All 2 Lord Stewart of Dirleton contributions to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022

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Mon 22nd Nov 2021
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Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
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Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Debate

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Department: Scotland Office

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Excerpts
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I am sorry to find myself intervening at this point but there is no bigger policy than the right to a fair trial. Of course that goes for complainants—and I agree with much of the thrust of what my noble and learned friend says—but there must also be justice for someone accused of any matter, but particularly such a serious one as a sexual offence. The example given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, warranted more of an answer, and one could conceive of others.

I say that while acknowledging that for decades, too much sexual history has been admitted; there is no doubt in my mind about that. That was why Section 41 had to be enacted in the first place. Scholars in this area will be able to look back at the Hansard of the passage of Section 41 and its various iterations at the time. The section was actually more tightly drafted to begin with but noble Lords in this place, including on the Benches behind me, came up with compelling exceptional circumstances where it would do a grave injustice to a defendant for startling similar fact-type evidence not to be admitted.

I understand that even since the passage and enactment of Section 41, a lot of complainants—and, with all respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, quite possibly women in particular—have felt that there has still not been enough sensitivity on the part of certain judges. However, it cannot be right that if I as a complainant, of whatever sex, assert that a particular type of sexual activity is something I would never and could never consent to and have never consented to, and yet I did the day before—how can it be anything but an injustice to the defendant for that not to be admitted? If I am a man and I say I have been raped by another man because I would never have consented to sex with a man, and yet there is ample evidence of a third party saying that there has been consensual sex —that cannot be fair to the man in the dock who says, “Yes, we had consensual sex” and then the complainant, because he is embarrassed due to his family, his faith or whatever reason, now says that it was non-consensual. That cannot be right.

I agree that we must do more so that juries, judges and indeed society do not assume that past sexual history is determinative of consent, but in my view to say that it is always absolutely irrelevant would not comply with Article 6 of the convention and therefore the Human Rights Act. I do not mean to be difficult but I could not possibly have potential injustices of that magnitude on my conscience, and I do not think this Committee could either.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Stewart of Dirleton) (Con)
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My Lords, in replying, I preface my remarks by commenting on points made by noble Lords. The first was made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, at the outset, while the Benches opposite were still thrashing out the batting order. If I may summarise the noble Lord’s position, I think it emphasised the importance of judicial discretion. A judge seized fully of the law and of the particular facts and circumstances applying to any case will most often be best placed to decide what should be done. I know that the noble Lord will recognise that my remarks cut both ways, and that he will hold me to them in the course of today’s debate. However, I fully accept what he had to say about the importance of judicial discretion.

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Lord Bach Portrait Lord Bach (Lab)
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My Lords, I also agree absolutely with the principles behind these amendments. It seems as though the Committee has been unanimously supportive up till now.

My question to the Minister is: why have we waited so long for something to happen in the area of inquests? I had hoped that there might be something in what has been rightly described as a Christmas tree Bill to help us along the way, but there is not. It has needed the amendments from my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer and others, including the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, to raise this issue. I was privileged enough to chair a Fabian commission on legal aid, which reported more than four years ago. We considered this urgent—as I think the world did—then and for many years before. At one stage, Hillsborough was a classic example which aroused public interest in this issue.

Is there work being done at the moment within the Minister’s department to look urgently at this issue to see whether some solution cannot be found? Never mind the rest of civil legal aid—though my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti knows I agree with her absolutely on that—is there not something that can be done in this area as a matter of some urgency?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, I hope that the Committee will accept my words when I say that the Government are sympathetic to the difficulties facing all bereaved families. At an earlier stage in the consideration of this Bill, my colleague, my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar who has ministerial responsibility for this matter, referred to the powerful feelings he had, as a resident of Liverpool, as the Hillsborough tragedy unfolded. For my part, I speak as one who has acted for a relative of someone killed in an accident which was sufficient to warrant the convening of a fatal accident inquiry in relation to the helicopter crash at the Clutha Vaults public house in Glasgow. I was funded by legal aid, and I hope that means I was at least competent, while at all times striving towards the excellence of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. The Government believe that bereaved and otherwise affected families should be at the heart of any inquest and inquiry process that follows a disaster.

Amendments 269 to 274 seek to establish an independent public advocate. This is a call to which the Government have been sympathetic, but I echo the reservations expressed, I think by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, as to whether the superstructure envisaged by the noble and learned Lord’s amendment is the appropriate way forward.

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Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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My Lords, I have given evidence at numerous criminal trials, in the magistrates’ court and the Crown Court, but the most vicious, adversarial cross-examination was at the inquest into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes, an innocent Brazilian shot and killed by the police following the 7 July 2005 bombings. There is no way that process could have been described as inquisitorial. Indeed, part way through that proceeding, the coroner had to advise the barrister representing the police not to proceed in the way that he had up until that point. While in some cases it may be simply a neutral, inquisitorial search for the truth, that is not how a lot of inquests turn out.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving the Committee the benefit of his experience. Perhaps it is that experience which informed, or helped to inform, the remarks of the Chief Coroner, his honour Justice Thomas Teague, who has said publicly that one of his key objectives in his role is to ensure that the inquisitorial ethos of the inquest process is maintained. I hope that demonstrates a resolve within the system to address the failings or, at best, the over-eagerness, of counsel whose conduct the noble Lord described.

The amendment to increase the scope of legal aid at inquests would run counter to the approach of retaining their inquisitorial character. There is a risk that additional lawyers present at an inquest would not provide an overall improvement for the bereaved, that being something which ought to be a primary consideration, for the reasons expressed by my noble friend Lady Newlove. It is foreseeable—I think this is the point raised by my noble friend Lord Sandhurst—that the presence of additional lawyers could have the unintended consequence of turning an inquisitorial process into a complex exercise—

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I do not doubt the sincerity of his concerns about trying to maintain informality in inquisitorial process. However, can it ever be conscionable for an inquest to involve a totally unrepresented core participant or bereaved family in circumstances where those whom the bereaved family suspect of being responsible for their loved one’s death are represented by professional lawyers, counsel and QCs? Can that basic inequality ever be conscionable, not least when we are dealing with lay people, with public concern and with public money that is all going to some parties and not to the bereaved?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her intervention.

I was going on to say that, for bereaved families who need legal help, advice and assistance are always available under the legal aid scheme, subject to the means and merits test. This can help preparation—

Baroness Newlove Portrait Baroness Newlove (Con)
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I take on board what my noble and learned friend says. I come from a victim’s perspective in all this. While it is all rule of law and whatever, victims’ families do not feel any of what my noble and learned friend is saying, because it feels like the professionals are dealing with all the processes. Victims’ families see all these high-end QCs and whether the other person is competent—I think that also gives a two-tier process for the victims’ families. Why should competency be at one end? I take on board what the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said. The whole point is that they do not get that advice because there is nobody there to advise them.

I have worked with the Chief Coroner. He has no powers to control coroners across the country. Inquests are so poorly funded that there is no advice for victims in all this. We are missing all the pieces of the jigsaw. I say it with no disrespect, but it does not happen on the ground. Families want respect and dignity. All they see is the other side building all the towers, but not for them. They feel irritated, upset and disrespected. Most importantly, they feel that it is all political window-dressing. Once again, the law does not represent the families, who are the ones who are hurt and traumatised.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, my noble friend’s personal experience and her service as Victims’ Commissioner lend force to her eloquence.

I shall go on to address the funding available for attendance at inquests, but in answer to the points just raised and to reiterate, in the vast majority of inquests the simplicity of the four questions which the coroner is obliged to seek to answer is such that legal representation and legal aid will not be necessary. In circumstances such as those my noble friend described, where there is complexity or where the competing interests are such that lawyers are briefed on behalf of agencies perhaps seeking to lay down defensive positions in the face of future litigation, it is right that there is a mechanism whereby bereaved families or bereaved individuals might be represented.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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I thank the Minister for giving way. He said that it is right that families should be represented, but surely he would acknowledge that that has not been the case, as in the case I cited, as well as in many others where families have not been able to be represented.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Chakrabarti and Lady Newlove, focused on the families being represented and having a voice, but would not the inquisitorial process, which is supposed to arrive at the truth, be improved and more likely to get to the correct conclusion if there was a balance of arms—a balance of forces—as we have been talking about?

I apologise to the Committee: I probably should have declared my position as vice-chair on the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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Ultimately, my Lords, arrival at the truth is the objective of all legal process in this area, but the inquest convened under the coroner is but a part of that overall inquiry. That the truth is the ultimate objective does not, with respect to the noble Baroness’s point, confirm that in every case there must be legal representation. I maintain that for the vast majority of inquests the questions posed—the circumstances—are not such as to oblige in the interests of justice that there be representation for all parties. The amendment to increase the scope of legal aid at inquests would run counter to that approach.

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Lord Mackay of Clashfern Portrait Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Con)
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Before the noble and learned Lord sits down, I made a mistake earlier in not referring to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, properly. That was my error; I am sorry for it, and I am sure he will forgive me.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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Before the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, replies, I should say that I did not make reference specifically to the point raised by my noble friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, in relation to the proposal that he and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, advanced for the funding of representation in these areas. I will undertake to have the department of my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar look into the response that was made to the proposal which my noble and learned friend and the noble Lord put forward at that time and see if an answer can be given to the Committee at some appropriate stage as to how that was considered and what conclusions were reached.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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I am very grateful to everybody who has spoken in the debate. Everybody apart from the Minister supported the principle. There were various specific suggestions as to how the proposal could be improved, which I certainly take on board. As ever, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, put forward an incredibly sensible proposal. Amendment 269 says that if a public authority is designated an “interested person” or a “core participant”, then legal aid should provide funding proportionate to that to the families. I think the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, is saying, “Let the relevant interested party or core participant from the public sector pay for it”, and I would not have any objection to that.

I have to say that the Minister’s response was awful—and this is not in any way intended to be an attack on the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, who delivered, as ever, a very careful answer. It was awful because it indicated that the Government are going backwards. It represented a degree of complacency about the problem that was entirely unwarranted. The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, very effectively expressed what the problem was. The noble Lord, Lord Beith, indicated, quite rightly, that this problem has existed for a very long time.

The problem was exemplified by the Hillsborough case. The families, having had a very fair hearing from Lord Justice Taylor in the public inquiry, then attended an inquest, day after day, having to cross the Pennines to get there, where they saw the findings of Lord Justice Taylor, as he then was, eroded by representatives of public authorities able to take advantage of their total inequality of arms, aided and abetted by some elements in the press—not all the press, but some elements—which used the process to denigrate those who had died. It was absolutely appalling.

The issue is not just the suffering of the individuals but the disrepute into which it brings our legal system. If our legal system is unable to come to an appropriate answer because of the inequality of arms—all the public authorities are represented by all the lawyers in the world and the families, who have a cause and are right, cannot get their position across—then what good is our legal system? That is the point that everybody in the debate has been talking about, and the Minister’s answer showed absolutely no appreciation whatever that that is the problem.

We will not have another opportunity to come back with something. Amendment 269 and the schedule to be put in after Schedule 20 deals with it by ensuring that where there is a public authority in the firing line, the families should be represented. I note what the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, says, but all too often long-running problems with particular health bodies never get properly recognised because ultimately the health body is properly represented and the families are not. We will be back. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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In the introduction of my noble friend Lady Kennedy, she asked for the intervention of a number of lawyers—and, my goodness, towards the end of this debate, she got it. We have heard from Lord Bingham and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, the history of how these types of offences against girls have been charged over the last 150 years or more. I hope that has given my noble friend Lady Kennedy—as it has certainly given me—something to ponder. We strongly support both amendments.
Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, for her amendment.

For the victim of a crime to be told that the culprit cannot be prosecuted because a time limit has elapsed would doubtless be the cause of, at the very least, dissatisfaction and, at the very worst, anguish, and may very well lead to a loss of confidence in the criminal justice system. That is why, in respect of offences that are serious enough to be capable of being tried in the Crown Court, such time limits are virtually unknown in our system of criminal law in England and Wales. That differentiates England and Wales from many other jurisdictions, where time limits apply even to the most serious offences.

In England and Wales, the only exceptions are certain customs offences and offences of unlawful but consensual sexual intercourse, which I shall refer to as USI, with a girl aged 13 to 15 years committed before 1 May 2004, when the Sexual Offences Act 2003 came into force. The statute which that Act replaced, the 1956 Act—I extend apologies to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, for yet further legal history here—included a requirement that a prosecution for USI with a girl aged between 13 and 15 must be commenced within 12 months of the offence. That requirement was highly unusual even when it was enacted, and it was duly removed by the 2003 Act. I am sure that members of the Committee will echo the words of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale, quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, in relation to the 1956 Act.

That was an anomaly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and other noble Lords have described it in our discussion today. However, when it was removed in 2003 it was done so only prospectively, from the point when the Act came into force; in relation to offences that would fall to be charged under the 1956 Act, the time limit remained.

As your Lordships are aware and have heard again today, Parliament usually acts on the principle of non-retroactivity. Removing the time limit in circumstances where a prosecution was already time-barred, while it would not have amounted to substantive retroactivity in the sense of criminalising conduct that was not previously unlawful, would have exposed a person to criminal liability where there had been none before. Thus, Parliament’s aversion to retroactive legislation also applies to fundamental procedural preconditions for the bringing of charges against an individual. In relation to that—the point was canvassed by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti—I make reference to the case before the European Court of Human Rights called Antia and Khupenia v Georgia. Oh, for a Lord Russell of Georgia, that I might be corrected for any mispronunciation of the names of any plaintiffs in that matter.

For that reason, we do not consider it would be right to disregard the time limit in the increasingly rare cases in which it would apply. Since the changes in the 2003 Act were not made retrospective at that time, I submit that it would be difficult to justify now extending them to cases in which prosecution has been time-barred for at least the intervening 17 years—even allowing for the development in our understanding of sexual crime, as referred to by Members of this Committee who contributed to the debate.

I join the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, and others in acknowledging the skill and humanity with which the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, presented her amendment to the Committee. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for expressing a willingness to meet. I would be delighted to meet her at any time, but I think it would be more convenient for her, for the purposes purely of this amendment, to meet with my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, the Minister in charge. I have taken steps by electronic means during the discussion in the Committee to arrange that my noble friend is made aware of her desire to meet, and an appointment will be fixed.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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Obviously I will go and read the Georgian case—I will call it “the Georgian case” so as not to repeat my earlier offence in relation to my noble friend—but, before any meeting, I will just say one thing. The Georgian case is now being cited as the reason why the Government will not move in my noble friend’s direction. I repeat my concern that we are currently in breach of the convention on human rights, not in relation to an Article 7 point but in relation to an Article 3 violation in relation to any woman, of whatever age, who now says “My statutory rapist will not be dealt with”. The Georgian case is up against cases such as X in the Netherlands and all the other cases where people were barred from getting redress in the criminal courts. That needs to be considered by the Minister as a senior law officer in Her Majesty’s Government.

If our positions were reversed and I had to face these two potential challenges in the European Court of Human Rights—a man who says “I had the opportunity to run Lord Pannick’s arguments about delay but none the less I was convicted of a historic statutory rape and I say that is a violation of my Article 7 rights” versus a woman who says “My rapist was not dealt with because of this time limitation”—I know which of those challenges I would rather defend as Her Majesty’s Government.

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Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, I acknowledge the long-standing interest and expertise of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, in this field. Her words will have been noted by the Bill team listening in on this, and I assure her and the Committee that that matter will be examined.

My intention was to turn now to the terms of Amendment 292C. Again, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Newlove and the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, for raising this issue in the Committee and, in so doing, raising a matter that, as your Lordships have heard, the Government have acknowledged in the other place to be an important one. The amendment would have the same effect as one tabled during the passage of the Bill through the other place, both in Committee and on Report—that is, to alter the period of six months allowed for bringing

“summary proceedings for an offence of common assault or battery involving domestic abuse”,

as defined by the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, so that it ran not from the commission of the alleged offence but from its being reported to the police within two years. I sense that the Committee will be as one in agreeing that it is essential that victims have confidence in the justice system—confidence that it is a fair, impartial system that will support them when they come forward.

A number of noble Lords who have given their views on this amendment have spoken of the context of domestic violence, in which these matters take place. We know it may take many attempts before victims of domestic abuse finally leave the abusive relationship, and that this may cause delay in reporting crimes to the police. When the Bill was in the other place, we acknowledged the concerns about the possible effect of the six-month time limit for prosecuting summary-only offences—common assault in particular—in domestic abuse cases. Again, there is no disagreement between us about the importance of domestic abuse victims being able, practically, to seek justice. They should not be frustrated in so doing by the standard time limits set by Section 127 of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980, should the evidence indicate that this time limit is too short in this context.

We were clear in the other place that this is an issue that must be looked into. The Home Office has been working to obtain data on cases that appear to have been brought to an end through the operation of the current time limit. I am also aware of the media coverage, to which the noble Lords, Lord Russell of Liverpool and Lord Hunt, referred. I note the concern expressed that, for whatever reason, it would appear that matters are being submitted to the press in advance of proper scrutiny by Parliament. Being aware of those concerns, I will relay them to the appropriate quarters.

I can confirm to the Committee today that we agree that there is a problem here and that domestic abuse-related crimes are disproportionately likely to be timed out. The Domestic Abuse Act demonstrated clearly this Government’s determination to address domestic abuse, and throughout its passage we showed our willingness to listen and take additional steps to address this abhorrent crime. It is important that we develop a proportionate response to this issue, so I ask for the patience of the Committee while we complete consideration of the matter and finalise our proposals. As the previous Minister for Safeguarding at the Home Office—now Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice—the Member of Parliament for Louth and Horncastle, Victoria Atkins, has stated, that might include an amendment. We will complete our consideration shortly, and I assure the Committee that we will return with a proposed course of action on Report.

I hope all Members of the House with an interest in this subject, including the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, who spoke on it on Second Reading, will be reassured by what I have been able to say. Therefore, on the clear understanding that we agree there is a problem to resolve and that we will be able to return to the issue with our conclusions on Report, I urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment at this stage.

Baroness Kennedy of Cradley Portrait Baroness Kennedy of Cradley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords and noble and learned Lords who have spoken in today’s debate and supported my Amendment 277 and Amendment 292C in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and others. I am heartened by the debate. I thank the Minister for his reply; however, I am disappointed that the retrospective argument is the main one being given for not moving ahead to change this legislation. But I am hopeful and grateful for the agreement to meet the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, to discuss this issue further before Report. I thank my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti for potentially giving me another reason—Article 3—for this legislative change. I will go and read the case cited around the article and discuss this directly with her to add the argument to my armour.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD)
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I take it the Minister would accept that legislation could quite easily disapply those regulations in the case of the use of registered interpreters, if that legislation were correctly worded and addressed to do so.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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Hypothetically, yes, but I hesitate to give the noble Lord a definite commitment on that, as my information on these points is substantially in answer to the point raised by the noble Baroness. But, if the noble Lord will permit me, in exploring these important points, I will make sure that the Ministry of Justice writes to him and that there is a meeting with the noble Baroness, as she sought, to discuss with her the future of this amendment. I hope that that answer will satisfy both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord.

Just to continue on that point, it is important to bear in mind that we are reviewing and engaging in consultation with various bodies. But we need to take into account the broad-ranging needs of the Ministry of Justice and to ensure that we have a service appropriate for the wide range of circumstances and the various commissioning bodies to which I have made reference. There are concerns that mandatory NRPSI membership may give unnecessary control over the supply chain, and the police interpretation contract does not require interpreters to be NRPSI registered. We need to complete a full and objective assessment of MoJ needs across the board and not to introduce NRPSI standards when we do not know what impact they might have on the overall justice system.

The Ministry of Justice is looking constantly to improve the service for users and to work collaboratively with interpreter membership organisations and language service providers to ensure that the short, medium and long-term service needs of the criminal justice system are met. Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service is starting up a language services future pipeline working group, which will focus on the issue of securing suitably qualified interpreters in the long term.

I will develop that point. As the single biggest public sector user of language services, we believe it is important for the Government to encourage new entrants into the interpreting profession and to provide them with appropriate opportunities to build up their experience levels and to maintain standards of excellence. We have an independent quality assurance supplier, which has recently developed a subsidised trainee scheme, encouraging qualification in languages that are in high demand in our courts. We will continue to work with it, and with other organisations, to improve our service and to ensure it provides access to suitably qualified interpreters in the future. The arrangements that we have in place are designed specifically to ensure that our courts and tribunals are supported by high-quality language service interpretation that meets the needs of all our court users, both now and in the future.

I turn now to some of the submissions made by your Lordships in Committee. I fully accept the point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds on the distinction between translation and interpreting. But on the submission made by the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lords, Lord Marks and Lord Hogan-Howe, I return to the point that there is a wide range of functions which interpreting has to carry out. With the greatest of respect, each of those noble Lords answering on this point predicated their submission on the fact that we were talking about translation at the very highest level—at the most important level of translating a potentially complex criminal trial.

In response to point made by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, again I accept that the single function of an interpreter in these circumstances is to act as a conduit by which English may be rendered into a foreign language and the foreign language rendered as accurately as it may be into English in order to assist the court. Again, that is at the very top end of the spectrum. Lower down, in simpler and more straightforward functions that I identified—the most elementary part of the range of needs that I discussed—it may well be that some well-meaning attempt to intervene and to assist, such as the noble Lord, Lord Marks, discussed, might be appropriate. I am thinking of the simple telephone inquiry that I referred to.

Lord Hogan-Howe Portrait Lord Hogan-Howe (CB)
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There are just two points that I would like to have clarified. First, the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, proposes a consistent high standard. I was not sure from the Minister’s response what the equivalent is in the contract. I hear that there is one, but I do not know what it is.

The second point is that there might be a spectrum of quality of interpretation. I understand that in a broad sense, but if that was to include the magistrates’ court, there are two issues there. First of all, someone’s liberty is at risk for six months and, in any case, they could be committed to a higher court for a more substantial penalty, should the magistrate decide to do that. Finally, as we have heard only today, if we look at things such as inquests, they can have very substantial consequences both for the people who apply to them and for the people who might be judged by them.

I am not quite sure about either of those points. First of all, what is the standard? Secondly, is it true to say it is always such a wide spread of necessity, given the importance to the victim, the suspect or the witness, in each of these cases?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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As I think I have said, the contract provides that, at the highest level, the standard is commensurate with that of the NRPSI. In answer to the noble Lord’s second point, of course none of that interrupts anything that I have said about the importance of identifying the point at which interpretation facilities suitable for the most complex case is to be found. Simply because a matter is not being tried at the Crown Court does not mean that it would not engage the need for the most detailed, able and comprehensive of interpreting facilities.

In closing, I can, as I said earlier, indicate that my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, the Minister dealing with this matter, will meet the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, who is proposing the amendment. In the circumstances, I ask her to withdraw the amendment at this stage.

Baroness Coussins Portrait Baroness Coussins (CB)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his detailed reply and all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate and supported the principle, if not every detail, of the amendment. Some very good ideas have emerged; I am particularly taken with that of a transitional period.

A couple of questions were asked. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, referred to family courts. In a family court where an interpreter might be needed at very short notice, it strikes me as even more important, if we are talking about families and children who may be in very vulnerable circumstances, to have an interpreter who is properly qualified. Rustling up somebody at very short notice might not serve the interests of those vulnerable families and children, but I agree that it is a complex situation.

On the point raised by my noble friend about courts sometimes finding it difficult to find interpreters, that is partly to do with the fact that so many interpreters—thousands, I believe—left public service when the MoJ system was contracted out to private companies, because those companies have sustained appallingly low levels of pay and poor conditions. The Minister referred to the need to get new interpreters on board. Yes, of course, that is right, but there are also a lot existing, qualified, experienced interpreters out there who need to be brought back into public service. I believe that if their status was raised and their contribution and professionalism more readily acknowledged by having these minimum standards, which they all complied with, they would be attracted back into public service.

The Minister referred to the fact that the MoJ system is audited by the Language Shop and that complaints were very low. Yes, that is true, but the Language Shop also failed 50% of the interpreters on whom it conducted spot checks, so it is clear that qualifications without experience are not good enough.

I am grateful for the promise of a further meeting with the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, to discuss the amendment, and I look forward to discussing this issue further on Report. With that in mind, I am happy to withdraw the amendment at this stage.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Ministry of Justice

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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I am sorry to interrupt, but the Minister seems to be using this as an argument for not accepting the amendment. I have two points. First, there is no reason why the pilot should follow the example of the Scottish procedures, which, to me, seemed very bureaucratic when I read the helpful letter sent by the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson. Surely the whole point of pilots is to think about other ways of doing something before the Government actually legislate.

Secondly, yes, a very small number has been helped. We do not know why that is. Certainly, the letter I was sent tells us the what but not the why. But even a small number being helped is better than no one being helped in the period until such legislation can be passed.

Earl Attlee Portrait Earl Attlee (Con)
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My Lords, if the Scottish experience shows that it is no good, why on earth was it put in the White Paper?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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The point is not simply to equiparate the example of Scotland; the point is to emphasise the complexities which underlie the matter. I will expand upon that in the rest of my answer.

We recognise that a high number of releases take place on a Friday. We accept that this can create challenges in some cases when it comes to prisoners accessing services, support in the community and finding accommodation, especially if they have multiple complex needs or a long way to travel to their home address.

I echo the observations from my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. As the House now appreciates, our recently published Prisons Strategy White Paper is allowing us to consult on the issue of Friday release from prison. In the course of that consultation, we will invite views on allowing prisoners who are at risk of reoffending to be discharged one or two days earlier, at the discretion of the governor of the relevant institution, where a Friday release can be demonstrated to be detrimental to an individual’s resettlement.

However, it is important that we allow time to understand the views of stakeholders, including operational colleagues, prison staff and the third sector. We submit that it would be premature to provide in statute for the pilot of a new release scheme, regardless of whether a sunset clause is attached—as the promulgators of the amendment have proposed—because, as mentioned, we are in the process of consulting on whether a legislative approach is necessary and, if so, what form such a scheme should take and how it should operate. We want to see the outcome of this consultation before we bring forward proposals. We will issue a response to the White Paper consultation in April 2022, and we will set out our plans on Friday releases moving forward from there.

I would call into question the appropriateness of using a sunset clause in relation to a pilot scheme. Sunset clauses are used only for temporary situations where the provision is needed only for a specific period of time and is not designed to remain on the statute books—for example, in the recent coronavirus legislation. This, I submit, is not appropriate for a pilot, as its purpose is to test out a policy with a view to fully enacting that policy if the pilot is found to work. A sunset clause would not allow this, so that, if we decided the right approach was to pilot and it was effective, we would still be required to wait for the next legislative opportunity to be able to rule it out fully. Therefore, tying our hands to a pilot scheme would likely extend the timescales required to enact full rollout of a new release scheme, if that was decided to be the most appropriate approach.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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Is the noble and learned Lord in effect saying it will be at least two years until there can be legislation, because this only runs for two years?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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More than once, even today, this House has emphasised the importance of moving forward on the basis of evidence. The Government’s view is that it is appropriate to complete the consultation proceedings, interrogate them and decide how best to move forward.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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My suggestion was to wait until the end of the consultation, which we are told will be next April, review the evidence, which surely should not take that long, and then run the pilot on the basis of what is found out in the consultation.

Earl Attlee Portrait Earl Attlee (Con)
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Surely the Minister could introduce at Third Reading an order-making power that would last indefinitely.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, notwithstanding the fact that we are in the season of Advent, approaching Christmas, I am not prepared to argue on the basis of what is naughty and what is nice, or what is nasty and what is nice.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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I am sorry, but I do not understand what the Minister means.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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What I mean simply is that the noble Baroness, doubtless with the best possible intention, is using simplistic language to categorise the Government’s legislative approach, which language I do not accept.

On the subject of the holistic approach—if I may put it like that—which was urged upon us by the noble Lord, Lord German, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, it is indeed important that we acknowledge the funding the Government are making available to provide just such an approach. Our December Prisons Strategy White Paper set out plans to reduce reoffending and protect the public. We will spend £200 million a year by 2024-25 to improve prison leavers’ access to accommodation, employment support and substance misuse treatment, and for further measures for early intervention to tackle youth offending. We will make permanent the additional £155 million per year provided in the years 2019-20 for a new unified probation service to support rehabilitation and improve public protection, which will be a 15% increase on 2019-20 funding. This expands upon our Beating Crime Plan, which was published in July, setting out how we will cut crime and seek to bring criminals more swiftly to justice, reduce reoffending and protect the public. That included new commitments to recruit 1,000 prison leavers into the Civil Service by 2023, to expand our use of electronic monitoring and to trial the use of alcohol tags on prison leavers.

In addition, in January, a £50 million investment was made by the Ministry of Justice to enhance the department’s approved premises to provide temporary basic accommodation for prison leavers to keep them off the streets, and to test innovative new approaches to improve resettlement outcomes for prisoners before and after they were released. Then there is £20 million for a prison leavers’ project to test new ways to prepare offenders for life on the outside and ensure that they do not resume criminal lifestyles, and £80 million for the Department of Health and Social Care to expand drug treatment services in England to support prison leavers with substance misuse issues, divert offenders, make effective community sentences and reduce drug-related crime and deaths.

For the reasons I have outlined, including the overwhelming notion that these questions are not simplistic and we cannot simply move forward without the necessary evidence, as well as the assertion that an appropriate consultation is under way, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Portrait Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts (Con)
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My Lords, we have had an interesting debate. I thank all those who contributed to it. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, is always sharp on these matters; she has been well up to her reputation tonight. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, said, this is a small fix. As the noble Lord, Lord German, pointed out, it is not an expensive fix either; in fact, it may result in a net gain to the Government because, if we can stop some people reoffending, we will save more money than any cost—there is probably no cost here, or at least very little—and we could be better off as a result. I am grateful to those noble Lords and to the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Hamwee. My noble friend Lord Attlee asked who is against the idea. I have not yet heard much about people who oppose it. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for his remarks and the fact that we are better than we were last night.

On my noble and learned friend the Minister’s comments, I do not think that the House buys the Scottish experiment as an example here. It is just not relevant. Nor do I buy the argument about the sunset clause being inappropriate; I think that is just the officials reaching for some reason to try to rubbish this amendment. I accept my noble friend’s point that we need time to understand and his commitment to a consultation finishing by April 2022. Most interesting is the possibility that legislation might not be needed and there might be other ways of achieving what we all wish.

So we have a sort of balance here. On the one hand, an immediate opportunity is being missed and progress seems glacial, to put it no more roughly than that; on the other, we have an encouraging set of statements in paragraph 139 of the White Paper. My judgment as to whether to divide the House on this amendment and possibly damage the concept is that we would really be dividing the House on whether we want to try to create a bridge and find a way to start some work on this project immediately. On balance, the Government have offered us half a loaf. I think we should probably take that half a loaf tonight; I therefore seek leave to withdraw the amendment.