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FOREIGN AND COMMONWEALTH AFFAIRS

British Tsunami Victims (Death Registration)

The Minister for Trade and Investment (Mr. Douglas Alexander): As we have made clear before, it is a priority for the Government to ensure that effective arrangements are in place to support the families of people missing following the tsunami. We are conscious that, despite the efforts of the local authorities in the countries affected and the on-going work of my officials
 
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and the police both here and in the region, many bodies may never be recovered. This would cause unacceptable uncertainty for the families concerned.

We have therefore agreed, as a response to the exceptional circumstances we face, that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will register the death overseas and issue a certified copy of the register entry for missing British nationals where no body has been found. This will be done at the request of the family, and based on advice from the police, and will be provided free of charge.

We have agreed with the police, who are investigating all reports of missing British nationals, that they will provide my officials with advice as their inquiries conclude as to whether the missing person was in fact killed by the tsunami. We will then decide, in the light of the evidence, whether to register the death. In order to arrive at the judgment, we and the police will be applying four criteria, all of which must be met:

These inquiries will inevitably take time to complete, although the police are confident that they will be able to complete the overwhelming majority of investigations for those people most likely to have been caught up in the tsunami within twelve months—in many cases, much sooner.

Throughout this difficult period the police will continue to make family liaison officers available to support the families of those thought highly likely to have been involved in the tsunami. The family liaison officers will ensure that they are kept fully informed during what we recognise is likely to be a harrowing process. They will also help them gain access to emotional care and other advice and welfare services, including any financial assistance available to them through the state benefit system.

HOME DEPARTMENT

Technical Lifer Status

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): From 2 April 2005, life sentence prisoners who have been transferred to psychiatric hospital for treatment will no longer be considered for technical lifer status. All life sentence prisoners will have their future release determined by the Parole Board and be subject to life licence on release. This decision has been taken in light of the judgment in the case of Benjamin and Wilson v the United Kingdom, which found that technical lifer policy was in breach of article 5(4) of the European convention on human rights. This will not affect those who have already been
 
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granted technical lifer status, or the consideration of any pending applications. No new applications, however, will be considered after 2 April 2005.

Criminal Justice Act (Sentencing Provisions)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): On 4 April 2005 the majority of the new sentences introduced in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 will come into force. The key provisions are: public protection sentences for dangerous offenders; the new community order; custody minus; and the new release and recall arrangements for all custodial sentences of 12 months and over.

These new sentences are a key part of the Government's tough and effective sentencing framework which targets resources where they are needed. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 is the most significant piece of legislation in this area for over a decade. It introduces wide changes to sentencing principles and the sentencing powers of the courts.

The public must be protected from dangerous criminals. That is why the Criminal Justice Act created new public protection sentences aimed specifically at sexual and violent offenders. Offenders convicted of specific sexual and violent offences will be assessed by the court as to whether or not they pose a serious risk to the public. Those who are considered to be such a risk will be subject to the provisions for dangerous offenders.

These new sentences will ensure that dangerous sexual and violent offenders are subject to assessment by the Parole Board. They will not be released from prison until and unless their level of risk to the public is assessed by the Parole Board as manageable in the community. If the risk is not reduced to a safe level, they may never be released.

For other sentences of 12 months and over, if prisoners have not been classed as dangerous by the courts, they will be released into the community under licence conditions halfway through their sentence but supervision in the community will continue to the end of
 
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the entire sentence, rather than to the three quarters point as now. Recalls to prison following breach of licence conditions will take place under the new scheme outlined in the Act and will no longer need to be authorised by the Parole Board.

The new community order will allow sentencers a much greater degree of flexibility in putting together tough community sentences that will be tailored to the needs of offenders and the seriousness of their offence. The full range of community punishments will be available for all offenders whose offence is serious enough to merit them and not just for imprisonable offences as is the case now. Powers to deal with offenders who breach are also stronger: courts will have the option of making the requirements more onerous, revoking the order and re-sentencing the offender, or if the breach is wilful and persistent, imposing a custodial sentence even if the original offence was not imprisonable.

Custody minus is a new suspended sentence, which allows the court to impose community requirements together with a suspended custodial sentence which is activated if the offender breaches the community period. This new suspended sentence will be much more demanding than current suspended sentences. Not only will an offender be required to refrain from committing another offence during the period of suspension; he or she will have requirements to fulfil in the community, as with a community sentence.

Offenders can be brought back to court during a custody minus sentence, for a review hearing. The new power of review will allow sentencers to play a more active role in determining what is needed, not just at the point of sentence but also during its course. As the review process for the drug treatment and testing order has shown, better information about the outcome of their decisions will improve sentencers' decision making, as well as benefit the offender's rehabilitation

The new sentencing framework will help to cut crime through effective punishment; protection of the public; reparation to communities; and the prevention of re-offending.