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1 Mar 2005 : Column 928



7.37 pm

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I have great pleasure in presenting the petition of the cod crusaders. The material allegations surrounding the petition are the story of two remarkable women from Fraserburgh in my constituency, Carol MacDonald and Morag Ritchie, the cod crusaders, who have been campaigning for the past three years against the common fisheries policy and the destruction and devastation that it has caused fishing communities the length and breadth of these islands. They have collected as the climax of their campaign a mighty petition of 250,000 signatures, which will be presented tomorrow to Her Majesty the Queen at Buckingham palace. They are supported in their endeavours by fishing organisations the length and breadth of these islands. Indeed, they have international support, too. The case that they are making is to reclaim control of fishing waters to avoid the inevitable consequences of a continuation of the destruction wrought by common fisheries policy control. They are supporting the Bills for jurisdiction that have been presented by me and other Members who advance that argument, which we intend to continue until it is successful.

The petition reads:

To lie upon the Table.

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Sentences (Appeals)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Watson.]

7.39 pm

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): I am pleased to have obtained the Adjournment debate to explore a serious issue of justice and, I hope, to help the Government towards some answers. I am especially delighted to be joined by my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), who has taken a strong personal interest in leniency of sentencing, but is prohibited by convention from speaking in the debate because he is a Government Whip. He has taken a close interest in all matters to do with his community and its fightback against crime, which he has been leading in his constituency. The fact that he is here tonight, after the close of business, shows how deeply he feels about fighting against the criminals for his constituents' rights. He has also told me that he is appalled by the Appeal Court decisions to which I shall refer shortly. He finds them indefensible.

We are both deeply disturbed that, after two high-profile cases in our city of Nottingham, the Appeal Court has reduced sentences, much to the mystification and anger of the Nottingham public, who are struggling vigorously to beat violent crime. Everyone is playing their part. The police, with 319 extra officers since 2001, are performing superbly. The city council and city police division are pursuing a neighbourhood policing policy, with restored beat officers, community support officers and city council neighbourhood wardens, whose visible uniformed presence has made a real impact in recent months. The community is playing its part, too, and if the police and city council act with urgency to create effective neighbourhood watch co-ordination, community participation will increase massively.

The local criminal justice board is becoming more aware of its responsibilities to the community as well as to fellow professionals. There are, therefore, some very good signs. However, one cannot help feeling that sometimes the judiciary can appear to operate in a different world from that which people on the estates in my constituency and in Gedling inhabit. The judiciary's world must be reunited with ours if we are to win the battle against violent crime.

My hon. Friend and I were delighted when our Labour Government introduced the right of appeal against the decision of a lower court to impose an unduly lenient sentence. That was a breakthrough, on which we would like to capitalise. We are now aware that there is no similar provision for review of leniency of a decision taken by the Appeal Court. We believe that that should be changed.

In addition, we believe that a review is necessary, with the intention of allowing not only the prosecution but Members of Parliament to represent—in an agreed and appropriate way—the public interest in their constituency to the judiciary, without compromising judicial independence, so that the wider impact of a sentence can be understood and possibly taken into account.

For the record, two cases inspired my hon. Friend and me to raise the subject tonight. The first was a brutal racially aggravated assault in Nottingham, North on
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Mr. Derek Senior. Despite the climate of fear that drug kingpins and their associates have created, he bravely gave evidence. The assailants were sentenced. The day after sentencing, Mr. Senior was shot four times. That sent shockwaves through the community. The Appeal Court subsequently reduced the sentences.

The second case is the murder of Marvyn Bradshaw. He was executed by O'Brien in error. O'Brien was trying to kill a family member of Nottingham's most notorious drug-peddling family. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a recommendation of a minimum of 24 years to serve. As he left the court, I am told that he abused his victim's family. Drug gang-related murders have hit Nottingham and chilled and intimidated our community. The Appeal Court reduced O'Brien's minimum sentence to 18 years.

We could go into more detail about the cases and their widespread impact on our local communities, as well as the detrimental consequences of the Appeal Court ruling. However, I can do no better than quote the words of Nottinghamshire's chief constable, Steve Green, with which I wholeheartedly agree. He says:

—public confidence, that is.

I quoted that at length because I could not possibly match the eloquence of the chief constable, whose daily life consists of confronting the perpetrators of violent crime in our communities.

Let me draw on another eminent source, Professor Ralph Henham of Nottingham Trent university law school, who has written extensively on this subject. He suggested that

He said that

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He also said that

—that is, the criminal justice system.

Those are two sober views from eminent criminal justice professionals who are determined to help our communities fight violent crime. We believe that if the Appeal Court is minded to reduce the sentence on appeal, it should by required by law to consider the impact on the community. That is a simple statement of the point that we would like to reach. What we are not prepared to do this evening, or on any occasion, is bind the Solicitor-General's hands by making ridiculous demands. These are difficult, complicated issues, and there are many institutions whose interests we must balance before action is taken. We wish the Solicitor-General well as she deals with what is a deeply technical and constitutionally sensitive issue.

I understand that the courts now have victim impact statements before sentencing. If those are not currently available to the Appeal Court they should be made available to it, and should contain details of the impact on the wider community.

I would therefore like to ask the Solicitor-General not only to comment on the principle that my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling and I have raised this evening but to go away and, at her leisure, conduct a serious review of the two points that we have raised: the leniency anomaly that is now evident at Appeal Court stage; and the broader question of how the public interest, rather than just narrow legalisms, can be taken into account before reducing sentences on appeal.

I hope that Appeal Court judges will also listen to what has been said tonight. These issues might be arcane to members of the public—and indeed to many Members of Parliament—but I hope that those judges will not feel that they are being put under pressure or under the microscope. I hope that they will feel that they can be part of the criminal justice family of which all Members of Parliament and all those who serve in our communities are part. I hope that they will become part of the wider effort to ensure that we all do our bit to stamp on violent crime, wherever it takes place. Members of the community might look at how the appeal judges act and say that they are acting with indifference, but I know that that is not the case. However, it is very easy to blame others in the criminal justice system. Our actions must be clear and we must get across to the public that we are genuinely operating in their interests. The two cases that I have raised tonight illustrate that reducing sentences on appeal can have a dramatic effect on local confidence in the criminal justice system, not through malice but more through benign neglect.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling and I work every day of our working lives in this place and in our constituencies to rebuild confidence in our criminal
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justice system, and to bring people forward to give evidence in cases, often when they are under great stress. For two cases to knock the wind out of those efforts locally shows that Appeal Court judges must, within their remit and their judicial independence, keep more of a weather eye on the impact of their judgments locally. I hope that the Solicitor-General will be able to respond to what I hope has been the constructive spirit in which my hon. Friend and I have advanced these points on behalf of our communities, because our communities need the help of everyone in the criminal justice system, including Appeal Court judges, in the fight against crime. I thank the House for its time this evening.

7.52 pm

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