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Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft Remand on Bail (Disapplication of Credit Period) Rules 2008

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Edward O'Hara
Baldry, Tony (Banbury) (Con)
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing, West) (Con)
Dunne, Mr. Philip (Ludlow) (Con)
Featherstone, Lynne (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD)
Garnier, Mr. Edward (Harborough) (Con)
Gray, Mr. James (North Wiltshire) (Con)
Hanson, Mr. David (Minister of State, Ministry of Justice)
Harris, Mr. Tom (Glasgow, South) (Lab)
Howarth, David (Cambridge) (LD)
Howarth, Mr. George (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East) (Lab)
Keeble, Ms Sally (Northampton, North) (Lab)
Lucas, Ian (Wrexham) (Lab)
Reid, John (Airdrie and Shotts) (Lab)
Stuart, Ms Gisela (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab)
Whitehead, Dr. Alan (Southampton, Test) (Lab)
Wright, Mr. Anthony (Great Yarmouth) (Lab)
Chris Shaw, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Third Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 15 October 2008

[Mr. Edward O’Hara in the Chair]

Draft Remand on Bail (Disapplication of Credit Period) Rules 2008
2.30 pm
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. David Hanson): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Remand on Bail (Disapplication of Credit Period) Rules 2008.
May I welcome you, Mr. O’Hara, to the chair for what I hope will be a productive sitting? I particularly welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham, who has just left the room. He has just been appointed to the Whips Office as part of the reshuffle, so this is his maiden flight, as they say, and I am sure that it will be successful. In passing, I would like to say that I am grateful that I am still in post after the reshuffle. That is extremely important.
The draft rules arise from sections 21 to 23 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, which we hope to commence on 3 November. The Act will create new arrangements that will allow time spent on bail while subject to an electronically monitored curfew to be credited against a subsequent custodial sentence. The hon. and learned Member for Harborough will recall that we debated matters relating to the Act earlier this year—possibly in this very room. The arrangements give effect to measures recommended earlier in this parliamentary Session by my noble Friend Lord Carter in his review of prisons.
Before I go on to explain the purpose of the rules, it might assist the Committee if I explain briefly how the credit will operate. To qualify for curfew credit, defendants must have been subject to an electronically monitored curfew, which I will refer to in future as tagged bail, for at least nine hours a day. That position—being subject to a curfew—does not equal deprivation of liberty, whereas remand to custody clearly does. Each day of tagged bail will therefore provide a potential credit against sentence of no more than half a day. The court has discretion in these matters, if it considers it just in the circumstances, not to count all or any of the available days and will be required to take into account the defendant’s compliance with the curfew. The sentencing judge must state in open court the number of days spent on tagged bail that will count as time served towards the sentence imposed. That is a sensible measure that has the approval of both Houses of Parliament and is now part of the 2008 Act.
That leads me to the rules before the Committee. The purpose of them is to give guidance and set out specific circumstances in which the court must not grant credit under the new provisions. It is appropriate to restrict the credit given in circumstances—I will come on to those in a moment—that would undermine public confidence in the provisions if such credit were given. The rules are consistent with the equivalent rules made by the Secretary of State in relation to crediting periods of remand in custody. I have had discussions with the judiciary through the criminal procedure rule committee, which has taken comments and passed them on to us. We have accepted those comments in full.
There are three areas of the draft rules to which I shall refer. The first relates to draft rule 2, which will prevent a court from making a direction that would have the effect of counting the same period of time spent subject to tagged bail twice. That covers the situation, for example, in which a defendant spends a period under tagged bail in relation to two offences and is sentenced at different times. That is not a common circumstance, but it could occur. Where the first sentencing court directs the time to count towards the first sentence, the rules will prevent a second court from counting the same period towards the second sentence.
Draft rule 3 will prevent the court from making a direction in relation to days spent on tagged bail where the offender was also subject to electronically monitored curfew as a consequence of either early release from prison, or as part of a non-custodial sentence, such as a community order, with an electronically monitored curfew requirement. Similar provisions can be found in rules made under section 240 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. The draft rule will ensure that offenders who have been released early under home detention curfew and those who have been released on general licence subject to electronically monitored curfew do not receive credit. Again, I believe that that is welcome.
In draft rule 4, we are seeking to cover the unlikely event that a prisoner who has been released under the temporary licence scheme appears before a court on further charges during the period, without first being returned to prison for breaching the terms of their licence. Such a situation would be unusual because normally, under the early release scheme end-of-custody licence, the first port of call for an individual who is charged with another offence would be prison, because they would have breached their licence. The rule is simply a precaution to ensure that prisoners who are released on temporary licence do not receive credit under the provisions.
The measure is a clarification of the rules to ensure that courts can use their discretion not to grant credit in the specific circumstances set out in the draft rules. However, I hope that they will consider discretion. We are setting down draft rules that will remove any doubt by providing the courts and defendants with absolute clarity about the circumstances in which a sentencer must not give credit. I commend the statutory instrument to the Committee.
2.35 pm
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): I join the right hon. Gentleman in welcoming you, Mr. O’Hara, to our deliberations, and in congratulating the hon. Member for Wrexham on his new appointment and promotion. At the same time, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow on his promotion to the Opposition Whips Office—he is now the shadow justice team’s Whip and we will endeavour to do all that he tells us to do 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): With no credit for good behaviour.
Mr. Garnier: Indeed.
The Chairman: Or disapplication.
Mr. Garnier: Precisely.
Also, if I may—I hope that he does not think it inappropriate—I want to take this opportunity to recognise the work that the hon. Member for Glasgow, South did in his ministerial career at the Department for Transport. He was helpful to me as a constituency Member of Parliament when we were dealing with the midland main line and the issue of trains between London and the midlands. Life in politics and in Government is sometimes cruel, as a number of people sitting close to the hon. Gentleman will tell him—the hon. Members for Southampton, Test, Northampton, North and for Birmingham, Edgbaston are smiling, and they do great work for their constituents and, no doubt, the Labour party, post-Government. The hon. Member for Glasgow, South has a long political and public life career ahead of him and I wish him well.
On the matter in hand, to use the jargon, we should not be here. Had the Government acceded to our arguments during the deliberations on the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, we would not be here, but we are. To this extent, I welcome the rules: to some degree, they repair the damage that the 2008 Act caused by creating a false picture. I recognised the picture to be false not only as a shadow justice Minister, but also—to declare an interest—as someone who has to sentence people as a Crown court recorder. People come in front of me and claim credit for time spent in custody on remand following a plea of guilty or a conviction that leads to their suffering a custodial penalty.
It seems to us—just as it did when we discussed this issue in the Committee that considered the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill—that there is no equivalence between being remanded in custody between charge and trial or between conviction and sentence, and being remanded at home on a tag, even though the tag requires people to remain indoors between, say, 7 o’clock at night and 7 o’clock in the morning. A person who is remanded on a tag between those times can invite friends in, enjoy a social life, drink beer and even consume drugs at home.
Peter Bottomley: They can do that in prison.
Mr. Garnier: I dare say that it is as my hon. Friend says—he is another man who has enjoyed a successful career post-Government office.
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): On bail?
Mr. Garnier: He has certainly been very well behaved.
As I said, there is no equivalence between being remanded in custody on bail and being remanded on bail on a tag. It is intellectually dishonest of the Government to try to persuade and require the courts to give credit for those on remand on bail at home, even if their liberty is to some extent restricted by not being officially allowed to leave a particular address between particular hours.
To a limited extent only, the rules assuage my concerns as expressed during consideration of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, and to that extent only I welcome them. I invite my hon. Friends not to vote against them, but I do not do so with any sense of happiness and I do not welcome them other than formally. As I say, their provenance is unhealthy and intellectually dishonest, and leads to greater public cynicism and lack of public confidence in the criminal justice system.
The Minister and I may come from different political parties and political traditions, but I think that we share a desire to make sure that the criminal justice system works for both the victim and the public and, to some extent, for the defendant. It does not help us when we have to carry out such correcting exercises to ensure that the criminal justice system does not look utterly ridiculous.
2.41 pm
Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. O’Hara. I congratulate the hon. Members for Wrexham and for Ludlow on their promotion.
Liberal Democrats will support the amendments to the sentencing rules, because ensuring that convicted criminals are not allowed to double count their remittance is eminently sensible. However, these rules need to be considered in the wider context of sentencing and the administration of justice. The Liberal Democrats have continually argued for honest sentencing policy that people can understand and trust. The Government are adding a further layer of complexity and, if the public were to understand that double credit could ever have existed, they would be shocked. I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Harborough that there is no similarity or comparison between someone’s being remanded in custody and being bereft of their liberty, and their being at home with a tag on. I think that the public would be equally shocked to find that, if a criminal were sentenced to a year in prison that could mean two years under electronic curfew while on remand.
The rules that we are agreeing to today are adding to myriad sentencing regulation. Does the Minister share my concern about the simplicity, or lack of it, in sentencing policy? Does he believe, as I do, that that is undermining public confidence in the deterrent and punitive value of custodial sentences and, ultimately, undermining the people’s trust?
The backdrop to these rules is a decade of criminal justice Bill after Bill, creating hundreds of new offences. Given that more people have been sent to prison, will the Minister inform me whether the actual duration of sentences served has dropped? If it has, is that because of the lack of capacity in the prison estate? The fullness of the prisons seems to have necessitated the continual tweaking of sentencing rules. Does that reduce overall the time that convicted criminals spend behind bars?
I welcome the new rules because they are likely to lead to a small but proper increase in average sentences, but will the Minister share with us any official estimates about the impact of the regulations on average sentence duration and put that information in the context of how this has changed over Labour’s term of Government? Can he say whether the long-term trend is for the ratio between original sentence and time served to decrease or increase? The ever more complex regime in which sentencing occurs undermines public trust in the criminal justice system. I do not think that it makes sense to the so-called man in the street.
I hope that the Minister can give me an assurance that the Government will be investing in prisoner rehabilitation, rather than just bricks and mortar and an ever more complex sentencing policy. However, on this occasion, we support the amendment to the rules because it makes common sense.
2.45 pm
Peter Bottomley: The relevance of the hon. Lady’s remarks stem from point 7.1, under “Policy Background”, in the explanatory memorandum. For the advantage of those who may come to our debates in printed form, the paragraph states:
“As a result of Lord Carter’s recommendations to help manage demand on prison spaces in the medium term, the provisions of section 240A of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 create new arrangements for allowing time spent on bail whilst subject to an electronically monitored curfew to be credited against a subsequent custodial sentence.”
If we get to a stage where a reduction in crime, in sentences or in numbers in jail leads to there being spare capacity in prisons, will section 240A remain in effect, or are the provisions for crediting time spent on remand with a tag justifiable in their own right? I would like to believe that they are justifiable in their own right, but given the policy background and comments made today, it might be helpful if the Minister were to say yes, no or perhaps.
By way of a brief diversion, when one of my brothers had the rules of golf explained to him, he asked, “What happens if the ball comes off the green and lands on top of the pin but does not drop down? Is it in the hole or not?” He went on to enjoy a good career in the civil service. I did not work hard enough at university, so I became a politician, which is why I am able to ask the Minister one or two subsequent questions on the provisions.
The first is a philosophical point which he may want to write to me about afterwards. If time spent on remand with a tag can be credited in the event of a custodial sentence so that, in effect, it is part of the punishment, what happens to the person who is acquitted when there are not normally compensation arrangements for someone who suffered punishment while being innocent? We know that people are innocent until proven guilty. I am not suggesting that the Minister should necessarily answer off the cuff, but if he could write to me giving the philosophical background, that would be of interest the next time I have a discussion on the issue with a judge, politician or Minister.
The second question is one to which I probably ought to know the answer, but I would be grateful to have it. The Minister referred in his opening remarks to guidelines to judges. Are the guidelines always made public? For example, are they always put in the House of Commons Library, or are some guidelines to judges on sentencing private between Departments and judges, or the Lord Chief Justice and judges? Again, if the Minister does not have an off-the-cuff answer, I would not ask him to make a party political point. I have a serious interest in the answer to that question.
My last point is a general one and probably slightly outside the scope of the rules; I hope that you will not mind, Mr. O’Hara. I am a great believer that, because of the complexity of cases, the flexibility that judges need in disposing of a case after a guilty verdict should allow common sense. The provisions add to the common sense, and that is one of the reasons why I was glad to have heard the two opening speeches.
2.49 pm
Mr. Hanson: I shall try to answer the points raised. I echo the welcome to the hon. Member for Ludlow; I had not realised that he had shifted positions. I also echo the contribution regarding my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South.
I am grateful for the welcome extended by the hon. and learned Member for Harborough to the amendments to the rules. He and the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green know that we do not equate time spent at home on curfew with time spent in custody. That is why the legislation indicates that time spent on curfew should account for only half a day in relation to a potential custodial sentence. I recognise that during time spent on curfew in the home, there is potential to undertake activities that cannot be undertaken in prison. For that reason, the 2003 Act reflects the half-day proposal.
The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green mentioned several matters relating to confidence in the criminal justice system. I agree that confidence is essential. That is why the record of the Government over the past 11 years, including under the stewardship of my right hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts, has proved effective. The number of people being brought to justice has increased dramatically. The number of people convicted has increased dramatically. The length of sentences has increased dramatically. There are 20,000 more people in prison today than there were in 1997.
I accept that the changing nature of the business we are in is difficult. There are more serious, more dangerous and more violent offences. In our custodial approach, we are trying to build the prison places that we need—an extra 13,000 over the next five to six years. We are also looking at how to develop important regimes to change people’s behaviour in prison. I hope that that is important to the hon. Lady. We are also looking, where appropriate, at non-custodial sentences in the community. What we are doing today is about that balance. To be truthful, as I always try to be to Committees, we need to ensure that we have this provision in place to help us with prison population issues. This measure, and the measure introduced in the previous legislation, will save about 200 prison places over the next eight months.
To answer the hon. Member for Worthing, West, who raised perfectly sensible questions, the legislation we are passing now, like all legislation, may be reviewed in future depending on progress on prison population issues. I expect that the situation in respect of the prison population will continue to be tight because of the reasons that I mentioned: bringing more people to justice, having more serious offences and justice being seen to be done in more cases than ever before. I will continue to keep it under review, but for the moment it will be part of the armoury for ensuring that we have a range of sentencing options open to the public.
On acquittals, I will write to the hon. Gentleman because I do not have the facts before me and I would not wish to mislead the Committee. On sentencing guidelines, as far as I am aware, the Sentencing Guidelines Council publishes its outcomes and deliberations. They are available for public scrutiny and often available for consultation before final decisions are taken. There is consultation input at ministerial level but it is also available to anyone else who wishes to participate.
I am grateful for the welcome extended and thank my right hon. and hon. Friends for their support and attendance. I commend the rules to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
Committee rose at Seven minutes to Three o’clock.

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