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Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft Community Order (Review by Specified Courts) Order 2007

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Edward O'Hara
Blunt, Mr. Crispin (Reigate) (Con)
Burrowes, Mr. David (Enfield, Southgate) (Con)
Dobson, Frank (Holborn and St. Pancras) (Lab)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings and Rye) (Lab)
Gray, Mr. James (North Wiltshire) (Con)
Hands, Mr. Greg (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con)
Hanson, Mr. David (Minister of State, Ministry of Justice)
Heath, Mr. David (Somerton and Frome) (LD)
Heyes, David (Ashton-under-Lyne) (Lab)
Howarth, David (Cambridge) (LD)
Hurd, Mr. Nick (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con)
Khan, Mr. Sadiq (Tooting) (Lab)
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen (South Thanet) (Lab)
Love, Mr. Andrew (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op)
McGovern, Mr. Jim (Dundee, West) (Lab)
Mahmood, Mr. Khalid (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab)
Waltho, Lynda (Stourbridge) (Lab)
Gosia McBride, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Ninth Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 11 July 2007

[Mr. Edward O'Hara in the Chair]

Draft Community Order (Review by Specified Courts) Order 2007

2.30 pm
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. David Hanson): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Community Order (Review by Specified Courts) Order 2007.
The draft order was laid before Parliament on 14 June 2007. I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. O’Hara, and welcome the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate to his new responsibilities in the shadow Ministry of Justice. I hope that he has a productive, but not too fruitful, time in that position.
The order applies to judges and magistrates sitting at the north Liverpool community justice centre and the community justice courts named in the order, and is subject to the affirmative resolution procedure under section 330(5) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. Section 178 of the Act provides an order-making power for courts to review periodically the progress of offenders on community orders. That power has been used in pilots at the first community justice courts in Liverpool and Salford since April 2006, and the feedback so far is that it has been very successful at both of those courts. It has been welcomed by both those who operate it and those who use the service.
Article 2 of the draft order empowers the specified courts to provide for a court review when making a community order or amending one to include or remove a provision for review. Such a community order may provide that it should be reviewed periodically at specified intervals, may require the offender to attend each review hearing, or may provide for a report on the offender’s progress in complying with the order to be made available to the court before each review. In Liverpool and Salford, when defendants have been given community orders, the courts’ powers to review those orders have been helpful in ensuring that offenders comply with them. They have also helped with taking an holistic view of offenders and their difficulties.
The community justice initiative involves the courts engaging with local communities and working in partnership with criminal justice agencies, local authorities, support services, community groups and the wider voluntary sector to solve some of the problems that are caused by offending in the local area. The review of community orders supports the delivery of key principles of community justice and gives power to local courts, thus enabling them to maintain oversight of offenders while increasing offenders’ accountability to the courts. The use of such reviews has been very successful in Liverpool and Salford.
Anecdotal evidence, particularly that from Judge Fletcher, the magistrates in Salford and offenders themselves, indicates that the review process is a powerful mechanism for increasing compliance with and the enforcement of community sentences. I would like to share with the Committee two or three examples of how that has worked in practice.
First, a long-term drug addict has, after regular review, not only succeeded in beating his addiction, but has been promoted to a responsible position in the hostel where he lives, and has begun to have contact with his family again. That is a direct result of his community sentence being monitored by the court and having formal reviews under the court’s auspices.
Another offender who was interviewed about the review process said:
“I would have gone off the rails and that is what I needed, that short leash. That is why I got my life back in order.”
The order empowers Liverpool and Salford courts, and the additional courts named in it, to have reviews so that not only may the court pass a sentence, but it may monitor compliance with that sentence over a period.
In Liverpool, review sessions have been used to engage offenders in discussions about their plans, and to refer them to Jobcentre Plus. For many offenders—this is the key aspect—it has been the first time that they have had intensive involvement and interest shown not just in their lives, but in their activities and overall well-being, and it is apparent that offenders with the most complex needs respond especially positively to the review process.
In November 2006, Lord Falconer, the then Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, announced that community justice was to be expanded to 11 new areas. The order seeks to extend the power to review community orders to those new projects. Those involved have all enthusiastically asked for the power to be extended to them to provide the opportunity to use the power as part of their projects.
The review of community orders is key to the success of community justice. Extending the power to review such orders to the new projects will enable them to match the success in Liverpool and Salford, and to assess the effectiveness of community orders and to vary them, if required, to help offenders not to reoffend.
The order will have no impact on rights under the European convention on human rights. Extension of the power will provide a robust evaluation of the operation of the review process. It will help to reduce reoffending, and it will be welcomed by the people operating the orders. I commend the order to the Committee.
2.38 pm
Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): It is a pleasure to come before you, Mr. O’Hara. We share a mutual interest in Cyprus, and it is a pleasure to be able to open my innings in relation to justice under your chairmanship.
I wish to declare an interest as a solicitor specialising in criminal law— predominantly when Parliament is not sitting—particularly at Haringey and Enfield magistrates courts, which will be directly affected by the order.
We broadly welcome the principle of providing the courts specified in the order with the power to include a requirement for an order to be subject to periodic review. Clearly, the principle of courts having the authority to review orders imposed by them is a good one. Aspirations to ensure that community orders are fully complied with and remain in step with offenders’ progress, or lack of it, are commendable, particularly given the need to provide public confidence and trust, and to ensure that the purpose of community penalties—which is implicit in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and explicit in the punishment of offenders, the reduction of crime, the reform and rehabilitation of offenders, the protection of the public and the making of reparation by offenders to the people affected—is fulfilled. Plainly, that is the right expectation. At a time when prisons are full to capacity and magistrates are increasingly under pressure to consider alternatives to short periods of custody, it is particularly important that community orders work effectively.
The principle of review is carried out with some success in community justice courts and the pilot drugs courts. I know of the good work that District Judge Justin Phillips does in west London. He is personally active in reviewing drug treatment and testing requirements. There has been success, and that must be followed through more comprehensively.
Offenders are certainly responding positively and properly. They see that the courts are taking an active interest in their concerns and in their need to be rehabilitated and not reoffend.
The Minister might well anticipate a “but”, and there is one. The “but” is first about timing. The order implements section 178 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which took effect on 4 April 2005. The draft community order for Liverpool and Salford was made on 2 March 2006. The proposal to extend power to further courts is being made now, in July. Why has it taken so long to implement the full intent and effect of section 178 by putting the review into effect across the country—beyond, and not limited to, community justice projects? The reality is that, on implementation, there will in effect be a postcode lottery for review of community orders. An offence committed in Barnet may not be reviewed, but one that is committed just over the border in Enfield will be. What is the position if an offender lives in Enfield, which is in the pilot area, but the offence is committed in Barnet, which is not? Will the court be able to direct that the review take place in Enfield? At the moment the position is not clear.
Implementation of the order was set out when the matter was before the House on 2 March, when the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Bridget Prentice), moved a draft order that was limited to Liverpool and Salford. She said:
“The implementation of the order for the community justice projects will be evaluated to help inform decisions on whether it will be beneficial to allow wider implementation of periodic community order reviews.”——[Official Report, Third Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation, 2 March 2006; Column Number 3.]
That was the position then. Why was that order not sufficient to extend implementation to the areas in the current order? Why have not sufficient lessons been learned from Liverpool and indeed from the mainstream example of Salford, and why has wider extension taken so long since the 2003 Act? The timing of the order was no doubt based on experience from the community justice pilots—such was the anticipation of the House in March 2006.
It would have been appropriate for the full evaluation to be published before the making of this order. A written parliamentary answer on 12 December said:
“The final evaluation reports for both projects are due by the end of February 2007.”—[Official Report, 12 December 2006; Vol. 454, c. 1043W.]
A further answer on 26 March 2007 said:
“It is anticipated that the final reports will be published in May.”—[Official Report, 26 March 2007; Vol. 458, c. 1263W.]
I welcome the fact that the reports will at last be published, as the Minister has today confirmed—although not until October, after consideration of the order by this Committee. That is highly regrettable, and I should like the Minister to explain the delay, given that we have all been anxious to see the evaluation results and given that the evaluation forms an integral part of wider implementation.
The second issue that merits particular consideration is that of resources. A key issue for the probation service and for probation officers is proper implementation of community orders, for which they need the necessary resources. The complaint is heard from many courts that requirements, particularly in relation to alcohol treatment and curfew monitoring, are not being implemented immediately after imposition of the order by the court. That is a real problem for the effectiveness of the orders.
It is apparent that community orders work well when the dedication and expertise of the probation service are used to the full—particularly in spending time to ensure that offenders do not reoffend. A common complaint of probation officers is that they spend more time on administration and that they are simply case managers, and are not allowed or given sufficient time to work with offenders. The complaint relates to the issue of overload in the probation service. In a report published this week, Her Majesty’s chief inspector of probation, Andrew Bridges, makes reference to overload. On the number of cases per offender manager, Mr. Bridges said that there is a
“range in different places and in different circumstances from around 25 to 70, with the higher caseloads often exacerbated by the freezing of posts as some Chiefs have resorted to this approach in 2006/2007 to avoid overspending. The combination over several years of increasing numbers of cases per officer, and increasing expectations about what is required to be achieved with each case, has made increasing demands a genuine part of the syndrome of squeezed capacity.”
In conclusion, Mr. Bridges says that
“it is clear to us that when the costs of new work, new requirements and new infrastructure have been taken into account, resources have in practice still not kept pace with the increasing demands”,
which include
“new Orders or requirements for drug treatment and testing, for accredited programmes and for managing prolific offenders, extended periods of post-release supervision, increased public protection expectations, enhanced standards of quality for unpaid work and other supervision requirements.”
With the number of cases increasing, the probation service is concerned that resources will not match demand, and that the overload might increase beyond the legal requirements.
There is also a complaint that there is too little discretion regarding breaches. How far have the mooted Home Office proposals to give the probation service quasi-judicial powers to deal with breaches made progress? Given the probation service’s obligation to prepare reports for review, I am concerned that the impact of the order on it will be considerable.
The order will also will have an impact on the work load of courts and breach courts. Certainly, Enfield magistrates court and others are concerned about that.
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Prepared 12 July 2007