled list for Virtual Committee - (15 May 2020)
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I support Amendment 2 and the other amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bull. I contributed to the Second Reading debate on the Bill a few weeks ago in the Chamber, where the noble Baroness made a powerful speech. Like other noble Lords, I welcome the Bill and pay tribute to the campaigners who have got us to this point.

The amendments before us allow us to have a debate on the detail of the issue in question. The balance that has to be stuck here is between justice and the denial of a funeral to a victim’s family, which brings further pain and distress to a family denied the ability to grieve properly, a prisoner with mental health issues and respect for human rights. These are extremely difficult issues that have to be approached with thoroughness. Decisions being made clearly and victims being listened to are an important part of the work that we expect the Parole Board to do.

The Parole Board has to take account of several factors in making its decisions. I have never met a member of the Parole Board, unlike my noble friends Lord Blunkett and Lord Ponsonby, but the Parole Board deserves our support in the difficult job that it is asked to do. I do not doubt that it undertakes its responsibilities with the utmost seriousness, making difficult and important judgments independently, and I wholeheartedly endorse the comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, in that respect.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, has posed a number of points for the Minister to address about the state of mind of the prisoner at a particular time as well as the prisoner’s mental capacity. I very much see the point that the noble Baroness is making: that these issues should be taken into account at the time of the hearing. I look forward to the Minister’s reply on these points and on other points made by noble Lords.

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait Baroness Watkins of Tavistock (CB)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I support the amendments in the second group in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, particularly in relation to Amendments 2 and 4, which are reiterated in subsequent amendments. I reinforce my full support for the Bill and congratulate the Government on bringing it forward.

I support the concept of removing any discretion to disregard non-disclosure by prisoners when Parole Boards are reviewing their cases. This is because there is a very small minority of people who may have severe mental health problems but who are also well able to give the impression that they have complete amnesia. I was interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, said earlier about healthcare professionals believing what they are told by people with mental health problems. I actually worked in Broadmoor and introducing as part of the concept as a trainer that you should not read a patient’s records until you had got to know the patient a bit. That is sometimes quite shocking because you trust people but then find that significant things they have told you are in fact extremely inaccurate. So we must be clear that medics are not on the whole easily fooled by the very small minority of people who are able to display very significant selective amnesia.

Of much more interest to me at the moment in relation to this Act is that the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and its subsequent amendments, as referred to by other noble Lords, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, indicate that we have a growing population with significant acquired brain injury, severe psychosis and, of course, a range of neurodegenerative progressive disorders, known largely as the dementias, which mean that prisoners who have been in prison for 15 to 30 years may well have developed cognitive difficulty during the period of their imprisonment. When they then apply to the Parole Board, it is right that they have full access to a medical assessment in line with their human rights. I believe there will be a proportion of people who apply in this way who do not have sufficient cognitive ability at the time when they come to the Parole Board that they will be able coherently to remember the kind of issues that we have raised during this debate.

In summary, I support the approach of the charity Rethink Mental Illness that these amendments would provide an explicit reference to mental capacity, meaning that there would be consistency adopted by Parole Boards when reviewing individual cases. I would like to see the amendments supported, but I am also very aware that, in the review of the Mental Capacity Act, we were able to deal with some things by ensuring that they would be put into guidance for practitioners. That may be something to consider in relation to the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lady Bull.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I wish to speak in favour of this group of amendments, particularly those tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford.

Where a Newton hearing has taken place in respect to the relevant facts of an offence, it makes sense that those findings must be taken into account by the Parole Board when making a decision affected by the Bill. In effect, a rigorous “mini-trial” has been carried out, and a judgment given, so this information should quite obviously be used by the Parole Board.

In some circumstances, this might go in favour of the prisoner; in others, it might go against them. Either way, justice will be served by using the proceeds of Newton hearings. Without doing so, the Parole Board is at risk of ignoring or contradicting the findings of the Newton hearing which set the grounds for the prisoner’s sentence in the first place. That would not make sense and would create ripe grounds for judicial review of the Parole Board’s decision. It is almost inevitable, I would have thought, that a judicial review would conclude that it must be taken into account by the Parole Board. In the interests of clear legislation, and for the clarity of prisoners and victims, the Government really have to accept these amendments.