|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
That the Care of Cathedrals (Amendment) Measure, Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure and Stipends (Cessation of Special Payments) Measure, which were laid before this House on 24th February, be referred to a Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation.[Mr. Watson.]
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.
Declares that the European Common Fisheries Policy has failed to conserve fish stocks. It has caused untold hardship for fishermen and their local communities and industries. The Common Fisheries Policy has proved to be ineffective and inadequate in the conservation and management of fish resources. It has resulted in bankruptcies; the uprooting of individuals and families; and the destruction of thriving communities.
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 representin an agreed and appropriate waythe 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
1 Mar 2005 : Column 930
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:
"At least with local magistrates and judges, there can be a perception that the sentencers have some idea of local concerns. They do not have the same perceptions about an Appeal Court which is remote from the communities affected by its decisions. There may be perfectly good legal reasons why sentences are adjusted in the Court of Appeal but those reasons are lost on the communities which they affect and leave people like you and I trying to put a sensible interpretation on these decisions and generally failing dismally and probably making things worse.
One way of restoring that confidence would, undoubtedly, be to give the prosecution the right to challenge lenient decisions made on appeal. That challenge may be on legal grounds but could also be used on the grounds that the amended sentence would undermine the local fight against a particular crime problem or our response to a single high profile case. I would not seek to, in any way, undermine the independence of the judiciary in any of this but that independence cannot be a barrier to the duty of the judiciary to promote public confidence in their work, wherever this is humanly possible."
"the test for determining 'undue leniency' was restrictive and misleading to the general public. The public perception of justice cannot readily be equated with the need to prevent judicial errors of principle, which is the cornerstone of the Court of Appeal's approach. I suggested an objective test for undue leniency based on considerations of public perception with due regard to sentencing convention."
"it may be argued that the sentencing process must be seen to respond adequately to a social wrong done by recognising the wider social implications of appeal decisions. These include the need to recognise the rights of victims and the wider community to participation in the process, and that the 'balance of rights' should be part of the judicial process of sentencing. In correcting unduly lenient sentences the present test effectively excludes considerations of social justice and accountability."
"one suggestion might be that the Chief Crown Prosecutor for the area is obliged to consider representations made by local MPs whenever the possibility of a reference . . . is being considered. A statutory amendment should set out the test to be applied. This should oblige the Court of Appeal to give due consideration to the views of the local community and victims as represented to the CPS. Any procedural changes would need to be carefully thought through, but the point of principle is sound, especially when the government is always emphasising the importance of restorative justice and putting victims at the centre of the CJS"
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 publicand indeed to many Members of Parliamentbut 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
1 Mar 2005 : Column 932
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.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|