Supplementary information given by Beverly
Hughes MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office,
relating to her evidence of 4 December
I am writing in response to an enquiring concerning
suspended sentences raised by Humfrey Malins during the Home Affairs
Committee Meeting on the 4 December 2001. I apologise for the
delay in replying.
It may be useful if I explain why the use of
suspended sentences has decreased. Suspended sentences were introduced
by the Criminal Justice Act 1967. They used to by very popular
with sentencers. The aim of the suspended sentence was to deter
the offender from committing a further offence during the period
for which the sentence is suspended. A suspended sentence could
not, and still cannot, be imposed by a court unless the imposition
of an immediate prison sentence would have been available to the
sentencing court and would have been appropriate in a particular
case in the absence of power to suspend. Accordingly, a suspended
sentence cannot be ordered unless all the statutory provision
as to the imposition of a sentence of immediate imprisonment have
been complied with.
Present legislation on suspended sentences is
contained in 118-121 Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act
2000. These provisions reflect amendments made to previous legislation
by the Criminal Justice Act 1991. Section 118(4) of the 2000 Act,
requires that courts should impose a suspended sentence only where
the exercise of the power can be justified by the exceptional
circumstances of the case. This amendment was made in order to
resolve the incompatibility of a suspended sentence of imprisonment,
rooted as it is in the theory of compliance through deterrence,
with the just desserts principle that underpinned the 1991 Acts
sentencing framework. This amendment resulted in a sharp decline
in the use of the suspended sentence. There is no definition of
exceptional circumstances. There have been appeals to the Court
of Appeal on the question of what constitutes exceptional circumstances,
but the Court has continued to deal with the matter on a case
by case basis. The Court of Appeal has quashed many suspended
sentences because it did not accept that immediate imprisonment
would have been correct on the facts of the particular case and
considered that the imposition of a suspended sentence was wrong.
Another problem with the suspended sentence
is that the CJA 1991 made the criteria for justifying custody
for adults and detention in a Youth offending Institution the
same. Suspended sentences, however, can only be passed in respect
of imprisonment and the exclusion of detention in a young offenders
institution in anomalous.
In 1991 Act's sentencing framework has proved
inadequate and, as you as aware, we currently taking forward the
recommendations of the Halliday Report on the form of a new sentencing
framework. Prison is right for dangerous and other serious offenders
but we need a sentencing framework which will do more to support
crime reduction and reparation, while meeting the needs of punishment,
through the introduction of more flexible sentencing options.
We need to be better able to exploit the developing opportunities
to work with offenders to reduce re-offending and in the new approaches
to restorative justice and reparation.
One of these flexible sentencing options is
"custody minus". The proposals we are currently considering
envisages a Court imposing a custodial sentence but suspending
it on condition that the offender completed a programme of activity
in the community, the ingredients of which would be the same as
that for the generic community sentence. The period of suspension
would be up to 2 years, and would replace the existing provisions
for suspended sentences, which in effect would become subsumed
within custody minus with the "exceptional circumstances"
criteria removed. Breach of the conditions of suspension would
lead to custody. Before the offender could be sent to custody,
however, there would need to be some judicial intervention to
determine whether the conditions for custody had been met.
The public consultation exercise on the Halliday
Report was concluded at the end of October 2001 and a summary
of the responses was published on 4 February 2002. We are currently
working towards agreement on a set of proposals with a view to
inclusion in a White Paper in spring.
I hope this is helpful.