All 22 Lord Wolfson of Tredegar contributions to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022

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Wed 20th Oct 2021
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Committee stage & Lords Hansard part one & Committee stage part one
Mon 1st Nov 2021
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Lords Hansard - part one & Committee stage part one
Wed 3rd Nov 2021
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Lords Hansard - part one & Committee stage part one
Mon 8th Nov 2021
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Mon 8th Nov 2021
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Lords Hansard - part two & Committee stage part two
Wed 10th Nov 2021
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Lords Hansard - part one & Committee stage part one
Wed 10th Nov 2021
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Lords Hansard - part two & Committee stage part two
Mon 15th Nov 2021
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Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage: Part 1
Mon 15th Nov 2021
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Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Committee stage: Part 2
Wed 17th Nov 2021
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Lords Hansard - part one & Committee stage part one
Wed 17th Nov 2021
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Lords Hansard - part two & Committee stage part two
Wed 8th Dec 2021
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Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Report stage & Report stage: Part 1
Mon 13th Dec 2021
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Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Lords Hansard - part two & Report stage: Part 2
Wed 15th Dec 2021
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Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Lords Hansard - part one & Report stage: Part 1
Wed 15th Dec 2021
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Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Lords Hansard - part two & Report stage: Part 2
Mon 10th Jan 2022
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Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Lords Hansard - part one & Report stage: Part 1
Mon 10th Jan 2022
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Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Lords Hansard - part two & Report stage: Part 2
Tue 25th Jan 2022
Tue 22nd Mar 2022
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Consideration of Commons amendments: Part 1 & Lords Hansard - Part 1
Tue 22nd Mar 2022
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Consideration of Commons amendments: Part 2 & Lords Hansard - Part 2

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Debate

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Department: Ministry of Justice

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Excerpts
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 placing on the record my apologies for not being in my place at Second Reading for personal family reasons. I also place on record my thanks to many noble Lords for their kind and supportive words and messages; I am very grateful.

Turning to the substance of the matter before the Committee today, Clause 2 of the Bill proposes an increase in the maximum penalty for the offence of common assault and battery when that offence is committed against an emergency worker. The definition —this is important—of “emergency worker” is set out in Section 3 of the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018. The pandemic has reminded us, if we needed reminding, that the vital front-line role that our emergency workers play, and indeed always have played, is of immense importance to our society. But we have recently seen an increasing number of assaults being committed against emergency workers in the course of their duties. This will simply not be tolerated.

Last summer, we delivered on our manifesto commitment to consult on this issue. We found that the large majority of respondents supported our proposal to double the maximum penalty to two years. This will ensure that the law provides our police and other emergency workers with sufficient protection to carry out their duties and will enable the courts to pass sentences that reflect the severity with which we view these offences. This measure builds on previous legislation introduced by the Government back in 2018. We have enhanced already the protection of emergency workers where more serious assaults such as ABH and GBH are committed—I think the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made this point. These more serious offences obviously carry higher maximum penalties than common assault. Where such offences are committed against an emergency worker acting in the course of their duties, this is regarded as an aggravating feature of the offence, warranting a higher sentence.

Let me deal first with the amendment from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester. I am grateful to her for tabling the amendment, and to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham for acting as her spokesman this afternoon—I was going to say, “as the Aaron to her Moses”, if I may put it in those terms. The purpose of her amendment is to broaden the definition of “emergency worker” to encompass all staff in custodial institutions. The Committee will be aware that all prison officers, prisoner custody officers and those who exercise functions associated with these professions are already included in the existing definition of “emergency worker” from the 2018 legislation.

The problem is that broadening the definition of “emergency worker” can have unintended consequences. The broader definition would capture anyone employed or engaged to carry out functions in a custodial institution, which can extend to prisoners who undertake jobs within the institution. The amendment would then place this group of convicted prisoners on the same statutory footing as prison officers, constables and NHS staff. That would be unacceptable.

By means of increasing the maximum penalty for the assault of an emergency worker, we want to protect those who protect others. That is why it is right that emergency workers are on a different statutory footing. Clause 2, therefore, does not seek to amend the underlying definition of “emergency worker” that was accepted by Parliament when passing the 2018 legislation. I acknowledge the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, given the work of the Bar Council in this area, but it is right, I suggest, that we acknowledge the special position of emergency workers, as Parliament did back in 2018.

Of course, that is not to say that any form of violence in custodial institutions is acceptable; it plainly is not. We want to make sure that our prisons are safe for all staff, as well as all prisoners. Picking up on the point from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede—

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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I have a pertinent question. I am troubled by the rather lame excuse that the noble Lord offers from the Dispatch Box about the “unintended consequences”. Surely it would be very simple to put in place an exemption that barred prisoners from benefiting from that clause. I cannot understand why the noble Lord is so resistant to this particular move; there must be a workable way round it. I have been a Home Office Minister and have had lame excuses written for me—this sounds like one of those.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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I am afraid that the noble Lord appears to have missed the point of principle that I made before making what he characterises as a lame excuse, but which I thought was in fact rather a good point. The point of principle is that we have a definition of “emergency worker”, which Parliament accepted back in 2018. It is a good working definition, and we shall stick with it; that is a point of principle. The point on this amendment was that it goes too far because it has those unintended consequences. The noble Lord should not lose sight of my first point by concentrating only on the second, which he regards as lame and which I regard, from a legal perspective, as quite a nice point—I do urge upon him the point of principle as well.

I was coming to the point that we value prison officers. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, laid down the gauntlet and asked that we do so from the Dispatch Box. Of course we do. Our position on this amendment has nothing to do with not valuing prison officers or the work that anybody does in prison.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham asked what we were doing to protect prison staff. Those who carry out corresponding functions to prison officers and prison custody officers are already included in the definition of an emergency worker. Offences against those people will be treated as an aggravating factor in sentencing guidelines. That is what I wanted to say in response to that amendment.

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Lord Bishop of Durham Portrait The Lord Bishop of Durham
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I am sorry—I thought very carefully about whether I should intervene. I was genuinely so taken aback by the Minister’s reference to prisoners being included that I nearly leapt up immediately. The question was then asked, but I have tried to replay it in my head. I absolutely understand that the Minister meant no offence but, out of context, I fear how it might be understood by those workers, such as chaplains, tutors and so on. By, in a sense, lumping them together with prisoners who have been employed, it could easily be misheard outside this House. I know that was not the Minister’s intention, but I ask him to put on the record that it was not what he meant.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to do that. As I am sure everybody recognises, that was not the point I was making. I appreciate that it was regarded as lame by some people, but the point that I sought to make was that the distinction and purpose of the amendment was to expand the definition from prison officers to other people working in prison. My point was that from the way in which it is drafted—and I appreciate that it could be redrafted—it could and would be read so broadly as to include prisoners who were doing jobs in prison. It was certainly not what I was saying to place prisoners doing jobs in prison with chaplains and others who are working in prison. I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for giving me the opportunity to make that clear, if it was not already.

Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood Portrait Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood (CB)
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I seek one matter of clarification, although I should not need to. Is there no way, apart from raising the maximum sentence by legislation, by which government could bring to the attention of the prosecuting authorities, sentencing courts and so forth the aggravating features that cover all these amendments? There are the emergency workers in the first place, and the nauseating offence of potting, which I confess not to have heard of before, and assaults on prison officers. There are those who find themselves, in the ordinary course of their employment, exposed in these highly vulnerable circumstances to miscreance of an obvious character. Is there no governmental input to the Sentencing Council? Can the Government not influence those sorts of bodies to isolate the fact that these are manifestly aggravating circumstances, which should go to raise not only the likely sanction being imposed but the likelihood of prosecution?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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As the noble and learned Lord knows far better than I do, one has to distinguish between aggravating and mitigating factors and the likelihood of prosecution. With regard to the Sentencing Council, I am confident that it already has that point on board. The question before the Committee is that of maximum sentence rather than aggravating or mitigating factors. I have also said—and, I hope, explained—that there is clear guidance in place to make sure that, when these offences are committed, they are dealt with either through the courts or through prison adjudication.

Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Baroness Chapman of Darlington (Lab)
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I just want to take the Minister back to the comments made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham on the definition of prisoners as workers. I cannot think of any other legislation where a prisoner enjoys the same rights as a worker. There are many rights that workers enjoy in this country, but none of them that I am aware of apply to prisoners. There must be a way around this, perhaps by a government amendment or some sort of redrafting, that would allow the suggestion made to be incorporated.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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I think I made it clear earlier that I was making two points in response to this amendment. The point that we are focused on at the moment is whether we could have more—and I say this respectfully—felicitous drafting than the drafting of the amendment that we currently have. I have accepted in principle that one could, and I made that clear in my previous answer and my answer to the right reverend Prelate. However, I do not want us to lose sight of my first response, on the point of principle: we have a definition in the 2018 Act of “emergency worker”, and that was regarded in 2018 as suitable and fit for purpose. It treated that definition as a separate status and a distinct group, and the Government’s position is that definition was good in 2018 and remains so now.

Earl Attlee Portrait Earl Attlee (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. On Amendment 11 from the right reverend Prelate, I am aware of the problem that he describes, but I did not make my new offence cover other Prison Service staff. I deliberately excluded probation officers just for reasons of simplicity, but if I managed to make my potting amendment find favour with the House, I would have to decide who was to be protected by it.

I am slightly disappointed by my noble friend’s response, because I thought that I was offering him the best thing since sliced bread, but he turned me down. The problem for the Minister running the Prison Service is that he cannot direct the police force to investigate these issues and, as he carefully explained to the Committee, he cannot direct the Crown Prosecution Service to pay greater attention to these offences either. My noble friend has no tools to protect prison officers—so I suspect that the Prison Officers’ Association will be a little bit disappointed with his approach.

I think we identified the underlying issue, which is the probability of being prosecuted for these sorts of these offences, and we need to have another look at that. I shall, of course, withdraw my amendment, subject to the usual caveats and discussions with the Opposition Front Bench.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Debate

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Department: Ministry of Justice

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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Excerpts
Lords Hansard - part one & Committee stage
Monday 1st November 2021

(2 years, 5 months ago)

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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, perhaps I should first begin by apologising to the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, for standing up at the same time as him. I am not sure whether I stood up too quickly or the noble Lord stood up too slowly, but we got there at the same time.

This group of new clauses relates to primary carers in the criminal justice system, and first I thank the right reverend Prelate and noble Lords for tabling these amendments. I know they were proposed in a recent legislative scrutiny report on the Bill by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and this topic has been an area of interest to the Joint Committee during this and previous Parliaments. As set out during debates on the Bill in the other place, the Government support the principle behind these amendments. I hope, therefore, I will be able to provide to the House the reassurance that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, asked for. I can assure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, that we do take these points very seriously. More generally, I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, that when it comes to our sentencing reforms, we do consider the impact on children. However, the reason the Government do not propose to accept these amendments is that they do not consider them to be necessary, for reasons I will seek to explain.

When sentencing or considering the grant of bail to a defendant who is a primary carer of a child or who is pregnant, courts will consider principles established in relevant case law. There is a wealth of case law on this point. We have heard the contribution from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and I am reluctant to get into the details of criminal law in his presence. But it can perhaps be conveniently found in a case called R v Petherick in 2012—let me give the reference for Hansard: “EWCA Crim 2214”.

In that case, a single mother with a boy of 16 months was convicted—she pleaded guilty—of causing death by dangerous driving and driving with excess alcohol. The court set out nine points of specific and clear guidance—nine principles—which had to be taken into account with regard to sentencing. If I may summarise those in a sentence or two with no disrespect to the court, they make clear that the aims of custody have to be balanced against the effect that a sentence can have on others. That is the case both with regard to sentencing and with regard to pretrial detention. When I say, “on others,” this point is not limited to children, as a number of contributions to this debate have highlighted—particularly those from my noble friend Lord Hailsham, the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, and, again, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas. It does have broader application, and the court will obviously want to consider the effect of custody or pretrial detention on others who are dependent on the person who might go to prison. This is a point, therefore, with more general application.

I have talked about sentencing and remand in custody. When it comes to sentencing, the principles I have just set out, in broad terms, are reflected in detailed sentencing guidelines issued by the independent Sentencing Council. Courts are required by law to follow those guidelines, and the guidelines specify that being a “Sole or primary carer for dependent relatives” is a mitigating factor when sentencing an offender. The effect, therefore, is that the fact that the primary carer is such can tip the scales. What would otherwise have been a proportionate sentence if it was a sentence to custody can, if the person is a primary carer, become disproportionate. It can tip the scales.

As we heard from my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier, to whom I am grateful for his kind words, recorders and judges give—to use his word—anxious consideration as to whether a custodial sentence is required. Again, the position in law can be summarised like this: a custodial sentence can be imposed only where the court is satisfied that an offence, or combination of offences, is so serious that neither a fine alone nor a community sentence can be justified. Even where a court is of the opinion that the seriousness of an offence would ordinarily warrant a custodial sentence, it still has discretion to impose a community sentence after taking into account wider considerations. Community sentences are part of the important background to this debate. I think we will come to them later on in the Bill and I look forward to the thorough endorsement of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, of our proposals on community sentences, given what he said in this debate. That is the position with regard to sentencing.

On defendants awaiting trial, there is a general right to bail unless it is necessary for the protection of the public or the delivery of justice that the defendant be remanded in custody. A defendant accused of an imprisonable offence can be refused bail only where there is specific justification for that refusal, as specified in legislation. A number of noble Lords talked about the information which is available to the court about the personal circumstances of the defendant. The bail information report includes information about the direct effects on an individual and any dependants, should they be remanded in custody.

With regard to pre-sentence reports, which were also mentioned, guidance was introduced in 2019 for probation practitioners, in addition to the legislation already in place, which sets out that a request to the court for an adjournment in order to prepare a pre-sentence report is considered mandatory in cases involving primary carers with responsibilities for children or other dependants, and for those at risk of custody. An aide-memoire highlighting key areas for practitioners to consider when assessing the diverse needs of women in the context of offending was also issued in 2019 to assist probation practitioners to prepare those pre-sentence reports on women. We are currently running a pilot in 15 magistrates’ courts that specifically targets female offenders, as well as two other cohorts which have specific needs, for fuller written pre-sentence reports.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, spoke about the importance of the courts giving reasons why they were refusing bail, for example, or sentencing somebody to custody. That duty is, with respect, unnecessary to impose on courts because they are already required by law to state in open court their reasons for deciding on a sentence. Moreover, where there are dependent children, sentencing guidelines, as I have said, require the courts to consider the impact on them at various points in the sentencing process. That is the effect of Section 52(1) and (2) of the Sentencing Code.

I turn to data, about which the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier and the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, made points. I underline the point again from the Dispatch Box that data is critical. My noble and learned friend was very kind, but the fact is that I am quite keen on data. I am not the only person in the Government who is, but I certainly am.

I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, that we have already committed to improving our work on data collection concerning primary carers in prison. That work is already under way. We already collect information on parental responsibilities but the current questions do not identify dependent children of primary carers using the correct definitions. We are therefore making changes to the questions to enable us to identify prisoners with primary carer responsibilities on their entry to prison, and to enable access to that information centrally—a point made, I think, by the right reverend Prelate.

We are already looking at how we can deliver our commitment to improve national data collection through changes to what is called the basic custody screening tool. That is completed shortly after somebody goes into prison and we want to capture more robust and reliable data on parental responsibilities. Responding to earlier reports from the Joint Committee, the Government have committed to collecting more data centrally and using that to inform policy and improve our services for prisoners with primary caring responsibilities.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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The first report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights in 2021 details in section 2 the concern expressed by the committee in 2019 that there was no data about carers who were in prison. The Government gave an assurance that they would do something about it in 2019. The committee produced another report in 2020, saying “You’re still not collecting that material”, and a Minister gave another assurance. In 2021, the committee wrote a third report—this report, containing these suggestions—saying that none of the previous assurances has been complied with. Why should we accept the assurances the Minister is now giving in relation to the 2021 report, when all previous assurances given to that committee have not been complied with, as detailed by the committee in its report, and as the Ministry of Justice has not denied?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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Work still has to be done, of course, but I hope that the noble and learned Lord will accept that we are doing more than we have done before. As I have tried to explain, we have put in place a process to identify what we need to collect and how we are going to do it. One must also take into account—the noble Lord who made this point will forgive me for not remembering who did so—that it can be difficult to get this information from people in prison. Some people do not want to provide information about dependent children and others who rely on them. I am not using that as an excuse, but one has to be alive to that point as part of the data collection service. All I can say to the noble and learned Lord is that I have this firmly in my sights. In this part of the criminal justice system, as, I would say, in others, data is really important and I am certainly focused on it.

I was going to make one other point on data, which I hope the noble and learned Lord will be pleased to hear. We will also consider not just the collection of data but what data can be published. It might be that not all data we collect can be published because of confidentiality issues, but we will certainly ensure that we publish what we can.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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This is a separate point. Amendment 215 would require the court to

“make inquiries to establish whether the offender is a primary carer for a child”

and, if it discovers that the defendant is, to then order a pre-sentence report about the circumstances of that child and the impact. Is the Minister asserting that that provision is currently in the sentencing guidelines?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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I hope I made that clear earlier; let me go back to my notes. I do not want to mislead the noble and learned Lord. As I understand it, the position is this: guidance was introduced in 2019 for probation practitioners, in addition to the legislation in place, which sets out that a request to the court for an adjournment in order to prepare a pre-sentence report is considered mandatory in cases involving primary carers with responsibility for children or dependants. The noble and learned Lord shakes his head—

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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I am not disputing what the Minister says, but I read him as saying that that position is not reflected in guidance. He is saying something different: that if somebody asks for an adjournment to make inquiries, one has to be granted. That is obviously different from the amendment.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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I was going to come to the detail of pre-sentence reports a little later. Let me come to that and if the question is still alive, I will give way again.

I think I had completed what I was going to say about data, apart from one point. The right reverend Prelate asked about pregnancy data. In the time I have had available, I have been able to get the following response, but I am obviously happy to continue the conversation. In July this year, we published a national figure—for the first time, as I understand it—for self-declared pregnancies in the women’s estate and the total number of births that took place during the period in three categories: prisons, transit and hospital. That is found in the HMPPS Annual Digest. I do not know whether that has fully answered the question from the right reverend Prelate on specific data. If it has not, I am very happy to continue the discussion.

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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to have the opportunity to respond to this short but focused debate. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beith, for the measured way in which he introduced the amendment, which raises difficult issues, as I think all speakers have recognised.

The Government’s aim in this area can be briefly stated. I understand there to be relatively little or perhaps no disagreement across the Committee on this point, certainly in the light of what the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, has just said. The aim is this: we seek to protect children from those who might take advantage of their position to sexually abuse them. The provisions we put in the Bill followed detailed review and consideration. We feel they provide the best protection for young people while still balancing—this is a critical point—where possible their right to fully consensual sexual relationships. I must underline that point at the outset, because it is very easy to overlook it.

The positions of trust offences set out in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 were never intended to apply in all scenarios in which a person might have contact with or a supervisory role in respect of somebody aged under 18. If you do that, in effect you raise the age of consent by silence. If we are going to have a debate about the age of consent, let us have one—but let us not have an inadvertent, sub silentio raising of the age of consent by having too wide a category of positions of trust.

I acknowledge that this is a very complex area. With respect, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said that this was a first for her because she quite liked a Henry VIII power. I am not sure whether it is a first for me that I am agreeing with her from the Dispatch Box; I think I have done it once before, but if it is not the first time it certainly does not happen too often. But I do agree with her that this is a very complex area, because we are trying to strike the right balance between protecting young people and respecting the right of those aged 16 or over to engage in consensual sexual activity.

Therefore, although it is very tempting to say, “Well, there’s been a case here and a case there, let’s widen the definitions”, we have to act on the available evidence—not anecdote, supposition or a case here or there, but real evidence. The question therefore is, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Beith, put it, if I can summarise his speech in five words, “Why these and not others?” I heard him say that I am unlikely to persuade him. I remember when judges said that to me. I rarely did persuade them—but let me have a go anyway.

The answer is this: we have looked across the field. We have spoken to a whole load of stakeholders, which I will not read into the record, but the number is vast. We have concluded that those who teach, train, supervise, instruct or coach in a sport or religion are particularly influential over a child’s development. That is why they should be captured in the positions of trust provisions. The reason is that those settings allow for roles that involve very high levels of trust, influence, power and authority. Particularly in the case of those involved in a religion, the figures are often also well-established, trusted and respected in the local community. Both sport and religion provide a child—a young person, I should say, as this goes to 18—with a strong sense of belonging, whether to a team, a squad, a community or a faith group. As noble Lords will understand, deep feelings held by the young in respect of those groups can provide unique and special opportunities for predators to exploit or manipulate them.

Another factor that we have taken into account is that when we come to sport as usually understood—for present purposes I do not want to get into the question of whether chess is a sport; that is perhaps for another government department—the physical nature of that activity means that coaches have legitimate reasons physically to touch in perhaps a more general sense than just touching, in other words putting their hands around, moving, manipulating and repositing the body of the young person they are coaching. A sports coach therefore has far more opportunities for physical contact than other roles. This again can be manipulated by abusers.

The amendment focuses on drama and music as further settings. Again, I hope it is clear from what I have said so far that I absolutely understand the motivation for these amendments but, without strong evidence to support their inclusion, I respectfully suggest to the noble Lord that there is no reason to include drama and music and exclude other settings in which adults work with children. I underline the point that it was never the intention that all settings where adults interact with children would be engaged. I suggest that it is dangerous to say, “Because there’s been a case here or a case there, we should include them.” We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, that there had been a case involving chess in the United States. “Does that mean that we include chess here?” I ask rhetorically. I suggest the answer is no.

I will make one point on ballet—I am not sure whether that is a sport, an art form or perhaps both—of which I am obviously fairly ignorant. On the inclusion of dance, I suggest to the noble Lord that our definition of sport in Clause 45 includes types of “physical recreation” engaged in for the purpose of “competition or display”. I consider that this definition of sport would include dance. That might deal with the ballet point specifically, although I accept that the noble Lord’s point goes wider than just ballet.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, accepted that, in a number of these cases, there is no hard evidence—but we do have isolated cases. As I hope I have explained, we are seeking to rely on what appears to us to be the available evidence. To pick up the question, “What evidence would make you include new categories?”, the only answer I can give is that we are not limiting the nature of the evidence that will make us happy to consider other categories. I do not want to limit or straitjacket the sort of evidence we might look at in advance. If we find that new evidence emerges that might justify legislating further, we will do so. That is why we have put the Henry VIII power into Clause 45, so that we can add further activities if it appears appropriate—I emphasise “appropriate”—in the light of new evidence.

To come back to my main point, what we seek to do is strike this balance between safeguarding young people and, on the other hand, protecting the rights given to them by Parliament to engage in sexual activity on a consensual basis once they have reached the age of 16. I fear I might not have persuaded the noble Lord, Lord Beith, of the correctness of the Government’s position, but I hope I have explained it to him. I none the less invite him to consider withdrawing his amendment.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, before my noble friend responds, I feel very uncomfortable at the proposition that we should wait for examples of problems in specific sectors before there are provisions to deal with them. I think I have said enough, actually.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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I will reply very briefly to that point. When I say “new evidence”, I am not saying that there must be, God forbid, an incident. I am not circumscribing or limiting the nature of new evidence. If there is new evidence without there being an incident, we will look at that as well. I am certainly not saying that we will legislate only when, God forbid, there has been a terrible case. But one has to be careful. If one draws this net too widely, the effect is, sub silentio, to raise the age of consent. That was never the intention behind this provision.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, may I pursue that? What evidence are we talking about, then? We are all giving examples of where somebody in a position of trust might be by themselves with the person who trusts them. I do not follow what the evidence might be. I keep thinking of examples that have not yet been mentioned. Art lessons is another. I have been in an art lesson where the tutor has helped me to produce what I have ineptly tried to produce on a piece of paper. One could go on. What is “evidence” in this context?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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The art lesson may be a good example. With respect, there is a huge gulf between the relationship of somebody to their art teacher, if they go to an art group, and the sort of intimacy that a physical sports coach has with somebody or the sort of power, control and sense of authority that a religious leader has over a young person.

I shall give one example of evidence, picking a made-up country from private international law. Let us say that, in Ruritania, there is a huge number of cases of a particular category. It might well then be said, “We can see there is a problem with this category. It has happened in Ruritania. The circumstances are the same as in the UK. You should add that.” That is just one example. I do not want to limit the evidence that we would rely on but, with respect, we cannot say that, because there has been a case in an art class or a case here and a case there, we will include all these categories. We should not include every circumstance in which adults have close contact with under 18 year-olds. I think the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, wants to come in.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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I am grateful to the Minister for explaining the Government’s position but I do not understand the argument that we are surreptitiously changing the age of consent. If a 16 or 17 year-old wants to have a sexual relationship with their music teacher, they had better find another music teacher; the solution is quite simple. They should not continue in a professional relationship and have a sexual relationship at the same time.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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With great respect, the point put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, shows that if we draw this too widely, we are limiting the ability of a 16 or 17 year-old to have a sexual relationship with that person. This the balance that we want to strike. At the moment, there is nothing to prevent a 17 year-old having a consensual relationship with a person with whom they have a tuition relationship or other kind of relationship. The question is: where do you draw the line? We say the line should be drawn at sport and religion. If you draw it too widely, you impact on that person’s ability to have a sexual relationship with other adults.

Lord Beith Portrait Lord Beith (LD)
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My Lords, I start by answering one of the Minister’s questions: what would constitute evidence? The answer is: the same kind of evidence that was sufficiently persuasive for the Government to include sport and religion in this definition. I would expect it to be on exactly that level, bearing in mind the context, the professional relationship and how it operated.

I start where I agree with the Minister. We are not seeking to change the age of consent in this legislation; it would be the wrong place to attempt such a thing, even if there were strong arguments for doing so. What should determine the position that the law provides in this area should not be the selection of certain sports because there appears to be more or less numerical evidence of abuse; nor should it be an attempt to import some new age of consent; it should be on the same basis, whichever area of activity we are talking about.

The Minister said something very interesting which will cause us to reflect between now and Report. He said that, in the Government’s view, dance—or ballet, at any rate—is included. There is a compelling argument for that, which is one of the reasons I was inspired to put down this amendment in the first place. This is a very physical activity during which people who are themselves very skilled at it have to explain—and sometimes demonstrate or assist those they are teaching—some quite extraordinarily physical things. That is done by hundreds and thousands of ballet teachers, and has been for many years, with total propriety, but it is a context in which abuse can occur. In that respect, as the Minister obviously realised, it resembles the kind of definition he brought to bear for sport.

I agree also that there is a balance between, on the one hand, defining a position of responsibility and placing responsibilities and limitations on someone who has such a position, and, on the other, interfering with the rights of 16 and 17 year-olds who have reached the age of consent. My noble friend Lord Paddick highlighted the difficulties in achieving that balance when he pointed out that we would hardly welcome a situation in which it was generally accepted as okay for someone in that kind of professional relationship to continue a sexual relationship when attention was drawn to it. We would mostly expect the professional person to believe that they had to end the relationship, even if it were entirely consensual.

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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, this group of amendments focuses on criminal damage and the need for Clause 46 to stand part of the Bill. Clause 46 addresses a sentencing limitation in the existing legislation to ensure that offenders who vandalise, attack or destroy memorials serve appropriate sentences that fit the severity of the crime.

The present position is this: where there has been criminal damage to a memorial and the value of that damage is less than £5,000, the court’s sentencing powers are limited in that the offence must be tried summarily and can attract a maximum penalty of only three months’ imprisonment or a fine of up to £2,500, which does not reflect in all cases the severity of the crime and the harm caused. We must remember that we are seeking here to provide a maximum sentence, not a mandatory sentence.

Clause 46 therefore removes this restriction by amending Section 22 of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980 so that where damage or desecration of a memorial occurs and amounts to an offence of criminal damage, the court will no longer be constrained in its sentencing options where the value of the damage involved in monetary terms is assessed to be less than £5,000. These are important changes that will ensure that courts can sentence appropriately, given the facts of the particular case.

I turn to the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, to remove new subsection 11B from Clause 46(2) on criminal damage to memorials. New subsection 11B provides that moveable items such as flowers, flags or wreaths that are left in, on or perhaps adjacent to a memorial and—this is important—have

“(or can reasonably be assumed to have) a commemorative purpose”

will also

“be regarded as a memorial.”

It is important to recognise that items such as these, when placed at a structure such as a gravestone or—let us pick a topical example—the Cenotaph for the purpose of commemoration, albeit temporarily, should be covered by the clause. If someone goes to the Cenotaph, takes all the wreaths and chucks them around and destroys them, the fact that the value of those wreaths might amount to £4,683 ought not to prevent the court treating that offence with the severity with which I think everybody would regard it.

In the summer of 2020 there were attempts to set fire to the flag on the Cenotaph. The sentencing of those who burn the flag on the Cenotaph should not be limited by the value in monetary terms of the piece of fabric consumed by fire that is part of the memorial—ditto damaging a poppy wreath. The problem is that under the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, wishes to make, those acts of vandalism and damage would not be covered as damage to a memorial. That is not right.

There are occasions when moveable objects such as these, when placed on a memorial, gravestone or similar structures, constitute the very essence of a memorial. A rose, when placed on the tomb of the unknown warrior, ceases to be—if I can put it this way, with apologies to Shakespeare—just a rose; it is something else. Those items should get the same protection as the memorial itself.

I therefore strongly disagree, respectfully, with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, when she says this is just about culture wars. It is not. Let me be absolutely clear: this Government have no problem with discussion, debate or challenge. If you want to say that Nelson was a great man or a terrible man; if you want to focus on Churchill’s successes in World War II or his actions in the Bengal famine, that is absolutely fine. What is beyond debate, I am afraid, and puts you into the proper realms of the criminal law, is defacing monuments.

Let us take an example from law. I did a little research, and it turns out that both the Grey of Gray’s Inn and the Lincoln of Lincoln’s Inn were leading advisers to Edward I, who in 1290 published the edict to expel the Jews from Britain. Does that mean I should go around defacing bits of Gray’s Inn or calling on Lincoln’s Inn to change its name? No. Because we recognise that these are matters for debate.

We can debate and discuss, but here we are talking about defacing monuments: criminal damage. That is not a debate on history. That is destroying the cultural fabric of this society. I heard the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, say very deftly, if I may say so, that if it is a memorial to—I think I jotted this down correctly—“a much-revered and loved person”, that ought to perhaps go to the Crown Court and not the magistrates’ court. I respectfully suggest that a much-revered and loved person to one group of people is perhaps entirely the opposite to another; I do not agree that that is a workable basis for the law.

We have to say that the monuments we have are the monuments we have; they deserve protection. If we want to change a monument and have it pulled down, there are ways to do that. We can have a debate in your local council or a vote—it depends who the monument is being put up by—but we cannot have a right to deface monuments knowing that the protection given by the criminal law is too low in certain circumstances and, I suggest, extremely low in these circumstances.

The noble and learned Lord will forgive me if I do not respond in this debate to the point about violence against women and girls; we will debate that on many other occasions.

I now turn to the noble and learned Lord’s amendment about damaging or destroying life-saving equipment. I say at the outset that the case he outlined is extremely distressing and appalling. I hope I may be allowed to say that my sympathies and the Government’s of course go out to the family. The fact that it had to be locked with a PIN is, as I understand it, the genesis of his argument and what provoked the amendment. We therefore understand and agree on the intention behind the amendment. It is almost incomprehensible that anybody would damage or destroy obvious life-saving equipment.

While I understand the need for an effective deterrent, I respectfully suggest that the amendment will not have the desired effect, for the reason he almost touched on: it is already an offence to intentionally or recklessly damage or destroy property, including life-saving equipment, under the Criminal Damage Act 1971. The maximum penalty is 10 years’ imprisonment. Additionally, Section 1(2) of that Act goes further and makes specific provision for an aggravated offence of criminal damage where the defendant intends to endanger life or is reckless to such endangerment. That offence already attracts the possibility of life imprisonment.

If in this case it could be shown that the defendant intended to endanger life or was reckless, we already have a maximum potential sentence of life imprisonment. If that is not already proving an effective deterrent, perhaps the better course of action is for the various government departments responsible for water safety, health and safety and law enforcement to come together, see what is not working and identify working solutions.

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Earl Attlee Portrait Earl Attlee (Con)
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It seems pretty obvious that if you get hauled before the courts for damaging life-saving equipment, you are going to be in deep trouble. What you do not know is what the penalties are.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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We seem to be reaching a measure of agreement. I still say, with respect, that because we have that on the statute book at the moment, it is not appropriate to re-legislate in another place. I will take away the points put to me by the noble and learned Lord about more education and sign-posting, and clarifying and explaining to people what the law is. If people do not know what the law is in the Criminal Damage Act 1971, it is unlikely that they are going to be any more familiar with the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2021, as I hope it will be. If we have it in the law, however—and we do—with the reckless addition of a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, I suggest that that ought to be sufficient. On that basis, I invite the noble Lord not to proceed with the amendments. I hope that I have already responded to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick.

Earl Attlee Portrait Earl Attlee (Con)
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My Lords, as usual, my noble friend has been very helpful, but what he has not convinced me about is why there is an increased deterrence value in having a maximum sentence of not, say, two years but one of seven years. I do not see why going to seven years is going to increase the deterrence value of the new offence.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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I am sorry, is my noble friend now back on the memorials point?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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The short answer to that is that I did not make my argument on the basis of deterrence. Sentencing encompasses a number of factors: there is deterrence; there is the actual punishment for the offence; there is marking society’s disapproval at what was done. I hope that I made my argument very clearly on the first two. I was not suggesting that people would necessarily be deterred; I hope that they will be, but that is not the main basis of my argument.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for taking part in this short debate, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for her support, albeit coming at the issue from a slightly different angle to the one from which I was coming. I also thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, for picking up on what I said, which is that this needs to be more targeted. I specifically said that Clause 46 “as drafted” is not suitable. It needs to be much more accurately targeted; otherwise, it enables people to make the accusation that I did not make, that this is about dramatically increasing the penalty for what could be very minor damage to a statue of a very divisive figure. In fact, I made reference to the fact that doing anything to a grave, for example, could be deeply distressing and it may be that the penalty needs to be increased for that particular purpose. Clause 46, however, goes far too wide and draws those who feel that it is about culture wars into the argument, where that would not be the case if it were more far more tightly drawn; but at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Debate

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Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Excerpts
Earl Attlee Portrait Earl Attlee (Con)
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My Lords, I rise briefly to support these amendments. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, told us roughly how many pets had been stolen. Can the Minister tell us how many prosecutions have taken place for theft of a dog?

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 rise to respond to an amendment about pet theft, but I will start by saying a few words about amendment theft. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, stole some of the Committee’s time to give us a lecture about the rule of law. I regard the rule of law as a matter of supreme importance, but let us remember what it is and is not.

First, it is not a law; it is a constitutional principle. Secondly, we can have a debate about the scope of the rule of law. The rule of law as adumbrated by Lord Bingham, for example, has a different scope from that set out by Lord Justice Laws in his book; there are different views as to the breadth of the rule of law. But everybody agrees that one has to abide by the law as set out by a court. There was no court in the circumstances set out by the noble and learned Lord. The only court involved is the court of Parliament and, with great respect, the other place was quite within its rights both legally and, I suggest, morally to set out its own procedures.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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Do I understand the Government’s position to be that there is no element of the rule of law engaged in complying with the court of Parliament, and in particular the requirements of Parliament?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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What happened today was Parliament complying with the rules of Parliament, because ultimately Parliament regulates itself. That is how it works. The phrase “rule of law” in the normal sense means a Government or an Executive abiding by the rule of a court. The only relevant court here is the court of Parliament.

However, I now turn to pet theft. I am sure we will come back to the rule of law, and perhaps the human rights issues, when we discuss the Judicial Review and Courts Bill. On pet theft, I thank the noble and learned Lord for tabling this amendment. As he set out, on this point there is actually very little between us. The topic of pet theft caused some consternation in the other place, and—again I agree with the noble and learned Lord on this—quite rightly so. Pets should not be seen as just property; that is at the heart of this issue. Pets are cherished members of the family, so it is right that we take time to consider, as the Government are doing, what measures we can and should take to tackle this abhorrent behaviour.

The Government’s Pet Theft Taskforce reported on its findings in September. It recommended a number of measures to address this crime, including a new offence of pet abduction. Your Lordships might ask why we should create such an offence when a simple pet theft offence might suffice. In that regard, I note that the noble and learned Lord’s amendment in large part mirrors the wording in the Theft Act 1968. However, I suggest to the Committee that we need to reconsider how pets are treated in law, because they are not just possessions or chattels. Therefore, I respectfully suggest that the wording of the Theft Act is inapt; it does not encompass the issue sufficiently. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, set out, that is particularly the case now we have seen so many cases of pet theft during the Covid period. We recognise that animals should therefore be treated as more than property. We are already bringing forward legislation to crack down on puppy smuggling and other cruel crimes, and I hear the points made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, and my noble friend Lord Attlee.

In the new offence of pet abduction, we will seek to bring into focus not merely the taking of a piece of property or a chattel but the impact on the animal and its welfare when a stranger takes a pet away from its carer. This new offence, alongside the other recommendations from the task force, will make it harder for thieves to abduct and sell pets, make it easier for the police to catch them, and ensure that any welfare concerns can be appropriately reflected in the punishment given to offenders.

I will pick up two shorter and, I accept, more minor points which are relevant to this issue. First, the noble and learned Lord’s consequential amendment expands the scope of Section 17 powers under PACE. That section allows a constable to enter and search premises for the purpose of arresting a person for specified offences, and the amendment would include the new pet theft offence in that. We suggest that this is unnecessary. Because the amendment proposes to make the offence triable either way, the Section 17 powers would already be available.

Secondly, the noble and learned Lord has tabled an amendment in respect of Scotland. The Committee will be aware that crime and justice are devolved. Therefore, it would be for the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament to consider whether they wanted a specific offence under the distinct operation of Scots law.

Coming back to the main issue, the Government have announced that they will take appropriate action. I am afraid I cannot put a date on that today, but I hear the strength of feeling on this issue. The Government have made their intentions clear, and I hope that, whatever future debates we may have on the rule of law, the noble and learned Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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Are the Government intending to table an amendment to this Bill to deal with pet theft?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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I cannot commit to that, but, as I say, I have heard the strength of feeling and what the noble and learned Lord has said on this topic. I am sure we can have future discussions on this point.

Earl Attlee Portrait Earl Attlee (Con)
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My Lords, will my noble friend take the precaution of instructing parliamentary counsel to draft suitable legislation just in case?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I shall put it this way: I am well aware that if we wanted to table the amendment to this Bill, we would need a properly drafted clause, and we know how to go about that.

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Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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My Lords, we have witnessed a rather remarkable half an hour in the House where an overwhelming case was made. I pay a special tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. I thought her case was overwhelming until I heard the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Cumberlege. I then thought, “Goodness me, there are more reasons than those which the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, has given.” My mind then moved to the possibility of legal difficulties and whoosh, the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, came in and dealt with them all.

What is the reason for not doing this? The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, gave two possible reasons. He dealt with what might be the arguments in relation to the breadth of the amendment, and I completely agree, but if the Government have some good reasons for why this amendment should be changed, I am sure that the House will deal with them. The other reason given was the Law Commission. As the person responsible for the Law Commission over a long period of time, over 50% of its reports never see the light of day. It takes a long time to get there.

I ask myself another question. Can you imagine any provision or suggestion that the Law Commission would make which would cut across this amendment? I cannot. I would expect the noble Lord—sadly not the noble and learned Lord—the Minister, to give reasons why this will not happen, because like the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, I was encouraged by the extract that she read of what sounded to be an incredibly understanding speech by Victoria Atkins in the other place, which was then dashed. The Law Commission is manifestly not a legitimate excuse. It should be treated with utter contempt if it is advanced as a reason. From the point of view of the Government, the work has been done by the campaigners, Stella Creasy and the crack squad of amenders that we have just heard from, so it costs the Government nothing to put it into the Bill. There will be some additional costs to the criminal justice system, and the police will deal with a number of cases, though I suspect not many, so there is not much public expenditure. The question for the Minister is: why not?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, my noble friend Lord Attlee indicated that I should come along quietly. I am not going to do that; however, I hope that I will come along realistically and clearly in setting out the Government’s position. There is no dispute in this Committee that the behaviour we are talking about is absolutely abominable and indefensible. I therefore appreciate why a proposed new clause on this distressing subject of breastfeeding voyeurism has been tabled for debate. I start by expressing my unequivocal support for the mothers who have experienced this sort of appalling behaviour.

As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, said, we have heard a number of really outstanding speeches, some of which were very personal in terms of people’s history and families. I respectfully endorse the point made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Brinton, that this is not just a matter of protecting privacy or preventing distress; it is also important because we want to promote the very real benefits of breastfeeding. I take all the points made in that regard on board; I also take on board the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, on the bonding time—the quiet time, if I can put it that way—that breastfeeding provides. On whether breastfeeding also benefits fathers because we do not have to get up at night, on that I will—if, as a Minister in a UK Government, I am allowed to dip into a foreign legal system for a moment—plead the fifth amendment.

To pick up a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, I assure the Committee that, depending on the specific circumstances, it may be possible—I underline “may” because I accept that it will not be possible in all circumstances—to capture this sort of disgusting behaviour under some existing offences, including public order offences and offences dealing with harassment and stalking, along with the common-law offence of outraging public decency. However, this is not a complete answer; I do not put it forward as such. We recognise that the law in this area is not always clear, and that consideration should be given to improving it. That is why we asked the Law Commission to review the law around the taking, making and sharing of intimate images without consent, to identify whether there are any gaps—or, rather, what the gaps are—in the scope of protection already offered to victims. The review looked specifically at voyeurism offences and non-consensual photography in public places, including whether the recording and sharing of images of breastfeeding should be included in the scope of “intimate” images for the purposes of any reformed criminal law.

However, a change in the law here will not be straightforward. I will explain why in a moment. With an amendment such as the one moved by the noble Baroness, there may be a variety of situations in which it is still not an offence to take a picture of a person breastfeeding. That is why the Law Commission’s review is looking into intent, the definition of “image” and other circumstances relevant to this issue. As the Committee is already aware, the Law Commission’s work has gone at some pace. It obviously has an important eye for detail; that is why it is there. It intends to publish its recommendations by the spring of next year, so we are certainly not trying to kick this ball into the long grass. We are proactively considering what more can be done to tackle this behaviour and protect mothers now, ahead of the Law Commission’s recommendations for reform of the law in this area.

However, I respectfully disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, that this issue is clearly defined in her amendment. I want to pick up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, if I may; we have had the benefit of some discussions. A number of points look like drafting points but are not, because they really go to the question of the scope of the proposed amendment and what it is seeking to encompass. Let me give a couple of examples, without turning the Committee into a legislative drafting session. Here is example A; I will try to use the initials from the amendment. A takes a photo of his wife, partner or girlfriend on a beach in her bikini, intending to use that image for his own sexual gratification. Another woman, B, is on the same beach, breastfeeding her baby, and is unintentionally caught by A in the picture. I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said, but I respectfully suggest that this would be caught by the proposed amendment. A would have no defence as, first, he intended the picture for sexual gratification and recorded the image for that purpose. Secondly, he would have no defence of consent by B because B did not consent. A would also not be able to have the second defence of reasonably believing that she was giving consent because he had no idea at all that she was in the picture.

That is one example, but this goes further than drafting. Let us say that A was aware that B was caught in the background of the photo but was not aware that she was breastfeeding. Again, A would not be able to say that B had consented or that he reasonably believed that she had consented. Further, would an image of someone breastfeeding that did not actually include the act of breastfeeding—for example, a photograph capturing only a breastfeeding mother’s face—be captured under this amendment? What parts of the body, if I can put it that way, would we require the image to capture? As the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, explained, this is different from the upskirting offence because the law there condescends to particular parts of the body that must be captured in a photo. Would we wish to capture images taken of breastfeeding regardless of whether it is in a private, semi-private or public setting?

I underline to the Committee that I do not raise these matters as drafting points or to be difficult. On the contrary, it is because this issue is so important that we must get the nature, boundaries and scope of the offence absolutely correct.

Lord Pannick Portrait Lord Pannick (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Minister accept that his second potential problem would easily be dealt with by a drafting amendment to make it clear that the offence relates to a photograph or video of a breast? It would not be difficult to draft that. In relation to his first concern, which, as I understood it, was that if someone takes a photo of their wife or girlfriend breastfeeding for the purpose of sexual gratification and there is some other woman in the background—oh, I am sorry, have I misunderstood?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before the Minister answers that question, does he not also agree that we have perhaps seven or eight weeks before we get to Report, so the pettifogging points he is making could plainly be dealt with if we all sat round a table and agreed a draft?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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In drafting legislation, the first thing we need to do is make sure that we agree on the nature and scope of the amendment. I have tried to make it clear that I am not putting these points forward as pettifogging points of drafting. There are important points underlining this about what we want the amendment to cover. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, was about to rise again; should I give him an opportunity to do so?

Lord Pannick Portrait Lord Pannick (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It may be thought by the Committee that the first example that the Minister gave was somewhat esoteric and unlikely to occur in practice. The risk of such esoteric events occurring is more than outweighed by the actual mischief that this amendment seeks to address. In any event, the same objections—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, called them pettifogging; that is his word, but I understand why he said that—could well be raised in relation to upskirting, in that pictures could be taken in whose background there is some other unfortunate woman. Perhaps the Minister might wish to reconsider these matters. We would all be happy to sit round a table and agree a draft that meets these points.

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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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We are all united in our admiration for the parliamentary counsel and draftsmen, absolutely—there is no doubt about that. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, is an habitué of Instagram. If he were, he would appreciate that the example that I have given is far from unlikely: people take photos of their wives or girlfriends or, indeed, of people who they do not know, but who are not breastfeeding, for all sorts of purposes. Under the definition in the amendment at the moment, if a person is caught in the background of a photo breastfeeding, there would be an offence.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Debate

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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Wolfson of Tredegar) (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and others for speaking to these amendments. This group considers the sentencing of road traffic offences, and I propose to take each one in turn, if I may. I hope that the noble Lord will understand if I do not comment on the specifics of the particular cases he mentioned; not only do I not personally know about them but, as a matter of general approach, it is unwise for a Minister to comment on a court’s decisions in particular cases when they have obviously not heard the evidence and seen the facts. I do, of course, extend my condolences to the victims in those cases. I also acknowledge the moving contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, and her particular background in this area.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, reminded us that the law in this area is complex; it now fills a very weighty tome, Wilkinson’s Road Traffic Offences. I will come back at the end of my remarks to the question of an overall review, which the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, also mentioned. Despite the fact that they perhaps take up more space than they ought to, I think it is fair to say that the current driving laws, while not perfect, work well in the vast majority of cases.

Importantly—this theme ran through the Committee’s debate and was a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb—we have to strike a balance between the culpability of the driver and the harm or consequences which they cause. That is particularly important in the area of driving, where a moment’s inattention can have such drastic consequences.

I will not comment on the other two areas of life which the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, speaking unwhipped, put before us. However, it is often commented that the average person does think that they are an above average driver. Even my maths is good enough to realise that we cannot all be above-average drivers, at least not all the time.

The fact that some of these amendments seek to lower the culpability required before an offence is committed, and others seek to raise the level of culpability needed, might indicate that, broadly speaking, we have the balance about right at the moment. I will speak to the amendments in turn, but I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that victim blaming is no part of my or the Government’s response to any of them.

Amendment 152, which aims to replace Clause 65 in the Bill, does two main things. First, it would replace—I think the noble Lord said it “redefines”, but it effectively replaces—the current objective test of what amounts to careless or dangerous driving with a new test which is, essentially, linked to breaches of the Highway Code. The new test would apply to all offences which relate to or incorporate careless or dangerous driving. Secondly, the new clause would replace the existing

“causing death by careless driving under the influence of drink or drugs”

offence with new offences of causing death “or serious injury” by driving under the influence of drink or drugs. The Government have serious concerns about the way this amendment would change the current law. We believe that it would render the current law inconsistent, unworkable and unjust. I will try to explain why we say that.

Given the particular nature of driving, bad driving offences are based not on establishing the intent of the driver but on considering the standard of the driving. The test in law compares the driving of the defendant to that of a notional careful and competent driver, so it is an objective test. If the driving falls below that of the careful and competent driver, the driving is careless; if it falls far below that standard, it is dangerous. This amendment seeks to replace that objective test based on the standard of a person’s driving, which is the current law, with a new definition of dangerous driving which applies to all offences of dangerous driving, including causing death or serious injury.

As we have heard, the proposed new test is linked to breaches of the Highway Code, and here the problem starts. Noble Lords will know that the Highway Code contains references to behaviour that gives rise to criminal offences, and that those offences are set out elsewhere in legislation. But it also contains advisory provisions which are not criminal offences. We should be clear that, when we talk about a breach of the Highway Code—when you do something which it says you should not be doing—you are not always referring to something which amounts to criminal offending. Indeed, often breaches of the Highway Code are not criminal offences.

As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, pointed out, under this amendment the standard for dangerous driving could be met by a breach of the Highway Code that causes no more than a little “inconvenience”—one of the tests in the amendment—to another road user. At the same time, the offences covered by dangerous driving attract significant custodial penalties, despite the attempt to limit this offence to “serious” breaches of the code. Serious breaches are, in turn—and, with respect, I suggest inappropriately and impractically—defined in relation to passing or failing a driving test. So where does that get us, when we put it all together?

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Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Portrait Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Is the Minister saying that if we drafted this slightly better, with “dangerous driving” included, he might accept it?

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

I will be very careful here because the law in this area is really complex. I was going to say this later but will preface it now. I am very happy to have a discussion on these points. I am reluctant to reply to a drafting suggestion from the Dispatch Box but, if the noble Baroness writes to me, I will certainly write back and we can have a discussion. I hope that is helpful and answers her question.

On this part of Amendment 152, the five-year maximum penalty for causing serious injury also contrasts with the two-year maximum proposed for the new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving in Clause 66, although the culpability levels are broadly similar. Saying clearly what should not need to be said, we recognise the seriousness of driving while unfit to do so through drink or drugs, but we also must have laws that reflect the various levels of culpability of drivers across the piece. Perhaps it will be more useful to discuss this against another draft, if that is what the noble Baroness wants. This draft does not strike a fair balance and therefore we cannot support it.

Turning to Amendments 167 and 168, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, that we take road safety seriously. The sanction of disqualification is a very helpful tool, an integral part of the overall approach to road traffic enforcement and, therefore, to promoting road safety. However, again the sanction of disqualification must be proportionate. He proposes amending disqualification periods for stand-alone offences from two years to five years. We are not persuaded that an increase of that magnitude is warranted for all the offences which the amendment would encompass. For example, two offences that would fall within the amendment involve causing serious injury to other road users, and another covers any offence where the driver has incurred a disqualification in the previous three years. The proposed increase is unduly harsh in these circumstances.

We would want to think carefully and coherently across the piece about amending the periods of disqualification for various offences. We want to keep sanctions at the right level, and we keep this under constant review. With respect, the noble Lord has much to contribute to the road safety debate. I would be very happy to meet him and others to discuss potential changes to the existing periods of disqualification. Perhaps we can arrange that. I heard what my noble friend Lord Attlee said, and recall that on the then Domestic Abuse Bill, we found that what we called a teach-in was quite useful. That might be a useful way of organising this, with specialist officials in the MoJ and/or the Department of Transport. I will be in touch with the noble Lord on that.

Also, in the context of disqualification, the noble Lord proposes reducing, from three years to two years, the timeframe for which offences would be regarded as repeat offences. As repeat offences, this would trigger a longer disqualification period, of two years rather than 12 months. Three years is the time for the totting-up process. We think that it is useful to keep the same period for repeat offences.

I turn to the amendments to the penalties for repeat instances of certain offences. The noble Lord proposes an increase in the minimum period of disqualification from three years to 10 years. Ten years is a considerable period of disqualification. It would affect not only the disqualified person but possibly their families in serious ways. We must remember that those convicted in these circumstances often also face a custodial sentence in addition to any driving ban that they receive. Therefore, one must look at the disqualification period in that context.

The length of a driving ban is at the discretion of the courts. They sometimes impose a lifetime ban. The noble Lord will know, but I will make it clear to the Committee, that the courts have a statutory duty to take into account the impact of a custodial sentence when imposing a driving ban, so it is not diminished by the period spent in custody. However, we do not think that a minimum period of 10 years would be proportionate in respect of the offences that currently carry a three-year minimum period of disqualification for repeat offences. The three-year period is a minimum. As I have said, the courts can disqualify in excess of that if necessary.

The noble Lord also proposes a minimum disqualification period of two years for drivers convicted of dangerous driving. A person who is convicted of dangerous driving is still subject to obligatory disqualification for a period of one year. That can be increased by a judge in light of particular circumstances. Again, we are not persuaded that a conviction of dangerous driving warrants a longer minimum ban, nor do we propose to accept the proposal to reduce the penalty for the offence of causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving from five years to two years. This is a good example of the balance I spoke about earlier. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, mentioned, when death results, the law often looks at things differently. When drivers cause the death of another person, a road user of any sort, through unacceptable behaviours such as careless driving, the penalties have to be sufficient to reflect the seriousness of their actions.

Turning to the amendments on the offence of driving while disqualified, if this sanction is to work effectively, people must be forced to adhere to the disqualification period. We know that that is not always the case. That is why we have a dedicated offence of driving while disqualified, which carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison. We consider that the right penalty for that offence. It is sufficiently effective in discouraging people from driving while disqualified and we do not believe that a longer period would be any more effective.

Finally, the noble Lord proposes an amendment which seeks to make it an offence to cause death or serious injury when opening a car door, with a penalty of a fine, imprisonment or both, obligatory disqualification from driving and obligatory endorsement of penalty points. We believe that the new offence is unnecessary, because causing death or serious injury when opening a door would already be covered by existing offences under Regulation 105 of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986, which is brought into play in this context by Section 42 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

More generally, while I recognise the importance of checking the road carefully before opening a car door, the penalty must be proportionate. The penalty for the current offence is limited to a fine and we do not have any evidence base upon which to agree or accept that the new and much higher penalties for the offence proposed by the amendment are warranted or justified. However, we are updating the Highway Code to improve guidance for opening vehicle doors carefully and safely to minimise any risk this may pose. We have been promoting what I think is called the “Dutch reach”, where you reach across—I will try to give an example from the Dispatch Box—to open the door with the hand which is further from it, because that forces you to look around.

There is another point here. It is called the Dutch reach because it comes from Holland, where a lot of people cycle. To pick up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, cycling is good for people not just when they are cycling but when they are driving. If you are a cyclist, you can also become a better driver, because you are more aware of cyclists on the road. We certainly appreciate the point and are looking at it.

I will pick up two further points from the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. First, on the example he gave, I am not sure I took it down accurately, but my initial reaction was that alcohol is always an aggravating factor. However, I will check Hansard and can perhaps write to him with a specific response on that point. Secondly, on the 2014 review, that was announced and we have been working on it. We published a consultation on driving offences and penalties relating to causing death or serious injury and are now bringing forward proposals for reform of the law, which we committed to in our response to the consultation. My colleagues at the Department for Transport are taking that work forward on the broader issues of road safety.

Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said that she would pick up her point in a later group so, with respect, I or my colleague will respond to it then. My noble friend Lord Attlee asked about an increase in the prison population. The short point here is that people go to prison only when the court cannot impose another offence and they go to prison immediately only when it is sufficiently serious that the sentence cannot be suspended. I hope that gives him some reassurance. I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, on Clause 65. I note his support for the amendments, but for the reasons I have set out, I hope those proposing these amendments will feel able to withdraw them.

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

Before the noble Lord sits down, I point out that he is arguing for the status quo when we have already said that there is no rationale behind it. There is no rationale behind two years or three years. The fact that he thinks it sounds reasonable is really not good enough. It is urgent to get this review together. Which organisations have the Government taken advice from on this, before bringing in these new penalties? Who did they take advice from? It sounds as if they did not take it from people who understand the situation as it is on the roads.

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

I am afraid that, with respect, the noble Baroness is wrong on both points. There are provisions in the Bill which change the law considerably; there are quite a few in this area. I am certainly not arguing for the status quo but rather for the provisions we have put in the Bill. I have sought to explain why, if we are going to change other parts of our road traffic offences, we need to do so carefully and make sure that there are no unintended consequences. I hoped my explanation of the new test for dangerous driving based on breaches of the Highway Code and the consequences that brings with it was a good example of that.

As to who we have consulted, I assure the noble Baroness that my department and the Department for Transport speak frequently to a range of stakeholders. Perhaps I can write to her with a list, exhaustive or possibly non-exhaustive, of the people we have spoken to.

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

I also point out that when the Minister demonstrated the Dutch reach, he did so from the point of view of a Dutch car rather than an English one. Perhaps he would like to practise that at home.

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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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The noble Baroness and I are sitting on opposite sides of the House. If I was driving, I would normally open the door with my right hand, so I was turning round to open it. I think my example was right, but I will look at the video tonight and write to the noble Baroness if I was wrong.

Earl Attlee Portrait Earl Attlee (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, my noble friend has been very helpful, but I am slightly worried that he does not fully appreciate how difficult it is to secure conviction for dangerous driving. On the Dutch reach, could we not include this in the driving test, which would mean that driving instructors would have to teach their students how to do it? I like to think I am an experienced driver and I carefully check my mirror before opening the door. Not doing so is an easy mistake for a novice driver to make, but it would be easy to train those drivers to use the Dutch reach.

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

I am certainly aware of the differences between dangerous driving and careless driving. Dangerous driving is reserved for those instances of driving which fall “far below” the objective standard. The question of whether the Dutch reach should be included in the driving test is a matter for colleagues at the Department for Transport. I will pass that suggestion on; I hope they will get back to my noble friend on that point.

Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, we have had a fascinating debate on these amendments and I have no regrets about tabling them. They came from the group that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, mentioned—she has also thought about this very carefully. I would like some further information on whether they talk to each other. They will look at what the Minister has said tonight with great care and read the comments from the many other noble Lords and noble and learned Lords who have spoken. It has been fascinating to hear the different views.

One thing that we need to focus on is the need for safety. The Dutch reach is just one example. I have cycled in Holland quite often; motorists there tend to be much more careful when opening doors, but so are cyclists. In Holland, you do not get the kind of aggressive, Lycra-clad people who so many motorists in this country dislike. However, that is no excuse for causing any danger to them.

What also follows from the Minister’s comments is that there needs to a reflection on getting people to think before they offend, because a lot of people do not, and when they offend say, “Oh, it was a mistake,” or whatever. People need to be responsible for their actions.

Thirdly, there is a wide lack of enforcement, which noble Lords have alluded to, covering motoring, cycling and occasionally walking. Some of my amendments reflect the feelings of people at the vulnerable end of the spectrum that there is a lack of enforcement, and they would like to see things tightened up and balanced.

Lastly, I am concerned, and have been for many years, about how the Minister’s department and the Department for Transport work together, or occasionally possibly do not. I have no evidence that they have not worked together on this matter, but it would be helpful to hold discussions with both departments before Report. I see that the Minister does not like my amendments. We do not like some of his. We are a long way apart, but it would be helpful to try to move together. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Earl Attlee Portrait Earl Attlee (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the good thing is that the party opposite is being consistent, because it introduced the offence of causing death by careless driving.

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

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, objects to Clause 66 standing part of the Bill and has tabled Amendment 155 in its place. We have had a very interesting and more wide-ranging debate than we perhaps anticipated when the amendment was put down. Thanks to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, we have got on to gross negligence. In the time available, it reminded me that it was Lord Cranworth in Wilson v Brett, back in 1843, who said that gross negligence is actually only

“negligence with a vituperative epithet”

attached. That is a little legal chestnut about what gross negligence actually is—in the civil context, I accept.

We need to focus on the fact that we are looking at driving offences, and I will come back later to whether it was a valid comparison put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. The amendment we are dealing with here is perhaps the reverse of the approach taken in the earlier group to Amendment 152. Some of the speeches made in that context, such as that made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, are also applicable here. With Amendment 155, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, hopes to add additional requirements, thereby raising the threshold for the new proposed offence of causing serious injury by careless driving.

As I said on the previous group, we are back to the issue of relatively low-culpability offences that can attract custodial sentences because the consequences can be catastrophic. Of course, I hear the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope—it was a sort of “There but for the grace of God go I” point, if I can summarise it in that way—but, as I have said, there is a balance to be struck between the culpability of the driver and the harm that they cause. The Government believe that the current position—whereby a driver who by careless driving has caused serious injury, including perhaps very serious or life-changing injuries, may only be fined—is wrong. That is why we have created this new offence and why we believe it should be incorporated in the Bill.

I respectfully agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Beith, that we have to have sight of, and due regard to, the consequences of the driving. If I may, I will come back a little later to the other point the noble Lord made, about whether prison is the only way to respond to that.

Having said that, we recognise that the standard of driving required for this offence is relatively low. Careless driving can sometimes amount to no more than a short period of inattention—we had the example of the wasp on the back seat—but we do not agree with the noble and learned Lord that we need to add a requirement explaining what we mean by “causing serious injury”, or that the definition should provide that the notional “careful and competent driver” would know that their driving was likely to cause serious injury. I am grateful for the support—at least on this amendment—of the Benches opposite and of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. He also asked whether prison is the right response, and I will come back to that too.

I make three substantive points in response to the proposed amendment and the clause stand part proposal. First—I will make this point relatively softly, because I think the noble and learned Lord, realistically, if I may say, accepted that there may be drafting issues with the amendment and the scope of it—it would create inconsistencies in the law and that is because this additional test would apply only to this new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving and does not, for example, apply to the offence of causing serious injury by disqualified driving, where it might be argued that the level of culpability is even lower, because there is nothing actually wrong with the driving there at all. I will come back to that in another context.

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Lord Pannick Portrait Lord Pannick (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With his enormous experience of various areas of the law, can the Minister think of any example of where a sentencing court has decided that it is appropriate to send someone to prison, whether in a health or safety context or in any other context, merely because of carelessness? I ask this out of genuine innocence and ignorance.

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

I wonder whether health and safety is not, in fact, an example. This is not my area of the law, and I am reluctant to give examples from the Dispatch Box, but I think we have to balance the degree of culpability with the consequences. As the noble Lord, Lord Beith, said, and as the responses to the consultation showed, it is very difficult to look in the eye the family of somebody who has been killed through careless driving, where the standard has fallen below that of a competent driver—not far below; that is dangerous—and say that the most we can do is fine the driver.

Lord Pannick Portrait Lord Pannick (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I understand the Minister’s argument. My question is whether there are any actual, practical examples of people being given a prison term because of carelessness. Maybe the Minister does not know. I entirely understand that. I would be grateful if he could write to me with an answer.

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

Of course, and I will write to the noble Lord with an answer. I just want to be clear what exam question he is setting me. I assume that he is excluding recklessness. He is putting that in a separate box from mere carelessness.

Lord Pannick Portrait Lord Pannick (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am considering the proposed offence of carelessness. To be clear, my question is whether there are practical examples of sentencing courts sending people to prison for acts of carelessness. Maybe the noble and learned Lords, Lord Judge and Lord Hope, know the answer. I do not. I suggest it may be relevant.

Lord Judge Portrait Lord Judge (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I would much rather the Minister answered that question.

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

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, is very kind. I was going to say that, because I am standing up, I will spare the blushes of the noble and learned Lords, so that they do not have to get up. We will look at the exam question from the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. We have to be careful with our terms. It may come back to the point that I made to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas: we must be careful not to confuse “careless”, as in careless driving, with negligence. It is not necessarily the same concept.

I think I was about to sit down and allow—

Baroness Randerson Portrait Baroness Randerson (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I simply wanted to add that, when the Minister writes to us, perhaps he could give due consideration to the word “inconsiderate”. One could, unusually, be sent to prison for it.

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

I am happy to deal with that in the letter.

Earl Attlee Portrait Earl Attlee (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, on a couple of occasions, my noble friend the Minister has said that the only disposal available to the courts is a fine. Surely, disqualification is available? For most of us, that would be a very severe penalty.

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

I accept that it may be a severe penalty. It depends who you are dealing with, and the circumstances. There are other factors which the courts have to bear in mind when considering the particular effects of disqualification on a particular driver.

Lord Hope of Craighead Portrait Lord Hope of Craighead (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hope the Minister has sat down, because I thought it was time for me to wind up. I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate.

I hope the Minister will appreciate—I think he does—that my Amendment 155 is simply an attempt. I said that it was not cleverly drafted, and he has made it clear that it has problems attached to it. The essence of my intervention is on Clause 66 and imprisonment. Disqualification is fair enough. I can see that taking people off the road meets almost every situation. The same is true with fines. It is quite remarkable that there are no other non-custodial penalties. What about other orders, such as retraining, community service, or something of that kind? They are not mentioned here. As the noble Lord, Lord Beith, pointed out, the emphasis on imprisonment as the alternative is endemic in the Government’s approach. It is seriously wrong in this situation.

Two phrases came up in the course of the discussion. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said that only in an “exceptional case” would a custodial sentence be thought appropriate; I understand that and entirely follow it, of course. The Minister said that he contemplated a “serious, life-changing injury” where he might find it difficult to look into the eye of the victim and say, “We cannot equate it to the sort of sentence that involves imprisonment. We cannot provide a custodial sentence to make up for the devastating consequences of the injury.”

The problem is that, as it stands, the clause is completely open-ended. There is absolutely no qualification to narrow down the situation described by both noble Lords. That is what I was trying to do with my Amendment 155, and is part of my complaint. If you introduce sentences of imprisonment, you really have to think about whether the nature of the offence or the circumstances that give rise to that kind of penalty should be more carefully defined. Otherwise, we are at the mercy of magistrates, who vary and may misunderstand the situation.

Of course, as I mentioned in my earlier speech, the mere threat of imprisonment is a devastating situation. I go back to example given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, of the mother in the car. Her children will ask, “Mummy, does that mean you’ll have to go to prison?” The family must live with the possibility of imprisonment and all its consequences until, eventually, the moment arises when the sentence is pronounced. Even when there is no imprisonment, the fact that this hovers over a family in that situation is devastating enough.

I hope that the Minister will think more carefully. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, will also think more carefully about his party’s approach to this problem, because there is more to it than was thought at first sight. I welcome the suggestion of ongoing discussions; I hope that, with the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, we will be able to have a discussion with the Minister to see whether some attempt can be made to qualify the open-ended nature of this offence to make it a little less devastating.

For the time being, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Ministry of Justice

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Excerpts
Lords Hansard - part two & Committee stage
Monday 8th November 2021

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 40-VII Seventh marshalled list for Committee - (8 Nov 2021)
Let me add just one other point about the so-called scrutiny that is now going on: there is not one official in the Box to provide assistance to the Minister. I have no complaint about that, but it is in my experience unprecedented.
Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Wolfson of Tredegar) (Con)
- Hansard - -

Just for the record, and because the officials have worked extremely hard, I have a WhatsApp group with them. In fact, I have been doing all this work without officials there. They are on the ball; they are online; they are providing assistance.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very glad to hear that. It is the first time in my experience—and I am not complaining, because the officials have worked incredibly hard on this—that the Box is entirely without officials.

To go back to the debate about delegated powers, this is what the Delegated Powers Committee said in general about this:

“We are particularly concerned that the Bill would … allow Ministers—and even a non-statutory body—to influence the exercise of new police powers (including in relation to unauthorised traveller encampments and stop and search) through ‘guidance’ that is not subject to Parliamentary scrutiny; … leave to regulations key aspects of new police powers—to restrict protest and to extract confidential information from electronic devices—that should instead be on the face of the Bill; and …allow the imposition of statutory duties via the novel concept of ‘strategy’ documents that need not even be published … We are disappointed that the inclusion of these types of delegations of power—on flimsy grounds—suggests that the Government have failed when preparing this Bill to give serious consideration to recommendations that we have made in recent reports on other Bills.”


In relation to this group of amendments, the committee makes complaint about three sets of delegations. The first is in relation to what could be suitable for community cautions. As I indicated, community cautions are for less serious offences. The Bill provides that they cannot be given for the most serious, indictable-only offences, but it gives the Secretary of State power to determine by affirmative procedure regulations the other offences for which they cannot be given.

The Government put forward a memorandum to justify this approach which said as follows:

“The list of offences which may not be suitable for”—


a community caution—

“is likely to change regularly”

and

“will be subject to continual updating and changing which makes it more suitable for secondary legislation”.

The Delegated Powers Committee report states:

“The Memorandum acknowledges that excluding offences from a community caution disposal ‘will have a significant impact on offenders, victims and the public’. It states that the affirmative procedure ‘is considered appropriate as it enables Parliament to debate the details of the restrictions [on community cautions]’.”


The Delegated Powers Committee report says that the Government are relying on a comparison with Section 130 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and then establishes, clearly rightly, that comparison with that Act is misguided and wrong. It says that the Government should follow the 2003 Act, but accurately and not inaccurately. What the Sexual Offences Act 2003 does is put in the Bill the excluded offences but gives power for them to be amended from time to time. Our amendments would follow the Delegated Powers Committee’s recommendations. I hope that the Government will feel able to accept that. If the noble Lord could indicate that, it would shorten that bit of it—sadly not.

The next group of problems is the conditions that are attached to a caution. A diversionary caution or a community caution must have one or more conditions attached to it. These can include requirements to carry out unpaid work, to attend a specified place for a specified purpose, and to pay a financial penalty. The complaint that the Delegated Powers Committee makes about this is that you need only the affirmative procedure where you are increasing the penalties but not when you are decreasing them.

The Delegated Powers Committee report says:

“We consider that the Government’s justification for its approach”—


applying only when penalties are increasing and not when they are decreasing—

“is flawed because it focusses solely on the impact of increases or decreases on the rights of offenders and on operational resources and fails to take into account the significant effect that decreases are capable of having on the way in which the policy works—and that making the new cautions less onerous forms of disposal may be something about which stakeholders (including victims of crime) and members of both Houses may have legitimate concerns.”

Again, we agree with that. The committee continues at paragraph 75:

“Accordingly, we consider that both increases and decreases in the maximum number of hours of unpaid work or attendance, or the maximum financial penalty, that may be attached to a diversionary caution or a community caution merit the same level of scrutiny”.


That is simply to quote what the Delegated Powers Committee says.

The final group relates to Clause 129 and Schedule 13, which gives the courts power

“to review community and suspended sentence orders, and … to commit an offender to custody for breach of”

such orders. The memorandum that the Government presented to the committee says that

“the aim… is to improve offender compliance with community orders and suspended sentence orders and to reduce reoffending. This is achieved through a multi-agency approach with links to wider support services, one element of which is providing for close oversight by a court of particular sentences being served in the community”.

The intention is to pilot for an initial 18-month period, and that may be applied to different cohorts throughout the country.

The committee report points out:

“The Secretary of State is given power to specify, by negative procedure … categories of community orders and suspended sentence orders that qualify for the review process”—


and it sets out certain things they can take into account in relation to it. The report continues:

“Where regulations specify a category for the first time, there must be an initial pilot period of 18 months … Both regulations that specify a category for the purposes of a pilot … are subject to the negative procedure … The Government’s justification for this is that ‘the principle of the provisions is made clear on the face of the legislation, and the power is limited by the legislation such that it may only be used to apply the provisions to different courts and cohorts of offenders … These matters are administrative in nature’.”


That is what the Government said in their memorandum.

The Delegated Powers Committee disagreed with that, saying that

“the categories of persons and the offences to which the review process will apply go to the heart of the underlying policy. The power gives the Secretary of State maximum discretion … but with minimal scrutiny … We therefore consider that regulations that provide for a category of community orders or suspended sentence orders to be subject to the review process on an indefinite basis should be subject to the affirmative procedure.”

That is what our third set of amendments does in relation to that.

I apologise for taking so long to go through this, but these are important issues.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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My Lords, I agree with the noble and learned Lord about the importance of this part of the Bill. Although the noble and learned Lord has just apologised for the length of his opening remarks on this group, I must warn the Committee that that was nothing compared with my opening remarks on the next group, if the Government wish to go there this evening.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, is right to demand that the list of excluded offences for which the police cannot give a community caution is in the Bill. This is yet another example of why this Bill is a shell, lacking in sufficient detail for noble Lords to give their consent to it. The Delegated Powers Committee agrees, as the noble and learned Lord has said.

He is also right that any changes to the maximum number of hours of unpaid work or attendance, or the maximum financial penalty that may be attached to a diversionary or community caution, should at least be subject to the affirmative resolution. But as the noble and learned Lord has said on previous groups, the House still has no ability to amend such an order. I will have more to say on that issue in a later group. Again, the Delegated Powers Committee agrees, as the noble and learned Lord has said.

Amendment 214B is about community orders and suspended sentence orders, and has, as far as I understand it, nothing to do with police cautions—I look for reassurance. I have no idea why it is in this group of amendments, other than that it is also covered by the Delegated Powers Committee’s report. I have no doubt that the noble and learned Lord is absolutely right about that as well, and the Delegated Power Committee agrees.

We support these amendments, mostly because they are right, and, in the case of Amendment 214B, because the noble and learned Lord is usually right.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I recognise that this group of amendments in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, has come about because of recommendations from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in its sixth report of the Session. It is a pleasure to discuss this matter, even at this hour. As to timing issues, I am sure the noble and learned Lord knows better than me with whom to take that matter up; I am not sure I am the correct post box for that.

I can assure the Committee that, even as the noble and learned Lord was speaking, I received a WhatsApp—I am not waiving privilege on all my WhatsApp messages—from the Bill team: “To reassure, we are here.” The team cannot answer back, but I can. I regret the way that the team’s their work ethic was impugned, unintentionally, I am sure.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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I made it absolutely clear that I was not for one moment impugning the Bill team’s work ethic. I was saying, quite legitimately, that they are not here because it is so late at night. My learned friend the Minister makes a poor point in suggesting that I was impugning them. I have nothing but the greatest admiration for that Bill team, and he should not try to distract attention from the problems of debating this at this time of night with a remark like that.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar
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It has nothing to do with the hour. On every Bill I have done, I have had the Bill team on WhatsApp, whether it was the Domestic Abuse Bill at 3 pm or this Bill at 11.29 pm. The fact they are on WhatsApp and I deal with them remotely has nothing to do with the hour.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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If I can adopt a previous role that I had as a police officer and come between the two parties to try to assist, I noticed that earlier this afternoon when the Minister was leading on a group of amendments, there was nobody in the Box. I assumed that that must have been because the officials were working remotely. I have to say that on this occasion I agree with the Minister. Even at—I do not know what time it was, perhaps 4 pm this afternoon—there was nobody in the Box when it was an MoJ issue.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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We can move on. We do not need to raise the temperature at 11.30 pm. We have other things to argue about.

Let us get to the substance of this. The committee proposed a number of changes relating to the cautions and problem-solving courts measures in the Bill, as elaborated by the noble and learned Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. I shall make the central point that I want to make, because it goes to all the points that have been put down. I can assure the Committee, and in particular the noble and learned Lord, that the Government are looking at all the committee’s recommendations, which underpin these amendments, as part of our wider response to the committee, and we will revert to it in due course. I therefore hope that as time goes on, if I can put it that way, these issues will be highlighted, and I hope resolved to the noble and learned Lord’s satisfaction, but, if not, we can continue to discuss them.

I shall highlight just one matter, because I want to leave time for the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, to give us his full oration on the next group, if we have time for it. On Amendment 169D, on excluded offences in respect of community cautions, the committee, as the noble and learned Lord explained, recommended that these offences are listed in the Bill rather than set out in regulations. As he explained, regulations would then be made where further amendments became necessary.

With respect to the committee, we maintain the position that the offences that are to be excluded for the purposes of community cautions are to be made by regulations. We point out that this approach of using regulations to identify excluded offences mirrors the approach taken in the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015, which sets out that the simple caution, if I can call it that, may not be used in respect to offences specified by order made by the Secretary of State by secondary legislation. Just as there, so also here we believe that secondary legislation is the appropriate place for setting out the list of excluded offences, as the level of detail required may not be appropriate or suitable for the Bill. We suggest that that approach also allows sufficient time for essential engagement with stakeholders to identify those offences and to enable future changes to be incorporated without primary legislation.

I point out that the secondary legislation that we are talking about here is subject to the affirmative procedure, so the transparency that comes with that procedure will be maintained. I suggest that it would be a little bit clumsy and rare to use primary legislation for what has to be a fairly flexible approach to listing offences that should not be cautioned. We will of course discuss this carefully with stakeholders. The aim will be to bring an SI to Parliament that will be acceptable. I apprehend that I have not responded to the underlying point made by the noble and learned Lord, because I said that we will respond to the committee, but I hope he understands the thrust of my response and that for present purposes he is able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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First, in the light of the evidence given by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, I unreservedly withdraw the suggestion that we are in any way disadvantaged by the officials not being in the Box. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for bringing that to our attention.

What a disappointing response that was on the substance. First, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, for saying that there might be something more coming, although he did not indicate what that might be. We have had the report since September. Why has it taken so long to get to this? Secondly, in relation to the point which the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, did address—about the offences that would be excluded from community cautions—the Delegated Powers Committee is saying, “Put your initial cut in the Bill”.

The noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, gave no reason why that was not to be done. He referred to the 2015 Act to which the Government had not referred when they put their memorandum to the Committee. I have not had a chance to look at the 2015 Act. It has only been mentioned now. Changing defence, as the noble Lord is doing, is always an indication of shambles on the part of the Government. What is the reason for not giving the Commons and the Lords the opportunity to debate the initial cut? It does not make the Bill too cluttered. It would not add much more than half a page. It is a ridiculous defence.

I hope that the Minister will have the time to think about it for when he comes back with the Ministry of Justice’s conclusions on this absolutely damning Delegated Powers Committee report. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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I am very much obliged to my noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede for that intervention, which goes to an incredibly important point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, which is that there needs to be proper scrutiny of the police being given a power to, in effect, punish people and impose conditions. There are two aspects to that, which the noble and learned Lord identified in his speech, so beautifully read by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, even though it is so late: first, that the code of practice is complied with and, secondly, that there is consistency throughout the country in relation to the application of out of court disposals. I would be very interested to hear what the Minister has to say on how that point will be dealt with. We support the amendment proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd.

I also agree with Amendments 170, 171 and 190, which seek to ensure that a person may be authorised to give a discretionary or community caution only if they have been authorised by a prosecuting authority for those purposes and a prosecuting authority must be satisfied that that person has received adequate training and is suitable to carry out those functions. Amendment 190 is a consequential amendment on that. I support these amendments and am very interested to hear what the Ministry of Justice has to say about them. I cannot think that it would not agree with this; some level of quality must be required for somebody who is going to give that caution.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made points to the effect that this will be more expensive. He did not mention, because he is too kind—or he may have done, but I missed it—the additional £13 million that the Commons paper identifies for the cost of introduction, in addition to the £105 million and £15 million. We are going to spend all this money to achieve no greater victim satisfaction and without any evidence that it reduces reoffending. Why?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, the amendments we are talking to cover a little area and I will take them in turn if I may. I start with Amendments 170, 171 and 190. They remove the authority of a constable or investigating officer to be able to give a diversionary or community caution and in turn propose a set of preconditions that require that a prosecution authority be satisfied of the suitability, capability and training of a person before they are designated to issue a diversionary or community caution.

The position at the moment is that cautioning is mostly but not, it is fair to say, exclusively carried out by police constables. Cautioning by police dates back nearly 100 years and the police have become experienced in the application and use of cautions. At the moment, there are statutory restrictions around the use of simple cautions by the police and an existing statutory framework for their use of conditional cautions.

The framework provides a role for the DPP to authorise the use of cautions in particular circumstances. Police and prosecutors share responsibility for dealing with out of court disposals. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, already knows this, but where police decide that an indictable-only offence should be dealt with by means of an out of court disposal, the case must be referred to a prosecutor to determine whether there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and that it is in the public interest to deal with the case in this way.

These clauses do not change the approach set out in the director’s guidance and we believe this provides a necessary safeguard to the use of cautions for more serious offences. We believe that the police should be empowered as professional decision-makers, while being given clear statutory guidance as to the use of cautions. The question of the adequacy of training to fulfil those functions, which underpins these amendments, is really one for the policing authorities.

In that regard, coming to the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, we believe that the code of practice is the appropriate place to set out any safeguards, checks and balances that should be in place before any caution under the new two-tier framework is given.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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What is the method of scrutiny of that code of practice by Parliament?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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I will come to that point. I will try to answer that question, but if I do not, I know the noble and learned Lord will remind me. However, I think I will come to it. I was just making the point that there will be safeguards, checks and balances under the new two-tier framework, an example of which may be a review by an officer of a higher rank before a decision to issue a caution is made.

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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.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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My Lords, it is completely unacceptable that the noble Lord has said on numerous occasions that, because of the hour, he is not going to go into detail in answering the issues that I have raised. We either scrutinise this Bill properly or we do not. I do not care what time of night it is; we will scrutinise this Bill effectively. That is the first point to make.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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To be clear, the only reason I made that point is because I have a very long answer—I am happy to read it—explaining the different ways particular police forces have responded to the point. Apart from that, I gave exactly the answer I would have done had it been four o’clock in the afternoon. I assure the noble Lord that I have not deleted one sentence from my notes on the answer.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Ministry of Justice

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Excerpts
Lord Carlile of Berriew Portrait Lord Carlile of Berriew (CB)
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I hope I can be forgiven for intervening slightly out of order. I have been thinking as I listen to this debate about the very troubling case which the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, raised, but I am not sure that what he is looking for is germane to this clause. However, there is an issue of general principle about unrecovered, uninsured losses arising from a serious crime of violence which does not cause considerable personal injury.

If there is an injury that would attract damages of £1,000 or more, some ancillary costs are payable under the criminal injuries compensation scheme. This raises in my mind that perhaps the Government should look at something like the Pool Re reinsurance scheme, which applies to claims which are uninsured as a result of terrorism events. The underinsured or uninsured person can go to this entity, which has been set up jointly by the public and private sectors, and recover the cost of damages for what has occurred outside the insurance scheme. I suggest to the Minister, who is an extremely experienced lawyer, that perhaps the Government should look at the criminal injuries compensation scheme and the Pool Re scheme and try to produce something which would deal with quite a significant number of cases which probably do not involve a massive amount of money, but in which people who are not very well resourced suffer a great deal, and disproportionately, as a result of the kind of offence that the noble Lord described.

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, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, seeks to require that reasonable steps be taken to obtain and take into account details of any financial costs incurred by the victim as a result of the offence when deciding on the conditions to attach to a caution and when deciding on the amount of the financial penalty.

I will begin with the particular instance that the noble Lord set out. Both he and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, used the word “distressing” and I agree with that entirely. I would go further and say that it was appalling; it is a horrific set of circumstances and I am sure everyone in the Committee would share that approach. I extend deepest sympathies to Mr McAra. I am very pleased to hear that his local MP has been helpful and supportive; I was also pleased to hear that she is a Conservative, although one of the glories of our parliamentary system is that all MPs from all parties extend that sort of support to their constituents. It is very good to hear that the system is working.

I also tend to agree that this would be unlikely to be a caution case. I am hesitant to say any more, because prosecuting decisions are independent and a matter for the CPS. I defer in this regard to the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, but it sounds to me as though this would be more than a caution case.

The Bill states that both the diversionary and community cautions must have conditions attached to them. Those may include rehabilitation and reparation conditions, financial penalty conditions or conditions related to certain foreign offenders. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, that I give this amendment and the points that he made a sympathetic hearing, as he wanted, but I will explain why as a matter of principle we cannot accept it. This is not because we disagree with the point that underlies it but for the reasons which I will set out. The starting point is that Clauses 79 and 88 already provide for the authorised person to make reasonable efforts to obtain the views of any victim of the offence and take those views into account when deciding on the conditions to be attached to a caution. This includes obtaining their views on financial costs incurred and any decisions on seeking compensation.

Under the current cautions regime, the code of practice for conditional cautions makes clear provision for this in specifying that financial compensation may be paid to a victim. In addition, where the offending has resulted in damage to community property—I appreciate that in the case we have discussed the damage was to personal property—reparation may also take the form of repairing the damage caused, reparative activity within the community more generally or a payment to a local charitable or community fund, which might be more helpful if an offender does not have the financial means to pay. The current code also states that compensation for the victim should be prioritised ahead of other costs or financial penalties.

As is the case with the current code of practice for conditional cautions, the code of practice for the new diversionary and community cautions is the appropriate place to set out further detail on how the conditions attached to a caution may be decided. Again, that will include obtaining and considering any financial losses and requests for compensation. The code will be drawn up under the delegated powers in the legislation. We will consult widely, as the noble Lord would expect, and it will be laid under the affirmative procedure.

Consulting victims goes beyond just cautions. It is a key principle of the victims’ code, point 6.7 of which says:

“Where the police or the Crown Prosecution Service are considering an out of court disposal you have the Right”—


that is, the victim has the right—

“to be asked for your views and to have these views taken into account when a decision is made.”

As I have sought to explain, that will encompass the financial circumstances as well.

Finally, without wishing to be too particular on the drafting but just for the record, I point out that, although the parts of Amendments 177 and 186 relating to Clauses 81 and 90 share the same underlying intention, those clauses relate to financial penalties paid to a court, which are punitive and are not the same as the rehabilitative or reparative conditions, which I know are really the focus of the noble Lord’s amendment.

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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.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for saying something. The whole point of not allowing it to be in regulations is that it is an important question of principle that once a crime gets to a certain level requiring a certain punishment, it should be for the courts to administer that punishment, in the same way that if a magistrate decides that the punishment they are able to give is not sufficient, they have to refer it to a higher court. These are the people with the experience, training and background properly to assess both the individual and the circumstances, and to apply the penalty. Therefore, it should be dealt with in primary legislation.

This should not be about providing maximum flexibility for operational partners. It should be about consistency and certainty, and citizens knowing that above a certain level of unpaid work, attendance at a training course or a fine imposed by the police, they cannot go without referring the matter to the courts. That is the whole point. I completely accept that the Minister has explained why it is in regulations and not in the Bill. However, he has not addressed at all the argument that it should not be that flexible.

Why is the accused’s ability to pay important? I was talking to my noble friend Lady Randerson about this amendment earlier today; like the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, she is an experienced magistrate, now retired. She said, “It is so important to take into account the accused’s ability to pay, because if you impose a fine, say, of £200 on somebody who has little or no income, it will almost guarantee that they commit a crime in order to get the £200 to pay the fine.” That is why that seemingly innocuous addition, which should be in the Bill, is in fact absolutely important. In the light of the Minister failing to engage with the heart of the amendments, we will return to this issue on Report, but in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, does the Minister think that the Bill is so short that it would have spoiled it if the new provisions had been set out in full?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, taking that last point first, one of the glories of our system is that the drafting is done by parliamentary counsel, and I will not criticise the way it has been done. However, I agree with the underlying point made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that legislation ought to be—

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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I was going to say “comprehensible” but that is a pretty high test— perhaps “as clear as good legislation can be”. I have to leave at least some space for my former colleagues at the Bar to have a career; if we make it too precise, we will do people out of a job. However, there is a serious point here, and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that legislation should be as clear as possible. I will set out what the words are seeking to do, and if it is thought that there is a better way of putting them to get to the same result, obviously, I will be happy to hear it. However, let me explain what they seek to do.

Clause 86 sets out the provisions of PACE and the modifications required to them that will apply upon arrest for failure to comply with any condition attached to a diversionary caution. The purpose of the clause is to ensure that the diversionary caution operates effectively within the existing framework of police powers; it mirrors the approach taken in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which gives the police powers of arrest for failure to comply with the existing conditional caution.

The subsection of this clause ensures that someone arrested and detained by the police is subject to the same treatment as any detained person, and periodic reviews of their detention are carried out. Obviously, that is important. The same subsection also contains modifications to put specific matters in the Bill: the power to detain those who are unfit to be dealt with at the time of arrest; the power of arrest for detainees bailed for any breach—that is, non-compliance; and the power to search a detainee in police custody following arrest.

The modifications make specific reference to the diversionary caution. For example, the PACE power to search and examine a detainee to ascertain their identity is modified to ensure that the power will still exist where a detainee has failed to comply with any of the conditions attached to the person’s diversionary caution. Therefore, it provides—I was going to say “clarity” but perhaps that might be pushing the point a little—that these powers apply only to the diversionary caution and not also to the community caution, where there is no power of arrest or prosecution for non-compliance. That is why Clause 86(4) is needed. Without the necessary PACE provisions as modified, the powers for police to deal with breaches of a diversionary caution would be limited and that would undermine the effect of non-compliance with the conditions.

I do not know whether what I have said has reassured the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that the clause is properly focused. I hope that I have explained what it is trying to do. I am not being flippant and I do appreciate that legislation needs to be as clear as possible and that it is important that people understand what it encompasses. However, when one is legislating against the background of other legislation, it can be quite difficult to do it other than by cross-references back. If there is a better way to achieve the same result without adding pages and pages, I should be very happy to hear it, but I hope that I have explained what the clause is focused on and why it is drafted in the way it is. I therefore invite the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment. However, I am happy to discuss this matter between us if there is another way of doing it.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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I am very grateful to the Minister. Perhaps I may gently suggest that if something akin to what the noble Lord said was contained even in the Explanatory Notes explaining that part of the Bill, we would not have to spend time in Committee trying to understand what it was about. I know that my noble friend Lady Hamwee and I have looked everywhere possible to try and decipher what that meant—to no avail. It may be that to parliamentary draftspeople it is as clear as day—but for us lesser mortals it is not. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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I support the overall objective of having an effective caution regime, but I share the scepticism of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, about the reasons for putting this regime in place. One should not be misled into thinking that any particular regime would immediately have better results than previous regimes or the current regime.
Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I hope it is in order to pick up one point that was put to me at the end of the last group and say a word on it. I hope the Committee will forgive me. It goes to all groups, in some ways, because it is about how legislation is put online. Legislation.gov.uk has a facility to look at the original texts and unscramble the later amendments, so to speak. A point that occurred as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was speaking was whether one could put in hyperlinks to take you through different pieces of legislation. I am happy to look into that, but I now turn to this amendment.

My noble friend Lord Framlingham asked what a diversionary caution is. To try to sum up a large part of the Bill in about three sentences, I say that there is going to be a lower-tier disposal called a community caution and an upper-tier disposal called a diversionary caution. Conditions must be attached to both, aimed at one of three objectives—rehabilitation, reparation or punishment. Restrictive conditions can be set, where they contribute to reparation or rehabilitation. In that regard, there is a similarity to the existing conditional caution regime. I hope that answers the question.

I now turn to the substance of the amendment in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester—moved by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham—alongside the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and the noble Lord, Lord Beith. It goes to the primary objective of the new two-tier statutory framework, which I have just explained, to provide, as a requirement of the community caution, meaningful court conditions to help an offender stop offending.

I am grateful for the broad support, as a matter of principle, of the right reverend Prelate for the aims of the Bill on out-of-court disposals. I respectfully agree with the point made by the noble and learned Lord on the importance of the caution regime in the criminal justice system. I also agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, that cautions must be carefully considered to avoid the syndrome of repeated interventions.

While the amendment is obviously well intentioned, the Bill already makes provision for the purpose that underpins it in Clause 80 on diversionary cautions and Clause 89 on community cautions. The Bill asks the relevant person to focus on the position of the offender. Of course we all agree that one has to look at the position of the victim, but I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beith, that one must also look at the offender. The Bill already does that.

While I agree with the broad thrust of the purpose of the amendment, I suggest that it is unnecessary. That is because, aside from the punitive option of a financial penalty, the conditions of both the diversionary and the community caution must be aimed at rehabilitation or reparation, thereby addressing the underlying causes of the offending. Importantly, the cautions enable referrals to support services where relevant as conditions of the disposal. Referrals at this pretty early stage of the criminal justice system could include referrals to relevant intervention services such as substance misuse services, mental health treatment providers or gambling addiction, or restorative justice referrals. All those help to address the underlying causes of offending behaviour and so help to reduce reoffending or the escalation of offending behaviour.

As I have said, a code of practice will accompany the legislation. It will be drawn up in collaboration with stakeholders and subject to a formal public consultation and to an affirmative statutory instrument. I respectfully agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, as he would no doubt expect me to, as to the fundamental importance of the rule of law in this and, indeed, other areas. I wonder whether actually the police are best viewed as being seen as part of the Executive; we could probably have an interesting debate on that. The answer might be that it depends on the purpose for which you are using the principle of the rule of law as to what exactly it would encompass.

To give the noble and learned Lord a bit more information, the way that the code of practice will be put together is that there will be an informal stakeholder engagement exercise with police forces, the National Police Chiefs Council, police and crime commissioners, the CPS and relevant third-sector organisations, which will help with drafting. We will then have a formal public consultation, which will take place next year. Importantly, the power to issue the code and the regulations is contained in the clauses of the Bill, so we will not have the power to do that until the Bill receives Royal Assent and is commenced.

I want to pick up the underlying points made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. I hope he will not take it amiss if I do not respond to those. There is a clear conceptual gulf between us, if I may put it that way, as to the purpose of the regime and whether it is soundly based. I set out the Government’s position on that earlier. I am not sure it is helpful if I just repeat those words each time because there is that gulf between us and I am not sure it is going to be bridged. I hope the noble Lord will therefore not take it amiss if I do not respond in detail.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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It is not a conceptual gulf. It is a question of where the evidence is that cautions with conditions attached are more beneficial than cautions without conditions attached. I can answer that question for the Minister: there is no evidence, because the Government do not collect any. That is coupled with the fact that this House will be asked—this Committee is debating it now—to sign a blank cheque for all this when the detail has not been worked out. There will be public consultation and consultation with stakeholders, but we have no idea what this is going to look like in the end. That is no way for this House to proceed with this legislation.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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Well, we did have that exchange. I went through the way that it has been piloted in various police forces, and we had an interesting exchange. I am happy to look again at the record and see whether there is anything else that I can add, but I am not sure that will necessarily persuade the noble Lord in any event. Again, I am not sure it is helpful to go through those fundamental points each and every time we come to one of these amendments.

I hope I have responded substantively—and, I hope, substantially—to the amendments tabled by the right reverend Prelate. For the reasons that I have set out, I ask him to withdraw them.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Portrait Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (CB)
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Before the noble Lord sits down, and to go back to the fundamental point about the code of practice and the regulations, is there not even a framework or some outline that we can look at so we could work out what is necessary in primary legislation and what is necessary in a code of practice? I must say that it is wholly contrary to the rule of law for a democratically elected body—I include the whole of Parliament in that—to pass legislation that has not been properly gone into.

Here we are dealing with the liberty of the subject. I think that most people do not appreciate the seriousness of a caution. When I was Lord Chief Justice, we had a number of cases where people found out years later the problem with having accepted a caution. In one case, for example, a person who was young and had no convictions of any kind could not go to America. There are other cases where a caution for a minor offence makes you into a “person of bad character”. These are matters that go to the liberty of the subject and they are of fundamental importance.

It is quite contrary to the rule of law to ask us to pass legislation for which there is no urgency. As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby said, this is a long-standing problem. Could the Minister not reconsider? I entirely sympathise with the civil servants at the MoJ because they are hard-working. Of course, they have to work hard because of all the Government’s cuts to the Ministry of Justice; they are not responsible for that and nor is the Minister, who I am sure would like as much money as possible. Could we not, in this vital area of the liberty of the subject, do some proper work on it rather than wasting a lot of time debating principles? It would be so much more efficient, on an issue that is not urgent, if we could have a draft, a framework or something to look at.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, of course I understand the point made by the noble and learned Lord. We could have an interesting debate about whether that is properly encompassed in the phrase “rule of law”, but I take the underlying point that he makes. I have sought to set out where the code of practice would be relevant, where the Act ends and the code of practice begins. I am happy to have a further discussion with him on that point.

I agree that cautions are an important part of the criminal justice system. They can have consequences, as the noble and learned Lord set out, and not being able to go to America is just one of them. That is why in a later part of the Bill, which we will come to, the question of when a caution is spent is so important. We have sought to build that into the Bill, which I hope meets, at least in part, the point that he makes. I am happy to discuss this point with him further.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Ministry of Justice

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Excerpts
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.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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Does the Minister not agree that good law is about a combination of rules and discretion? I quite understand that he is here to advocate his new scheme and approach, which the Government have considered and think is the way forward, but why not have a little residual discretion for some of the examples that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, gave? The Minister said that a simple caution is really a bare warning but, occasionally, is not a bare warning better than nothing at all in terms of a police officer, in reality—sometimes underresourced, in difficult times—doing his job in the community?

Why do we have to be so rigid that we make a simple caution—which of course is not ideal and does not have the diversions and other things suggested— impossible to give? In circumstance where there is a student who is annoyingly drunk but has not really harmed anybody—as in the example given—why not allow a bare warning rather than no warning and no action at all?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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Without turning this afternoon into a jurisprudential seminar, I certainly agree with the thrust of the point made by the noble Baroness that good law is often a combination of rules and discretion. At the level of generality, I would agree. However, it is not right to say that this is rigid; the conditions that can be applied are extremely flexible.

There are really two parts to the answer. First, within the new cautions regime, there is a great deal of flexibility as to the conditions that can be set out. If the noble Baroness looks at Clause 80 for diversionary cautions—which is mirrored in Clause 89 for community cautions—subsection (4) sets out the restrictive conditions and goes down to the one I mentioned in my response to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, which is

“not to engage in specified conduct”.

That is, essentially, the lowest form of engagement when no other suitable conditions exist. That really creates a condition where the offender is expected not to commit any further offences. That is a very low level of engagement, and when that is suitable will be a matter for the code of practice.

The second part of the answer is to repeat the point I made earlier that other forms of out of court disposal are still available—I mentioned fixed penalty notices and community resolution—so, with respect, I do not agree that we are putting in place a rigid regime. The conditions are flexible and there are some disposals that are outside the cautions structure, even now.

I do not think I did so before, but I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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Can the Minister clarify something? I think he said something along the lines that the lowest level of condition is that the offender should not engage in similar activity again. So, if somebody is arrested and cautioned and the police say to them “Don’t do it again”, is that a condition attached to a caution?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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As I said a moment ago, this relates to Clause 80(4) and Clause 89(4), if the noble Lord looks at the last condition in each of those subsections. The code of practice, as I said in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, will make further provision for the circumstances in which that would be appropriate. Importantly, and I think differently from the simple caution, the police would still need to monitor conduct to ensure that someone had not reoffended, but that would be less onerous. This is a good example of where the new structure that we are putting in place preserves the best of the old regime but still has it on a more structured basis, focused on preventing reoffending as well as on the rehabilitation of the offender.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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Forgive me, but I sense an element of unworldliness about this. If it is appropriate in a given case for there to be just words spoken and a warning, and it would be proportionate, do we really need the constable in question to go through the process of the recording and the monitoring?

I say no more on that but, if the Committee will indulge me, I would like to mention that Mr Gareth Dowling, the doorkeeper, is retiring today after some years of service and I hope that the Committee, if not the whole House, will join me in congratulating him and wishing him all the best for the future.

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Hear, hear.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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May I first deal with the caution points? I do not want to run those two topics together. On cautions, there is a fundamental point here. The simple caution is really what it says on the tin: a simple caution. In circumstances where the officer decides that it is appropriate to give a community caution with the lowest level—the one that we are talking about now—importantly, to get there, the officer or the authorised person still has to go through the process of speaking to the victim, thinking about what other options are available and looking at what other conditions are available. That process is valuable in all cases. That is one of the strengths of the new regime. I accept that that requires more consideration, but you end up with a system which is more robust and suitable and which results in a more proportionate response. Quite separately, I join the noble Baroness in what she said about Mr Dowling.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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I thank noble Lords who have participated in this short debate and am grateful for the qualified support from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede.

If I heard the Minister right, he referred to public consultation and the proportion of respondents who said that they did not believe that out-of-court disposals reduced offending. Is he really saying that the Government are now legislating on the basis of public opinion rather than on the basis of evidence? There is no evidence that the two-tier system that has been piloted by a third of forces is any more effective, as I have quoted at length and repeatedly—which the Minister ignores. There is no evidence that this will be a better system for reducing offending. With the greatest of respect, just because the Government assert that it will be does not mean that it is.

I am struggling here. If we take the example of somebody who is arrested for being drunk and disorderly and who the police want to caution, they now have to attach conditions. Presumably, the lowest level of condition will be, “You should desist from behaving like this in the future.” Then the Minister says, “But of course the police will have to put measures in place to monitor the accused’s future behaviour.” I am completely at a loss as to what sort of monitoring the Minister has in mind in such circumstances. The more the Committee examines these proposals—perhaps I should say the lack of them, bearing in mind that we will not see whatever is contained in the code of practice until well beyond the Bill receiving Royal Assent—the more the whole thing begins to unravel.

Clearly, I will apologise to the Minister and to the Committee if I have misunderstood the legislation in terms of withdrawing the police’s ability to give fixed penalty notices for disorder. I hope that the Minister will do the same if it turns out that I am right and he is wrong. However, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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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.

Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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My noble friend clearly is right when he says that this is not a mandatory sentence, but does he accept that the purpose of this clause is to ensure that in the generality of cases, a custodial sentence is imposed?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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The purpose of a minimum sentence is that unless the threshold is met—we will debate in another group what that threshold should be—the minimum sentence is imposed. There is nothing between us on how it works; there obviously is on whether it is a good idea. I hope that is fair.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I am sorry to interrupt the Minister but in sentencing law and in the criminal justice system, minimum sentences are currently referred to as “mandatory minimum sentences”, subject to thresholds and exceptions such as exceptional circumstances. That is a very long tradition. As lawyers we must be fair to lay Members of the Committee as well. It is unfair to say that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has missed the point. It is very common in the parlance of sentencing law and criminal justice law to refer to minimum sentences as “mandatory minimum sentences”, subject to whatever thresholds and exceptions there are.

Lord Bishop of Durham Portrait The Lord Bishop of Durham
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That is exactly what it says in the paperwork we have.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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The point I am making is very important and we will get to it in another group. I absolutely accept that people use “mandatory sentence” in a common parlance way, but when we get to a later group, we will discuss what the test should be. I will not delay the Committee now, but the figures for when the minimum sentence is not actually imposed are surprising. People using the phrase “mandatory sentence” would be surprised to hear that in a third and sometimes nearly half of cases, the minimum sentence is not given. If “mandatory” does not apply in a third of cases, I question whether it is the appropriate word. Therefore, we must bear in mind that we are dealing with a minimum sentence with a provision, whether that is “exceptional” or some other test. I certainly do not seek to criticise the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for using the shorthand. I wanted to point out that it is a shorthand which can be misleading when one looks at the facts as to how such sentences are imposed.

Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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What is the essential difference in my noble friend’s mind between exceptional and particular circumstances? Is not the truth of the matter that he wants the default position to be a custodial sentence, whereas there was greater discretion to the judge when the particular circumstances were what the law was to consider?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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As I say, there is a specific amendment on that point, so I will come to this in more detail then, if I may. The question is about when you depart from the minimum sentence. We are dealing here with the scope of the exception—that might be an unfortunate word, because one of the words we are using to qualify the exception is “exceptional”—and whether the exception is in circumstances which are just in the case, which I think is the gist of one of the amendments in a later group, or exceptional circumstances. I absolutely accept that one has a minimum sentence, which we can call the default, with an exception. It is always for the judge to decide, looking at the offence and the offender, whether the test is met. I will come in a moment to the words “exceptional circumstances” in particular.

What we want to do, to underline the point, is to ensure that courts depart from the minimum sentence only in exceptional circumstances. That reflects the seriousness of the offences and the risks posed to others. We believe that will create greater consistency in the statutory provisions on minimum sentences which apply to other offences. This change does not mean—

Baroness Kingsmill Portrait Baroness Kingsmill (Lab)
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Is the Minister saying therefore that it will be a mandatory sentence unless there are exceptions?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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Unless the exception is met, this is the sentence that will be imposed. I do not want to split hairs with the noble Baroness, but it is not mandatory in that sense. It is a minimum sentence which has to be imposed unless the conditions are met.

Baroness Kingsmill Portrait Baroness Kingsmill (Lab)
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It is awfully important in these kinds of cases that we are very clear and precise in our language. There is a difference between minimum and mandatory. I think what the Minister is actually saying is that this is a mandatory sentence unless there is an exception.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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It is not a mandatory sentence, because you can impose more. Let us be clear: it is a minimum sentence, which has to be imposed unless the exceptions are met. To take it outside this clause, if you have a minimum sentence of two years unless there is an exception, the first question is: is the exception met? If it is not, you have to give at least two years. You do not have to give two years; you could give two and a half years. I am not sure I am saying anything different. Reference has been made to America. In other jurisdictions, when they say mandatory, it can be mandatory without exceptional circumstances or any other provision. I am not sure we are saying anything different. I think we are all clear about what we mean. I would prefer to use the phrase “a minimum sentence”, which is the phrase used in the Bill, unless the exception applies.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I am so sorry to elongate this, but it is important. The Minister, sitting in a Government with a massive majority, gets to rewrite the statute book, but he does not get to change terms that are well understood by lawyers and sentencers in this jurisdiction and others. He is proposing a mandatory minimum sentence subject to certain exceptions. The common parlance—perhaps not on the street, but in the profession and on the Bench—is that this is a mandatory minimum sentence. He can argue for it and say that it is good policy, but it is not helpful to the Committee, anyone outside it or anyone reading Hansard for us to suggest that this is something totally different from a mandatory minimum sentence subject to exceptional circumstances.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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I am really not sure that we are saying anything different. As I said, we will come in a later group to how many offenders do not get the minimum sentence with some sentences. There must come a point at which so many offenders do not get it that using the word “mandatory” to describe it is itself misleading. I suggest we are better off sticking to the terms used in the Bill, which are both accurate and appropriate.

I underline the point that the change we are proposing does not mean that all 16 and 17 year-olds will receive the minimum sentence. The courts will retain the discretion not to apply the minimum where there are exceptional circumstances which relate to either the offender or the offence and which would justify doing so.

Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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That is out of the ordinary. It is a high threshold.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar
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I will come in a moment to the word “exceptional” as I think that was the point made by the noble Lord, Lord German. I have been a little diverted on the way, but we will get there.

What the courts will therefore do is to continue to take the child’s welfare needs into consideration. I also point out, of course, that the actual minimum sentence for 16 and 17 year-olds, when given, is shorter than that for over-18s when given: four months as opposed to six months. Applying minimum sentences to 16 and 17 year-olds—the older cohort of under-18s—recognises the increased maturity and development of this age group compared with younger children. Any custodial sentence is given as a last resort, but we believe that for older children who commit these particular offences, it should be mandatory for the court to consider carefully whether a custodial sentence is appropriate.

Lord Beith Portrait Lord Beith (LD)
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I wonder if the Minister could be a little clearer. A moment ago he cited figures for the number of cases under existing law in which, apparently, mandatory sentences are not passed because judges took the circumstances into account. When you couple his description of those figures with the phraseology that he is using now about the merits of the Bill, the impression is very clear that the Government are not happy with the judges citing exceptional circumstances in failing to deliver the kind of sentence that the Bill would impose. Am I right to understand that he is, in fact, critical of the number of exceptions that are made at present and wants fewer of these in future?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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I am certainly not critical of any particular sentence passed in any particular case. What I do think the figures show is that we need a test that more clearly balances the minimum sentence on the one hand with the exception on the other. We think the test of exceptional circumstances—I know that the noble Lord, Lord German, is waiting patiently—meets that test.

I turn now to Clause 104 and 105, which both relate to children who have committed murder and will therefore receive the mandatory life sentence of detention at Her Majesty’s pleasure. I hear in this regard the words read to us on behalf of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby. When giving a life sentence, the judge sets a minimum amount of time that must be spent in custody before the offender may be considered for release by the Parole Board. This is known colloquially as the tariff. Judges use starting points to determine that tariff. They can set a minimum term higher or lower than the starting point by taking into account aggravating or mitigating factors. Currently, there is a 12-year starting point for all children who commit murder.

In this Bill, we are replacing the fixed 12-year starting point for all children—what might be called the mandatory starting point—with a range of starting points that take into account the child’s age at the time of the offence and the seriousness of the murder. The age groups are to reflect the different stages of development that a child goes through and that, although both in law are children, a 10 year-old is very different from a child of 17 years and 10 months. The different levels of murder, if I can put it that way, are based on the more nuanced system used for adults, which takes the seriousness of a murder into consideration. Therefore, the twin factors of age and the seriousness of the murder are then brought together. The higher the age and the more serious the murder, the higher the starting point, and the converse is also the case.

This amendment retains a range of starting points for children based on three age groups, but it does not distinguish between the levels of seriousness of a murder. Because murder can vary in seriousness in the criminal sense, we believe it is right that the starting points should reflect this as well. We do not agree that starting points should only be based on the age of the child; they should also reflect the seriousness of the murder. Moreover, the amendment does not address the gap in starting points between older children and adults. A child of 17 years and 10 months is very close to becoming an adult. The amendment would mean that the same category of murder would have a 12-year starting point for a 17 year-old, but a 30-year starting point for an 18 year-old. However, I underline the same point that I made about minimum sentences. The judiciary will continue to take the individual circumstances of a case into consideration and can give a minimum term higher or lower than any given starting point.

Let me address the review amendments. Children who are sentenced to detention at Her Majesty’s Pleasure are eligible to apply for a review of their minimum term. In this Bill, we are placing the minimum term review process in legislation. It allows children who are aged under 18 when sentenced to detention at Her Majesty’s Pleasure to apply for a minimum term review at the halfway point. We are restricting eligibility for further reviews to be available only to those who still aged under 18 at the time of the further review. By contrast, this amendment would allow those sentenced as an adult to apply for a review at the halfway point and continue to apply every two years. It would also allow adults who were sentenced as children, who have already had one review, to continue to apply for a review every two years. This amendment is neither necessary nor in line with case law. That is because, under the measures in the Bill, children who are sentenced to detention at Her Majesty’s Pleasure will continue to be eligible for a review at the halfway point of their minimum term.

That right has developed through case law. It recognises the unique rights of children and the fact that they develop and mature at a faster rate than adults. The review is an important part of confirming that the minimum term remains appropriate or determining if a reduction should be made. However, they should be eligible for a further review only if they are still a child at the time of that further review. This is because, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham said on behalf of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, children have the greatest capacity to demonstrate the significant changes to maturity and outlook that the review considers. Therefore, the opportunity for multiple reviews would be available only to younger children at the initial time of offending, as they are more likely to be under the age of 18 at the time of any further review.

Those who commit murder as a child but are sentenced as an adult have already had their age and maturity taken into consideration. Adults who commit murder are not entitled to reviews and so this Bill ensures that all offenders who are an adult at the time of sentencing are treated equally. It is important to remember that we are talking about the most serious offence, that of murder. The minimum term set by the judge takes into consideration a child’s age and maturity at the time of the offence and reflects the seriousness of the offence. That minimum period should therefore be served, except in exceptional circumstances.

That brings me to the question of the definition of exceptional circumstances, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord German, for his patience. “Exceptional circumstances” is a phrase used all over the law and the criminal law. It is a matter that judges are well used to interpreting. It is a phrase in plain English. With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, it does not need, or would benefit from, a gloss from the Dispatch Box. The phrase means what it says on the tin. It is for the individual judge in the individual case, having heard the evidence, to decide whether the exception is made out.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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Can the noble Lord tell me the difference, then, between the current words, which are “particular circumstances”, and those that the Bill is proposing—“exceptional circumstances”? What is the difference between “particular” and “exceptional” to the fraternity of judges and lawyers who do not need it written down because they all understand it? For those of us who are non-lawyers, some definition would be helpful.

Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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It is a higher bar.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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I hear the words, “higher bar”. I do not disagree that “exceptional circumstances” is a stricter test. There is case law on that, although the name of the case has slipped my mind, but I am happy to write to the noble Lord, Lord German. I see that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, who may remember, is here. I am sorry to give him exam questions. “Exceptional” is a word that has been passed and interpreted by the courts at a high level. It is proper to leave it to them to decide what “exceptional circumstances” means. However, I will write to the noble Lord with the case law, once my memory comes back to me.

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So, while I agree with the points that have been made, I put forward that particular exception where I agree with the appropriateness of that minimum sentence. Of course I agree with giving judges and magistrates discretion, so they are not tied down by minimum sentences, but I wanted to give that example of where I think a minimum sentence is appropriate. Having said that, I support the amendments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Marks.
Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, these amendments seek to ensure that the courts depart from imposing a minimum sentence, to use the words of the amendment, only where it would be

“contrary to the interests of justice”

to do so, “having regard”—and then it refers to the particular requirements in the Bill on the offender and on offending. “Interests of justice” is not defined. I do not complain about that, because the phrase is used elsewhere and the courts know what it means. I do not want to go over old ground.

It is already the case that a court has the discretion not to impose the minimum sentence where there are particular circumstances relating to the offender, the nature of the offence or, in the case of repeat offending, the nature of the previous offence that would make it unjust to do so. I underline the point that whether that exception, however phrased, is met is for the judge to decide, based on the particular facts of the case. It is for Parliament to set the minimum sentence, if it wants to, and to set the “exceptional” provision—whether that is exceptional circumstances or however else it is defined. It is then for the judge to apply what Parliament has said.

As I said on the previous group, concerns have certainly been raised that offenders too often receive sentences below the minimum term. That both fails to provide an appropriate level of punishment that reflects the severity of the offence and undermines any sensible use of the word “mandatory” in this context. Let me give a couple of examples. Among adult offenders in 2020, at least—and I will explain my “at least” in a moment—50% received a sentence below the minimum term for third-strike domestic burglary. I said “at least” because the figures do not indicate whether these cases include early guilty pleas, for which they could get a reduction of up to 20%. Even allowing for that, at least 50% received a sentence below the minimum term. Of adults convicted of repeat possession of a weapon or bladed article, at least 21%—over a fifth—received a sentence below the minimum term.

I heard what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, said and I am not going to beat about the bush, either. I am trying to be clear. There may well be a difference of opinion around the Committee, but at least let us identify it clearly. With this provision, we seek to ensure that courts depart from the minimum sentence only in exceptional circumstances. Those are clear words, and they mean what they say.

We believe that the test of exceptional circumstances is both suitable and important. Not only does it help to address problems that have been escalating in our communities for some years, especially with regard to knife crime, but it will create greater consistency in the statutory provisions on minimum sentences. The change is therefore intended to reduce the circumstances in which the court will depart from the minimum term, ensuring that this important safeguard is used only where the court considers that there are exceptional circumstances, pertaining to the offender or the offence, that would make the minimum sentence unjust.

The changes align the criteria used for these offences with the criteria for passing a sentence below the minimum term in relation to offences involving firearms, where the proviso of exceptional circumstances is already in the law. However, I underline that the judicial discretion for the court to fully consider the facts of the case before it and decide on the appropriate sentence in line with the statutory framework is therefore retained.

I listened carefully, as I know the noble and learned Lord would expect me to, to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. I think we may stray into almost philosophical areas, albeit very important ones, as to what a sentencer ought to do and perhaps even what we mean by “unjust” and where justice lies.

Parliament sets out the statutory framework. If the Bill is passed, Parliament will say that the minimum sentence is X years and that the proviso is exceptional circumstances. It is then for the judge to apply what Parliament has set out. That is the way our system operates. We can have an interesting debate about whether, if a judge does that, the judge can be doing something that is “unjust”. I fully understand where the noble and learned Lord is coming from, looking at “unjust” in a broader sense, but there is a basic justice in Parliament, which is ultimately where power resides, setting out what the minimum sentence and the exception should be and then leaving it for the judge to apply that exception on the facts of the case.

I heard very clearly the point made by my noble friend Lord Hailsham about whether longer sentences actually help. Again, that takes us into a whole different area. I mean no disrespect by not replying to him at length but we believe the sentences here are appropriate and suitable.

When the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, concluded by saying, “Are we not to require our judges to do justice?”, I do not know whether he was intentionally paraphrasing the famous argument of Abraham to the Almighty. When the Almighty is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah even though there are some righteous people there, Abraham says to the Almighty, “Will the judge of all the earth not do justice?” I hear very strongly that the ultimate requirement is to do justice, but I emphasise that in our system we start with the parliamentary legislation. That is why we collectively, here and in the other place, bear such a heavy burden. It is for us to set out the statutory framework and then for our judges and courts to apply that framework. That is ultimately the way, I suggest, that justice is done in our system.

I do not want to lecture the Committee any further on jurisprudential matters. I invite the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD)
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My Lords, I am grateful for the speeches that we have heard in this interesting debate, particularly by those who have the most sentencing experience, the noble and learned Lords, Lord Judge and Lord Thomas. I am also grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for his indication of the Labour Party’s support.

While I will withdraw the amendment at this stage, I will return to it on Report. My concern is that the Minister, and I am grateful for the care that he gave to his response, failed to appreciate quite how loyal judges are to the law. Where the law requires a judge to find that exceptional circumstances exist before making a departure from the minimum sentence, he will do so loyally.

The point that both noble and learned Lords made is that it is simply wrong for the law to require judges, where they might have found that the circumstances of an offence or an offender dictate that the just sentence is less than the minimum, to be in the position that they have to say, “I cannot here find that the circumstances are exceptional—that is, completely out of the ordinary—and although I believe that the sentence I am constrained to pass is unjust in the sense that it is the wrong sentence, I nevertheless have to do it.” That is the result of the loyalty judges feel to the law—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, mentioned the judicial oath—and is a weakness of this proposed provision, which puts political dogma above the need to do justice. Although I will withdraw my amendment now, I hope that, given the speeches we have heard, in the next few weeks or months, before Report—depending on when that is—we can talk to the Minister, take this matter further, and see if we can get some movement. Saying that, 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, this is obviously an important set of amendments. I thank all those who spoke on the arguments put forward. We agree across the Committee that sexual violence is a devastating crime that can have lifelong impacts on victims and survivors. The noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on Thames, used the word, “scourge”. I do not disagree with that. He was also right to say that a change in culture is part of the solution here but also that these crimes have to be punished with sentences that match the severity of the offence.

As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, said, the group of amendments encompasses a number of such crimes. Let me take each one in turn. I will start with the Amendment 195, which would require the court to impose a minimum custodial sentence of at least seven years for a rape offence committed under Section 1 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 unless, as stated in subsection (2), there are exceptional circumstances that justify not doing so. I respectfully agree with the noble and learned Lord that there is an important point here. He was making, it is fair to say, substantially the same point that I was making to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, about the roles of Parliament and the courts. Just as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, has nothing but respect for the courts and judges, so do I. I should also say that my wife is a judge but she does not come anywhere near to sentencing anybody, so perhaps I do not have to make that declaration.

We agree on the principle that there are some cases in which it is right for Parliament to set out a minimum sentence with an exception, and other cases where it is appropriate to have greater judicial discretion. The real question is how we respond to each case, bearing in mind the scope of the sentences available to the sentencing judge.

Against that background, we have to remember that the maximum penalty for rape is life imprisonment. Quite rightly, rape offenders already receive significant sentences. I remind the Committee that in 2020, the average—I underline “average”—custodial sentence given to adult offenders for a Section 1 rape offence, where the victim was 13 or over, was almost 10 years. That represents an increase of almost 15% over the past decade. Also in 2020, over two-thirds of those offenders received a custodial sentence of over seven years.

Also, in certain circumstances, where offenders are convicted of a repeat serious sexual offence, including rape, the law already provides for a minimum sentence of life imprisonment. I should underline that the original offence, when we are talking about the repeat offence category, may not necessarily have been rape but one of a number of serious sexual and violent offences. In addition, in this Bill, and through legislation in the past year, the Government are ensuring that rape offenders sentenced to over four years must spend two-thirds of their sentence in prison, as opposed to being released at the halfway point.

However, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, recognised in his Second Reading speech, it is important that we maintain judicial discretion for the court to consider the facts of the case before it and decide on the appropriate sentence. Perhaps I can provide some support on this point —or perhaps the noble Viscount may give me some support. It is important that, given the complex nature of this offence and the wide range of circumstances the court may need to take into account, we maintain that role for judicial discretion. We may both lack the appellation “learned” but I hope that that does not detract from the strength of the point we are making.

Although the sentence lengths for rape have increased, we have a serious problem. We have long recognised that the decline in the number of effective trials for rape and serious sexual offences is a cause for serious concern. I have said that from the Dispatch Box before. Let me take the opportunity to mention briefly some of the wider action we are therefore taking to support rape victims and improve the way rape cases are handled by all criminal justice partners.

We published the End-to-End rape review on 18 June. This sets out our ambitious plans to improve numbers of rape cases being referred by the police, charged by the Crown Prosecution Service and reaching the court. On 21 July, we published the cross-government Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy, to help better target perpetrators and support victims of crimes which disproportionately affect women and girls. As to sentencing, the maximum penalty for rape is life imprisonment, and it is already the case that the courts impose significant sentences. For the reasons that I have set out, we believe it is proper that the courts retain discretion to ensure that they can impose the appropriate sentence based on the facts of the individual case.

Turning now to Amendment 197 on the abduction, sexual assault and murder of a person, I read it as the noble and learned Lord intended, that it is all three. The amendment would expand the circumstances where a whole-life order would be the starting point to include cases of murder involving the abduction and sexual assault of a single person. While this Government obviously greatly sympathise and understand the concerns that underpin this amendment, I respectfully disagree with what is proposed. All those convicted of murder already receive a mandatory life sentence. For murders involving sexual or sadistic conduct, the starting point for the minimum term in prison is 30 years. Judges are able to increase or decrease a minimum term from this starting point according to the circumstances and relevant aggravating or sometimes mitigating factors. In addition, and as was demonstrated by the sentencing of Wayne Couzens for the horrific abduction, assault and murder of Sarah Everard, there is also an existing discretion to impose a whole- life order if the seriousness of the individual case is exceptionally high.

We are committed to ensuring that serious sexual and violent offenders serve sentences that reflect the severity of their crime. However, I believe that our current sentencing framework, a crucial component of which is judicial discretion, responds correctly at present to these horrendous cases. The courts can, and indeed do, impose extremely robust sentences where appropriate that fully reflect the gravity of this offending and the appalling—often lifelong—harm that it causes.

As I am on the topic of whole-life orders, I will go slightly out of turn chronologically to address the notice given by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby that they oppose Clause 103 standing part of the Bill. Clause 103 makes it possible for people aged 18 to 20 to receive a whole-life order where the crime committed is extremely serious. Clause 103 has to be read together with Clause 102, which expands the range of circumstances where a whole-life order must be the starting point to include the premeditated murder of a child. The current position is that whole-life orders can be imposed only on offenders aged 21 and over. This acknowledges the utmost seriousness of this punishment and its overwhelming effect on an offender’s future. We recognise, however, that there may be some rare cases where it may be appropriate to impose a whole-life order on offenders aged 18 to 20. We propose, therefore, to give judges the discretion to impose a whole-life order on an offender aged 18 or over, but under 21, in those cases.

We have set out an important clarification or criterion for when that sentence would be available. Clause 103(2)(b)(3C) makes it clear that the sentence will be warranted for offenders in the 18 to 20 year-old cohort only where the crime was extremely serious even by the standards of the crimes which would normally attract a whole-life order. We anticipate that this discretion would be exercised rarely. The expectation is still very much that offenders aged under 21 would not receive a whole-life order, but the change will allow judges to impose these sentences for these younger offenders, who are of course still adults, where that is necessary.

Let me turn finally to Amendment 196 which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, set out. As was stated in the other place, we are sympathetic to the objective of this amendment. The unlawful naming of people whose identity is protected by law ought to be appropriately punished. It is a crime which can have serious consequences and cause serious upset, concern and more.

However, with respect, our view is that the amendment does not go far enough. It is limited to breaches of Section 5 of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992. That Act applies where an allegation of a sexual offence is made, and it imposes an automatic prohibition on publishing any material likely to lead to the identification of the complainant. It also covers alleged victims of human trafficking. This amendment would cover those types of victims, but there are many others whose identity is also legally protected, where the existing penalty for breach would be unaffected.

Sometimes the protection is automatic, for example for victims of female genital mutilation and forced marriage, where the breach offence is the same as that in the 1992 Act, or victims, witnesses and defendants under the age of 18 in youth court proceedings, something which I know the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, will be familiar with. In addition, reporting restrictions can be imposed at the discretion of a court, for example in relation to underage participants in a Crown Court trial or vulnerable adult witnesses. Since one reason for imposing these discretionary restrictions may be to protect the subject from injury, one should not assume that the discretionary imposition of restrictions is any less serious than the automatic ones.

Contempt of court may overlap with specific breach offences in circumstances where there is a potential impact on the justice process; that would have a two-year maximum. Therefore, we believe there is a strong case for examining this area of law as a whole, rather than amending legislation piecemeal. My right honourable and learned friend the Attorney-General has invited the Law Commission to undertake a review of the law of contempt of court, with particular reference to the interface between that and the criminal law, including the specific breach offences under discussion today. If the Law Commission takes on that task, it would provide a sound basis to look at this area properly and provide some real improvements in the protection the law offers to participants in the criminal justice process.

For the reasons I have set out, I invite the noble and learned Lord to withdraw his amendment and invite the Committee to allow Clause 103 to stand part of the Bill.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am obliged to everybody who took part in the debate. There was widespread support around the Committee for the increase in the penalties for the naming of an anonymous complainant. I thought the speech from the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, was cruel, because it appeared to support it and then talked about the Law Commission. That is years away, so I think we will come back to this on Report. If the Minister would be willing to help me, we could expand the range if he thinks that is appropriate.

In relation to the question of a minimum sentence for rape, as far as the Government are concerned, there is already a minimum sentence of seven years for third Class A drug trafficking offences, a minimum of three years for third domestic burglary and a minimum sentence for offences of threatening with weapons or bladed articles. I am broadly in agreement with the proposition that minimum sentences should be exceptional, but if they are to apply to any case, rape must be the appropriate case.

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Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am pleased to support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, on Amendments 196A to 196D, and I thank him for so ably and eloquently presenting the importance of these changes. I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, has been unexpectedly called away, but, as your Lordships’ House knows, she was the Victims’ Commissioner, and, through her work with victims, she has asked me to say that she is extremely supportive of this group.

I think that most people are aware of the fundamental right in our justice system to appeal a sentence handed down by a judge. Following a sentence hearing, a convicted offender will meet with their lawyer to discuss what comes next and what their rights are with regard to an appeal. This is a fundamental and correct part of our process, and we should hold it in high regard. But what many are not aware of—and this leads me to the necessity of these amendments—is the unduly lenient sentence scheme, which provides the right for anyone to appeal a sentence. This right is of particular importance to the victims of crime and bereaved family members, and the scheme is recognised as a key entitlement in the victims’ code of practice. Operated by the Attorney General’s Office, it provides this fundamental right, which is an important process for victims and bereaved families and can bring comfort and increased confidence in the justice system.

However, as we heard from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, these rights are not equal in policy or practice, and many victims find themselves learning of their rights by chance, too late or not at all, all of which can have a devastating impact on a victim’s recovery. The scheme, like an offender’s right of appeal, has a time limit of 28 days. This limit provides some assurance for those involved, which we think is important. However, this is where the parity between victim and offender ends, and the amendments tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, would rectify the problem. While offenders are told of their right to appeal almost immediately following the sentencing, we know that many victims are never informed of their rights at all.

I will briefly tell you about someone who has been denied her rights under this scheme. Claire, a loving mother to a young daughter, was stabbed repeatedly and had her throat slashed by her ex-partner. Thankfully, Claire survived this most horrific of attacks, which was carried out in the presence of her daughter. The offender in the case was arrested and charged, and plead guilty to attempted murder earlier this year. He was handed a life sentence but with a minimum term of just eight years. No justice agency told her of the unduly lenient sentence scheme, and it was only while speaking to Tracey Hanson, whom the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, referred to, that she became aware of it. She spoke to the police about it, and they incorrectly told her that she could not appeal due to the offender having received a life sentence.

The problem is the lack of clarity about this scheme, and the lack of responsibility for telling a victim meant that Claire was unable to request that the sentence be appealed within the 28 days. And so the man who slashed her throat her in front of her young daughter may be released in as little as eight years. We must stop failing victims who bravely come forward to bring offenders to justice and whom we repay with this appalling treatment and injustice.

The revised victims’ code of practice, which came into force in April and codifies the rights and entitlements of victims of crime, assigns this responsibility for informing victims to witness care units. While this is useful and important, it fails to realise that many victims and bereaved family members will have no contact at all with witness care units, leaving many still unaware of their rights. So we must ensure that victims and bereaved families are informed in good time after sentencing, because it is absolutely vital that they are able to use their right to appeal if they so want.

These amendments also seek that the Secretary of State conduct a review of eligibility under the scheme, opening up the possibility of including further serious offences, with the aim of delivering this vital right to more people. Gareth Johnson, MP for Dartford, speaking in the other place, talked passionately of the experience of his constituents: the family of Gemma Robinson, who was brutally beaten by her partner, who was the subject of a restraining order following a previous assault against her. Following this, her partner was arrested and charged with Section 18—grievous bodily harm—an offence recognised under this scheme. Tragically, Ms Robinson took her own life prior to his appearance in court and the charge was reduced to Section 20, malicious wounding. This offence, as it stands, is ineligible for the unduly lenient sentence scheme, so Ms Robinson’s family could do nothing as a sentence of just 3.5 years was handed down.

I thank the London victims’ commissioner, Claire Waxman, and her office for their tireless work in pushing for reform to the unduly lenient sentence scheme. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, for tabling these amendments and making the possibility of reform a reality. I urge the Minister to support this amendment, not just for those whom the system has failed but for those whom it can stand to benefit in future—those victims and families who feel that in their case justice was not done.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, the amendments all refer to the unduly lenient sentence scheme, which is set out in Sections 35 and 36 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. It allows anyone to ask for certain sentences imposed by the Crown Court to be considered by the law officers where the sentence is felt to be unduly lenient. The law officers—it is ultimately their decision, for reasons I will come back to—may then decide to refer the case to the Court of Appeal. Once it gets there, it is a matter for the Court of Appeal to decide whether the sentence should be increased.

I should underline that it is not a right available to anyone to ask the court to reconsider the sentence. The way the system works is that the request is made to the law officers; their role is to ask the court to increase the sentence. That was set out deliberately and rightly in the scheme. We prosecute in this country in the name of the Crown; we do not have, with very few exceptions, private criminal prosecutions. The instances of the scheme going wrong or people not knowing about it, as we have just heard in the cases of Tracey Hanson and the appalling murder of her son Josh, and the terrible attack on Claire in front of her young daughter, are terrible to hear about. One can only imagine the consequences for those families.

I therefore understand the motivation behind Amendment 196A. It is critical that victims, prosecuting authorities and members of the public are aware of the ULS scheme. I heard the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, talk about a lack of clarity. She quite rightly referred to the revised Code of Practice for Victims of Crime, or the victims’ code—I am grateful to her for doing so—which came into force on 1 April this year. It provides victims with the right to be informed about the existence of the scheme and includes, as we heard, a requirement for the witness care unit to inform victims about the scheme promptly when sentencing takes place. In addition, the Crown Prosecution Service references the scheme in its leaflet entitled Information for Victims. There is provision in place to ensure that victims and their families are informed of the scheme.

It is not the case that it is left to victims or bereaved families to contact the law officers. The Crown Prosecution Service can and does make requests directly to the Attorney-General for cases to be referred to the Court of Appeal in instances where the prosecuting authority considers the sentence to be unduly lenient. Those requests are considered by my right honourable and learned friend the Attorney-General in the way that she considers all such requests. While I understand the motivation behind Amendment 196A, I suggest that it is not required.

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Moved by
205: Clause 107, page 94, line 36, leave out “may be imposed” and insert “could have been imposed (in the case of an offender aged 21 or over) at the time when the actual sentence was imposed”
Member’s explanatory statement
This provides that the longer period before release for sentences within new section 244ZA(4) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 will apply only in relation to offences that were punishable with life imprisonment at the time of sentencing (not offences that are later made so punishable).
Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, this is a drafting amendment to Clause 107. Its purpose, as I hope has been explained, is to prevent a prisoner who is serving a sentence for an offence which, at the time it was imposed, did not carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, having their release date changed retrospectively from the half-way to the two-thirds point.

Such an offender should not be made subject to the two-thirds release provisions of Clause 107 should the maximum penalty for their offence be increased to life at a later date, after they were sentenced. Let me give an example that I hope the Committee will find helpful. An offender is sentenced for an offence that currently carries a maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment. They receive an eight-year determinate sentence. That sentence is not caught by the two-thirds release requirements because the offence does not carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, so the offender is given a half-way release point. Now let us assume that, three years later, the Government increase the maximum penalty for that offence to life imprisonment. Without this amendment, the offender would have their release point retrospectively amended from the half-way to the two-thirds point of the sentence.

That was not the intention of Clause 107, and it is important that we correct this now. With this amendment, Clause 107 is future-proofed appropriately and as intended. It applies to those sentenced for offences that are increased to a life maximum in the future, but applies only to those sentenced after that increase in the maximum sentence becomes law. The amendment will ensure a fair and consistent approach to such offences. For those reasons, I beg to move this amendment.

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD)
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My Lords, we support these amendments. It is obviously right to remove the retrospection and we congratulate whoever spotted the anomaly and brought the amendments to the Committee.

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Moved by
207: Clause 107, page 95, line 24, leave out “may be imposed” and insert “could have been imposed (in the case of an offender aged 21 or over) at the time when the actual sentence was imposed”
Member’s explanatory statement
This provides that the longer period before release for sentences within new section 244ZA(5) and (6) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 will apply only in relation to sexual offences that were punishable with life imprisonment at the time of sentencing (not offences that are later made so punishable).
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Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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My Lords, this is a very interesting proposal. I think we all agree, across the House, that where somebody is entitled to automatic release at half or two-thirds of their sentence, if there is proper material from which the conclusion can be reached that the defendant poses a significant danger to the public, then the automatic release date should not apply, and presumably the defendant should then be kept in prison until the end of the nominal sentence. As the Bill is currently drafted—putting it shortly—if there are reasonable grounds for the Secretary of State to believe that the defendant might pose such a risk, the Secretary of State can refer it to the Parole Board to decide.

What the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, wants is that, if the Secretary of State forms that view, he or she should refer the decision to the High Court. The High Court would then make a determination on the substance of the issue: whether the prisoner constitutes a danger. The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, called it a drafting point, but as I understand the drafting here, if the High Court forms the view that the prisoner does constitute such a danger, the High Court does not determine whether or not the prisoner is released but refers the matter to the Parole Board. In his opening speech on the amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said he believes that the operative decision should be made by the Parole Board, not the High Court.

Necessarily, that ends up with a situation where what the High Court is deciding, one way or another, is whether there are proper grounds for the Secretary of State’s belief that the prisoner may pose a risk. It would be necessary to amend the amendment to say that, because otherwise the operative decision is plainly being taken by the High Court, not the Parole Board—and the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, wants the decision to be taken by the Parole Board, which I understand. Once you get to that point—namely. whether there are proper grounds for the Secretary of State’s belief—then it is judicial review, so I am not sure what is added by this proposal.

I do not wish to give away any secrets, but I am sure there are Secretaries of State who, under press or political pressure, would refer such a decision to a body with the power to determine whether or not somebody should be released at the automatic release date. Whether the reference is to the Parole Board or to the High Court, honestly, Secretaries of State will still be guided by political considerations. As far as the Secretary of State is concerned in the notional example given, if they want to make a political point they will refer it to whoever the statute says they should, irrespective of their precise state of knowledge, for political reasons. The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, are saying that they will be pushed into it by politics. Well, under his amendment, they will be pushed into referring it to the High Court, and under the Minister’s position they will be pushed into referring it to the Parole Board, which is where the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, wants it to end up anyway.

I am not sure that this amendment achieves much, as it pushes you back into judicial review, which is where we are already. I am sympathetic to the position adopted, but—I put this advisedly—if the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, was willing to put his money where his mouth is, surely the end point should be that the High Court decides. That would provide a much more effective safeguard. This does not quite get there.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, we have had a very interesting debate. The last few speeches have highlighted the problems with the approach that I was going to set out. In short, where we end up on this amendment is, in effect, the High Court taking the decision and not the Parole Board. I shall come back to the “would” point made by my noble friend Lord Hailsham, which I was going to make as well and is absolutely right.

The amendment would require the Secretary of State first to refer high-risk offenders to the High Court. They could then be referred to the Parole Board only with the court’s approval. That is the structure that we are dealing with. The structure in our clause is that the Secretary of State refers directly to the Parole Board. If referral to the High Court is put in as an intermediate process, it would mean two things. First, the High Court may reject the referral from the Secretary of State if it did not agree that the offender would pose a risk of serious harm. My concern is secondly that, if the High Court did consider that the offender would pose a risk of serious harm, it would roll the pitch in a very serious way for the Parole Board.

I therefore have concerns about both the necessity and the benefit of involving the High Court in this process, but nothing I am going to say is intended to undermine two points on which I agree with the noble Lord, Lord German; first, on the importance of due process and, secondly, that we should limit arbitrary power. I suggest that the court does set out due process and limits arbitrary power.

The important point to bear in mind is that the new power is not a re-sentencing exercise. It is not the Secretary of State extending the detention of the prisoner. I fully accept the point made by the noble Lord as to the important boundary between Secretary of State and judge, between Executive and judiciary. I also want to have a strong and independent judiciary; I believe we do. That principle is not contravened by this clause, because it is the independent Parole Board that will make the final decision as to whether an offender is safe to be released early. The Secretary of State has the power to make a referral, but he or she must have a sound basis for doing so and must give the prisoner notice, which must include the grounds for making the referral and give the prisoner the opportunity to make representations to the Secretary of State.

As for the criteria in play, we will closely monitor and record how the power is used. We will publish a policy which clearly outlines the threshold that must be met and the principles which will underpin the Secretary of State’s decision-making procedure in determining whether to refer a case to the Parole Board.

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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That was a good statement of intent. When do the Government expect to be able to produce that? Would it be before we have concluded this Bill, so we will know where we are going with it?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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I do not want to give an incorrect answer to the noble Lord. I know that there are different codes of practice and different sets of procedures in various parts of the Bill. Can I get back to him in writing on that point, so that the Committee knows where it is before Report?

Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
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On a related point—the obligation on the Secretary of State to give reasons—how detailed should those reasons be? Will there be some published code which ensures that the Secretary of State complies?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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I have said that we will publish the principles which underpin the Secretary of State’s decision. The other point that I make in this regard, which goes to the adequacy of reasons point—it was touched on by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, with his experience—is that judicial review of the Secretary of State’s decision would be available. My noble friend will be aware from the case law as to the relevance of reasons in a case where the decision can be challenged by way of judicial review.

In light of what I have said, I hope that the Committee will appreciate that this mechanism, which we expect to be used only in rare instances, will prevent the automatic release of offenders whose risk becomes apparent only after they have been sentenced.

Let me make one point. I apprehended at certain points in the discussion that there was perhaps a misapprehension, which I should clear up: that one could detain the prisoner beyond the end of the sentence as handed down by the court. We are not talking about that. To be clear, we are talking about the period between the automatic release point and the end of the sentence.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Ministry of Justice

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Excerpts
Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage
Monday 15th November 2021

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 40-IX Ninth marshalled list for Committee - (15 Nov 2021)
Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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My Lords, I have already spoken once. I speak very briefly to say two things. First, what an impressive debate this has been. I draw attention in particular to the speeches of my noble friends Lord Blunkett, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and Lord Bradley, the noble Lords, Lord Moylan, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Hogan-Howe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Burt. I draw attention to them because they are not lawyers; they are people who have had contact in other ways with this system and come to the conclusion that it should end.

Secondly, we on this side of the House support all the amendments. Some are alternative ways of dealing with a particular problem, but we support all the proposals. We are not, in the amendments before the House, going as far as some of the speeches went. We are not suggesting the immediate abolition of the sentence. We are saying: support for those in prison to try to get released; support for those who are released to get proper help; and an easier process of having consideration of the licence being got rid of.

As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, said, the one with the teeth is Amendment 208F. It says you get rid of these licences and release the person if they have served more than the sentence for the offence. If you have been sentenced to five years in prison, and that is the maximum sentence, once the maximum is reached, unless the detaining authority can prove that you are still a risk, you get released. If you are still below the maximum sentence for the offence for which you were convicted, but you have been in for 10 years, the same principle applies. It is an incredibly sensible way of ensuring the sentence goes for those who have got it, but you keep inside those who represent a severe danger, as long as the detaining authority can establish that they remain a danger.

I very much hope that the Minister will be able to give some words of comfort to the effect that these very moderate proposals will be taken up by the Government. If there are amendments to these proposals, of course, everybody in the House will consider them, but it is time for a change. These modest proposals require consideration for this Bill, because the biggest disappointment would be to be told that it is coming at some later stage.

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, Amendments 208A to 208H relate to offenders serving sentences of imprisonment for public protection commonly known as IPPs. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, who was very kind about my work as a Minister, invited me to put away the departmental brief. I am not going to do that, not least because it might mean that my work as a Minister here ends somewhat prematurely. But that is not inconsistent, I hope, with making it clear to the Committee that I have listened carefully to the debate and to the points raised around the Chamber. I will reread the debate in the Official Report as well.

Of course, I feel the mood of the Committee—that would be impossible to miss. The speeches have been powerful and sometimes heartfelt. Without wishing to ignore others, may I say the contributions from the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, about their personal part in the genesis of IPPs have been unusual and moving. This politician, may I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti—although I see myself still as a lawyer, not a politician—certainly is trying to get this right. I do not think this is an issue which admits of easy analysis. To use the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, it is something of a puzzle, which requires looking at carefully and solving.

I am grateful to those noble Lords who have met with me and discussed the issue. I am sure we will have further discussions between now and Report. I should say that I read Matthew Parris’s column at the end of July as well.

I will go through the amendments and set out the Government’s position, then I will come back at the end to some more general points. Four of the amendments, Amendments 208A to 208C and 208E, the latter from my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier, would require the Government to conduct a review on matters such as sentence progression, resettlement and supervision of prisoners serving an IPP sentence, and to lay a report before both Houses of Parliament.

The Government recognise that work needs to be done in relation to this group of prisoners. I will set out the work that has been done so far. We have put together what I think has been a successful action plan dedicated to the rehabilitation and risk reduction of IPP offenders. We continue to work to increase opportunities for IPP offenders to progress through their sentences via this plan. A qualified psychologist leads a review of the case of every IPP prisoner who is not making the expected progress. Between July 2016 and September this year, which is about five years, just under 1,700—1,679—reviews were completed; 440 prisoners were subsequently released and a further 474 secured a progressive move to more open conditions.

My noble and learned friend Lord Garnier commented on the availability of courses for IPP prisoners to help them make that progress. It is right that during the pandemic there were fewer places on some group interventions. We asked offender managers to look at other sorts of interventions to draw evidence from them for the parole reports. However, we have now been able to ramp up the provision again. Not all IPP prisoners will require the same interventions, of course, but we try to make sure that each prisoner has a suitable pathway, as it is called, to a future safe and sustainable release. That is the focus of the programme. There is a range of interventions, including places on progression regimes, other accredited programmes and places in open prisons. Where a programme is not available for an offender, the prison offender manager would seek to have the prisoner transferred to a prison where the programme is available, subject to a risk assessment and available places. In the meantime, other work would be identified so that the prisoner could undertake that work.

We believe that the action plan is working. High numbers of IPP prisoners are being released each year and the proportion of positive Parole Board decisions remains high. I do not think anybody mentioned this, but let me put it on the record that the Justice Select Committee in the other place has recently launched an inquiry into IPP sentences. Its stated aim is to examine

“the continued existence of IPP sentences and to identify possible legislative and policy solutions.”

The Select Committee will scrutinise what the Government are doing. I have no doubt that it will provide recommendations, which the Government look forward to hearing. I therefore underline that we are doing work in this area. We do not believe that a separate government-led review is necessary at this time.

I turn to Amendment 208D from my noble friend Lord Moylan. Currently, an IPP offender may apply to the Parole Board to have their licence terminated once 10 years from their first release from custody has elapsed. To do that, the offender must give their permission to the Secretary of State to apply to the Parole Board for licence termination on their behalf. The first part of this amendment would therefore remove the legal requirement for the offender to give their permission. Instead, offenders would be automatically rereferred for consideration each year, were they unsuccessful. The second part would change the time period from 10 to five years.

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Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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None of the amendments would mean that there would not necessarily be a consideration by the Parole Board, including Amendment 208G, which is the two-year automatic end unless the Government made an application to the Parole Board, so I am not quite sure what the basis of rejection of that one is.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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I am not basing it only on what I have called automatic termination. The scheme set out in Amendment 208G would represent a very different approach to management on licence and, for the reasons I have set out, that is not a form of management which we think provides adequate protection to the public. I may come back to that.

Amendment 208H creates a power for the Secretary of State to release an IPP offender who has been recalled to prison, so long as the Secretary of State is satisfied that it is not necessary for public protection for the offender to remain in prison. The position at the moment is that the Parole Board has a responsibility to assess whether offenders are safe to be released into the community, even after an IPP offender is recalled to prison. They can take a decision to rerelease from only 28 days after the offender is recalled. We believe that the Parole Board’s expertise in determining whether offenders serving indeterminate sentences are safe to be released is, as I said, an essential tool of public protection.

If I may, I come back to where I started, with the words of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. Again, I am grateful for his kind words. I agree that there are certainly problems with the current system; we are looking at it. We believe that our IPP action plan has achieved significant results and we keep it under constant review. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, in what I have learned to be his habit of putting his finger on the point at issue, asked, “Well, what is going to be done?” I hope that I have made it clear that I have listened to the debate very carefully, and that I have no doubt of the mood and the strength of feeling of the Committee. I am also sufficiently acquainted with the ways of this House to anticipate what might or might not be moved on Report as and when we come to it. I can say this afternoon that I will continue to work on this issue—a number of noble Lords know that I have been working on it already—and to listen to the debate, but for the moment, I ask noble Lords who tabled this amendment to withdraw it.

Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, there can be no disagreement that this has been a thoughtful and deeply impressive debate—the kind of occasion that does massive good to the reputation of this House. I hope, therefore, that the Minister’s words at the beginning and end of his response will give us some hope for the future. On a lighter note, I have to say that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, gave me so much advice when I was Home Secretary that I have difficulty remembering which bits of it I took and which I did not.

On this occasion, I have said already that we clearly have got it wrong, and we now have the opportunity to put it right. The House of Commons Justice Committee has not yet started its process; even with the length of debate on the Bill and the number of days that will be added, it will not have reported in time for us to be able to use this vehicle, and I see no other vehicle coming down the road. We have a chance and, given the Minister’s opening and closing remarks, we may have the opportunity to get this right. It would be admirable and most sensible if the Government were able to bring forward their own proposals before Report, through amendments, guidance and any further regulation by subsidiary legislation they are prepared to use, but if we do not get some movement in time for Report, I believe there is unanimity across all parts of this House that we will have to take action. When we do, I hope that we will have the kind of unanimity we have had this evening. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment in my name.

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Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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My Lords, I support this amendment, and very much hope that the Government will either accept it or explain what they are doing in response to the report of the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman on the case of Miss A and her baby. The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, has explained the facts; it is worth looking at them in a little more detail.

Miss A, as she is called in the report, was remanded in custody on 14 August; she was pregnant. It does not say in the report whether the court knew that she was pregnant, but that is not what this amendment deals with. On 19 August, she was seen by a safeguarding midwife, who said that her estimated delivery date was between 24 September and 14 October. On 26 September, she was put on extended observation, which means she would be seen by a nurse in the morning, at lunchtime, in the evening and twice overnight. On that very day, 26 September, she went into labour. At 8.07 pm, 8.32 pm and 8.45 pm, she called for help and, in particular, called for a nurse. All three calls for help were ignored. At 9.27 pm and 4.19 am that night, she was inspected—I assume through a cell hatch—for a regular roll call, and nothing untoward was spotted. At 8.21 am the next morning, other prisoners reported that there was blood in her cell, and at 9.03 am an officer identified that she had given birth overnight and that the baby had died.

It is an absolutely terrible story, as the ombudsman describes. As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, said, the ombudsman made specific recommendations, which are reflected in proposed new subsections (1) and (2) of her Amendment 209. It says that the Secretary of State must provide “appropriate midwifery care” within the female prison estate, and then defines “appropriate midwifery care” as meaning

“midwifery care that is appropriate to a custodial setting … maternity services that are suitably resourced to provide … an appropriately qualified midwifery lead in each prison to oversee all aspects of perinatal care … a maternity pathway for prisoners that includes a process for women who decline to engage with services”—

as Miss A may have done—

“access for prisoners to psychological and psychiatric services … training for staff in trauma-informed care … training for staff in neonatal and child resuscitation procedures; and … appropriate emergency equipment for children and neonates.”

A lot of those go beyond what would have made a difference in this particular case, but if those recommendations of the ombudsman had been given effect to, the tragedy almost certainly would not have occurred. This gives the Government the opportunity to respond in this House to those recommendations, all of which seem sensible and will not impose a substantial financial burden on the prison estate, because there are not that many women’s prisons. If the Government are not willing to accept these proposals, what are they going to do about the problem? Can they give a reason why a duty such as this on the Secretary of State should not be expressed in the legislation?

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 Burt, for tabling this amendment. As the explanatory statement makes clear, the amendment builds on the recommendations of the recent independent investigatory report by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman into the death of Baby A—as we are calling the baby—at HMP Bronzefield.

I shall start by repeating what my honourable friend Victoria Atkins MP said when giving oral evidence to the Justice Select Committee’s inquiry into women in prison on 3 November. I quote her because I want to associate myself with this, word for word. We are

“very grateful to the ombudsman for her report. The facts as they unfolded in that report were truly shocking. And the fear that that young woman must have felt and the loss she is dealing with even today, we do not, we cannot contemplate anything of that nature ever again within the prison estate.”

My deepest condolences remain with those affected.

The death of Baby A was a tragic and harrowing event and has rightly been the subject of several investigations and inquiries, including that by the PPO, to try to ensure that all the necessary lessons have been learned to avoid a repetition in future. The Committee may be interested to know that there is a Question on this incident on, I think, Wednesday, which will be another opportunity for the House to look at this terrible event, and I believe I am going to be responding to it.

While I point out that we are not talking about sentencing here, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, was right to say so, it is right to say that when it comes to sentencing, pregnancy is certainly a mitigating factor that is specifically taken into account in the sentencing guidelines. I should also say that it is exceptionally rare now for a woman to give birth in prison. The most recent figures, from July 2020 to March 2021, show that 28 births—90% of the total number of births—took place in hospital and none took place in prison. I understand that in the case of the missing 10%, the baby came out a bit quicker than anticipated and the birth might have taken place in the ambulance, but none took place in prison.

In response to the terrible disaster of what happened to Baby A, the previous Lord Chancellor, the right honourable Robert Buckland MP, commissioned the independent external investigation by the PPO. We have since accepted and acted upon all its recommendations for the Ministry of Justice and the Prison Service. We immediately put in place practical steps across the women’s estate, including providing all women with free phone access to local NHS pregnancy advice services and additional welfare observations for pregnant women in their third trimester. At that time we were already undertaking a fundamental review of national policy on pregnancy, mother and baby units and maternal separation in women’s prisons.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, recognised and said she welcomed, that work led to a new policy framework, published on 20 September, which develops those immediate actions into national requirements for all women’s prisons, delivering on a wide range of reforms. The new framework has an extended policy remit covering requirements on perinatal care and maternal separation, in addition to mother and baby units. I hope that what I have said so far—although I will say something more—reassures the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, that we are serious about our response to this matter. We are determined to take all necessary action to avoid a similar tragic event in the future.

I shall turn to the detail of the amendment and explain why, in the light of the current legislative framework, we are not persuaded that what is proposed is necessary. Currently, NHS England is responsible for commissioning almost all forms of healthcare for prisoners within both the public and private estate in England under Section 3B of the National Health Service Act 2006 as amended by the Health and Social Care Act 2012. That statutory obligation has to be read together with Rule 20(1) of the Prison Rules 1999, which states:

“The governor must work in partnership with local health care providers to secure the provision to prisoners of access to the same quality and range of services as the general public receives from the National Health Service.”


The requirement to commission healthcare services and to secure and ensure prisoners’ access to them therefore already applies to the provision of maternity services in the women’s prison estate, so we do not consider that there is any need to add a further separate obligation in statute as proposed by the amendment. What is important is that we ensure that it actually happens. I certainly do not mean to be flippant, but repeating something in statute is not the way to ensure that it happens. We are focused on ensuring that it happens. We already have the statutory obligation.

In fairness to the PPO, I should note that it did not recommend any change to the statutory framework. Rather, it said at paragraph 14:

“Overall, the healthcare offered to Ms A in Bronzefield was not equivalent to that she could have expected in the community.”


It is that provision that we are focused on—ensuring that expectant mothers in prison get the same care as they would have received in the community. The Government’s position is that we would rather focus on that than duplicate statutory provision.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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The amendment would not be duplicating anything because it contains specific provisions that are not referred to in the other statutory obligation, so it would be clear what was required.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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What is required is that women in prison have access to the same maternity services as they could expect in the community. My suggestion is that once that is set out, that is a sufficient legislative obligation and the Government need to ensure that it actually happens.

I hope that nothing I have said detracts from what I said right at the start, which is that we are appalled by what happened to Baby A. It must never happen again, and we are going to do all we can to ensure that it does not. However, for the reasons I have set out, I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab)
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My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I would like to ask him about the relationship between his department and NHS England. What express work is now being undertaken to ensure that the NHS discharges the statutory responsibility that he has just referred to?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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I know that when it comes to the prison estate, there is a very close relationship between my department, the Prison Service and NHS England. Rather than read something off a screen, may I write to the noble Lord and set out a paragraph or two to assist him on that? I am happy to discuss that further with him—or it might be appropriate for the Minister in the department with particular responsibility for prisons to do so. Anyway, I will write to the noble Lord.

Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD)
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My Lords, I am extremely grateful for the learned contributions that have followed my words today, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. I have taken heart, to a degree, from what the Minister has said. I accept what he says about the difference between statute and practice. We cannot just enact laws and expect everyone to suddenly do as they are told—it does not work like that—so I think the intention is extremely important.

I shall take this away and consult the bodies that have advised me—particularly Women in Prison, to which I am very grateful. For the time being, I respectfully request to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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An incredibly powerful case has been made. We support it and I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, my noble friend Lady Lister and, in her absence, the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, for tabling these amendments. I completely adopt what my noble friend Lady Lister said about the total inadequacy of the reasons given in the Commons for not supporting this. The first was that it would mean there would be bunching of releases on other days, but if a third are on Friday already that seems a completely hopeless point. Secondly and separately, it was said that it is not used very much in Scotland; if it is not used very much, then the Government would not have much to worry about. Why not do it?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful for the various speeches which have been given on these amendments, which, as we have heard, seek in different ways to avoid the release of prisoners on a Friday. Obviously, I understand the distinction between the two, although it is fair to say that they are both aimed at substantially the same point.

The current position is this. Section 23 of the Criminal Justice Act 1961 provides that prisoners whose release dates fall on a weekend or bank holiday should be released on the working day which immediately precedes that weekend or bank holiday. In most cases, that is a Friday, which is why, to make the obvious point, we have “bunching” on Fridays. If one would expect release dates generally to fall over the week, given the law of large numbers, you have Saturday and Sunday pushed back to Friday, plus the occasional bank holiday. We are very aware of and alive to the challenges that this can create in accessing support and services in the community. We are taking steps to mitigate those difficulties; I will turn to those in a moment.

First, however, the amendments seek to reduce releases on a Friday or non-working weekday by either preventing the court setting a sentence length that is likely to lead to release on those days, or by providing greater flexibility for prison governors to avoid Friday releases by giving the discretion to release earlier in the week. I heard what the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, said about the responses given in the other place: that the Minister there was clutching at straws. I think the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, has set me the challenge to be better than “completely hopeless”. That is a bar I hope to surmount.

I assure the Committee that I am open-minded and have listened very carefully to the debate. While I am sympathetic to the need to tackle this issue, I do not agree that it is necessary to legislate in the way proposed by the amendments, and I will explain why. To do so would either undermine existing sentencing principles by preventing the court passing a sentence which is likely to result in release on a Friday, or it would allow prisoners to be released even earlier from their sentence. Legislation provides that prisoners are released on the working day closest to their statutory release date and we do not believe it is necessary to go further than that.

I will deal with sentencing first. It is not realistic or achievable to require a sentencing court to try to work out on which day of the week an offender would fall to be released and adjust the sentence accordingly to avoid that being a Friday, weekend or bank holiday. I would have thought that that is self-evident. It is obvious because a prisoner’s release date is something of a complex calculation. It is carried out by prison staff and depends on a number of different factors that a sentencing court would not necessarily be able to take into account. These could include: any other concurrent or consecutive sentences the offender might already be serving; the correct amount of remand time to apply on all relevant sentences being served; and any added days imposed for bad behaviour while serving the sentence.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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I thank the Minister for giving way; that is very kind. Is he aware of how daft that sounds? We have just explained that the punishing of ex-prisoners is not acceptable. The bunching should not occur; find a way around it.

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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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I am trying to deal with the amendments in what I hope is a logical way. At the moment, I am dealing with the amendment which provides that the sentencing court should have regard to the day of release. I am trying to explain—cogently, I hope, and with great respect—why that is not a sensible or workable proposition.

I have dealt with longer sentences; let me now deal with shorter sentences. It might be said that with a shorter sentence the court could identify the release date. I accept that it would be easier for the court to identify the day of the week on which the release would fall if the sentence is very short—let us say two, three or four weeks—and if no other sentences are involved, but the problem there is that if you bring that release date even earlier, percentage wise, that is a significant additional reduction from the sentence. I therefore suggest that these amendments are not the answer—

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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The Minister may be about to come to the point I was going to make. The provisions in Amendment 211 are discretionary. If it is possible in Scotland, why is it not possible here?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton Portrait Lord Falconer of Thoroton (Lab)
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The Minister said that he was dealing with the amendments logically. He dealt with only Amendment 210 and did not deal with Amendment 211.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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I am coming to the point about discretion in Scotland. I will respond to that in a moment, if I may. First, I wanted to identify how we think we can best deal with the problems which bunching can give rise to. I absolutely agree that reducing further crime by those who have been released is critical. We have to cut reoffending and we know that a lack of suitable accommodation or sustainable employment, as well as substance misuse, can lead offenders to return to crime. Therefore, we need to ensure that people leaving prison on all days of the week, Fridays included, have access to services.

I will briefly identify four important things in this regard. In January this year, we announced a £50 million investment to reduce crime and tackle key drivers of reoffending. In July, we launched temporary accommodation for prison leavers at risk of homelessness in five probation regions, because we know that having access to transitional accommodation is very important. We have invested a further £20 million in the Prison Leavers Project, which tests new ways to reduce reoffending by addressing the challenges people face when they leave prison.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Portrait Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts (Con)
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I am of course impressed by the list of initiatives being taken by the Government and the roll call of money being spent, but it has not answered the question. We are not asking to spend money; all we are asking for is an administrative change. It may be an administrative change whereby the flexibility has to reflect the length of the sentence. We surely cannot be in a position where we cannot give prison governors a day or two of flexibility to enable them to set up a system of the sort that has been described all around the House. It must be possible.

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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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I am not suggesting it is not possible; I am asking whether it is the best way to deal with the problem. I hear “of course it is”, but I suggest that it is not. Take the example of Scotland, where they have a discretionary power. That is a model of discretion regarding early release, under the Prisoners (Control of Release) (Scotland) Act 2015. Scottish Ministers have the discretion to bring forward the release dates of people in custody by no more than two days for the purposes of benefiting a prisoner’s reintegration into the community.

A freedom of information application was made on 30 March this year to the Scottish Prison Service which showed that only 20 prisoners have been granted discretionary early release under that Act in the five years since its implementation. We are not aware of any problems with implementation. I will ask officials in my department to consult with our colleagues in the Scottish Government to explore that issue further. If I am provided with any useful relevant information as a result, I will write to the noble Baroness to provide further information on that discretionary policy. We think that the best way to deal with this matter is to put money and services in place to ensure that prisoners, whatever day they are released on, have access to the services they need.

I heard the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, about universal credit. She very fairly gave me the opportunity to reply in writing, because that matter is substantially outside my department. I also heard what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, said about that issue; I will therefore respond in writing. At the same time, I will try to pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord German, on bank account opening, in so far as it is relevant to the universal credit point.

We are certainly not setting people up to fail; we sincerely want them to succeed and not reoffend.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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The Minister has made a slightly better fist of it than the Government did in the Commons, but in a sense he is clutching at the same straws—his presentation is just a bit more articulate than they were in the Commons. Does he not accept that it is better, even if it is just a few people, to help a few rather than none? Is he going to be able to say how he is going to keep services open over the weekend, because that is the issue? We have heard terrible examples of people being put in fields and turning to drugs and so on because the services are simply not there. This wonderful list of all these things the Government are putting money into is great, but I have not heard anything that would explain how the Government will ensure that services are there on a Friday evening, Saturday, Sunday and bank holidays.

I am afraid the Minister has not convinced me and, given the shaking of the head behind him, I do not think he has convinced the mover of the amendment, so I really ask him to look again at this. Although, unlike the first group of amendments, we may not have taken two hours on this group, there is absolute unanimity throughout the House that we can do something practical and it will not cost money. I am sorry, I am making a speech, which I should not be.

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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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I do not want to repeat what I have said. My focus is on ensuring that people have access to services on whatever day they are released, whether it is a Tuesday, a Friday or any other day. It is certainly not the case that, if we just moved people’s release day from a Friday to a Tuesday or a Monday, all our problems would go away. We must have those services in place, and that is what I want to focus on. I have said that I will look in more detail at the Scottish discretionary system, if I can call it that, and I will write to the noble Baroness. I do not want to repeat what I have already said, but I hope that I have addressed the substance of her point. I suspect that the noble Lords who spoke to the amendment have indirectly told me the answer before I sit down, but I none the less invite my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.

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The Government need not only to restate their opposition to short sentences but to reinforce it. For the support in principle for these amendments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, to become a reality, the law needs more teeth than it has at present. These amendments provide those teeth.
Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, it is important to remember what is in the amendments and what is not. We are not really debating whether short sentences are or are not a good thing; government policy on that has been stated frequently and I will restate it shortly. I am not proposing to make any sort of turn, whether a U-turn or a Z-turn. Instead, I will keep on the straight and narrow, if I can use that phrase in this context.

It is important to remember what the amendments seek to do. They would prevent the court passing a short custodial sentence unless it is satisfied that no other sentence is appropriate. They would also require the court, if imposing a short custodial sentence, to explain why alternative sentences were not considered appropriate. Let me be clear: I understand absolutely the sentiment behind the amendments and appreciate, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, made very clear, that this is not saying that there are no circumstances in which a short custodial sentence could be appropriate—I fully take that on board.

I agree that short custodial sentences can, in many cases, be less effective at tackling reoffending than community sentences. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, was very clear about the importance that magistrates attach to community sentencing and how it is important that they have confidence in the community sentence regime. The words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester that were read to us also questioned whether short custodial sentences were, to use her phrase, an effective remedy. I think I have dealt with that point. I listened with real care to the testimony I heard at the event she organised and which I was very happy to attend.

The Government cannot support these proposals because they reflect existing law which is sufficiently robust. With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Beith, when it comes to statute, I do not believe that saying something again makes it stronger. If something is already in statute and is not being done, it is critical to investigate why it is not being done, and not simply say the same thing again. I therefore gratefully adopt some of what has already been said to the Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick.

Section 230 of the Sentencing Act 2020—let us just see how it works—places important restrictions on the courts imposing discretionary custodial sentences. It starts with a negative:

“The court must not pass a custodial sentence”—


the starting point is that the court cannot pass a custodial sentence; that is the default—and then continues:

“unless it is of the opinion that … the offence, or … the combination of the offence and one or more offences associated with it, was so serious that neither a fine alone nor a community sentence can be justified for the offence.”

Section 77 of the Act goes further and makes clear that even where the threshold for passing a custodial sentence has been met, the court may still pass a community sentence after taking into account any mitigation. Even then, where a court has formed the view that only a custodial sentence can be justified, even in light of any mitigation, it may still suspend that sentence so that it does not become an immediate custodial sentence, taking into account factors such as realistic prospect of rehabilitation, strong personal mitigation, which would obviously include the effect on dependants, as we discussed in earlier groups, and significant harmful impact on others of immediate custody. We suggest that, taken together, this provides a very robust framework which would ensure that short custodial sentences are passed only where there is really no other alternative for the court.

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD)
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I am very grateful to the Minister for giving way. Does he take my point that none of those provisions focuses on short custodial sentences in particular, as opposed to custodial sentences in the generality?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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I accept that they do not refer specifically to short custodial sentences, but when the court is considering a short custodial sentence, the particular factors the court would have to go through before imposing it—and particularly before imposing an immediate short custodial sentence—would be all the starker. It is important that we have a consistent regime. For the reasons I have set out, I do not think it necessary or helpful to have a separate regime for shorter custodial sentences. The position on that, I suggest, is already absolutely clear, as is the requirement for a court to explain its reasons for passing sentence. It is important to recognise that the court has to explain its reasons for passing any sentence, not just a custodial sentence; otherwise, the Court of Appeal will have something to say about it. That is set out in Section 52 of the Sentencing Act.

I hear the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, that when it comes to courts explaining the reasons for their sentences, it is very important that they are bespoke and not off the peg—if I can put it that way. That is very important, not least for the offender to know why that sentence has been passed. I will not say any more about the reasons given by the Supreme Court for refusing permission to appeal, but the noble and learned Lord was certainly right that I was all too familiar with receiving those reasons in my cases.

The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, goes further because it sets out a list of “principles” the court must take into account. I suggest to the noble Lord, who is very familiar with this area, that those principles are by and large set out very clearly already in the guidelines from the Sentencing Council. I suggest that the principles enshrined in legislation would not take us any further.

As the noble Lord knows, there are five statutory purposes when it comes to sentencing, set out in Section 57 of the Act:

“the punishment of offenders … reduction of crime (including its reduction by deterrence) … reform and rehabilitation … the protection of the public, and … reparation by offenders”.

A sentence can serve one or more of those purposes. The Act also states that, even when the threshold for custody has been passed, that does not mean that a custodial sentence is inevitable—particularly for offenders on the cusp of custody.

Imprisonment should not be imposed where there would be a disproportionate impact on dependants. We touched on that today. We looked at that in a lot more detail in an earlier group, so I hope the Committee will forgive me for not dealing with that in any more detail. I have set out the position in some detail already. It is fair to say that, when this amendment was tabled in the other place, Alex Cunningham MP fairly recognised that the principles are already accepted in the sentencing guidelines, which all courts are required to follow; they are not optional. I suggest that the amendment is unnecessary.

Proposed new subsection (3) of the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, concerns the impact of custody on the children of primary carers or the unborn child of a pregnant woman. I think that is almost identical to an amendment we discussed earlier, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton. Again, I have responded to that in some detail already, so I am not proposing to say any more about that.

I will pick up two other points. First, the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, talked about Scotland. The position in Scotland is different. It has a very different sentencing regime from that of England and Wales. The Sentencing Code here, which I have set out, contains the requirements and protections which I have sought to explain. For those reasons, we do not believe that the amendment is necessary; nor, with respect, do we believe we get much assistance in this regard from looking at the Scottish law because there is a very different system for sentencing.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, asked me about the JCHR recommendation. In the time I have had, I have an answer here for her. It is fair to say that it is slightly off-topic. Perhaps she would be happy if I were to write to her on this point, rather than take further time. I will set out the answer in writing; I hope that is acceptable.

For those reasons, we suggest that this is already covered in legislation and in the sentencing guidelines. I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Deb