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Chris Huhne: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice how many and what percentage of people convicted of carrying an illegal firearm under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 received the mandatory sentence established by the Act in each of the last four years, broken down by age group; and what the average length of sentence of those convicted of carrying an illegal firearm under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 was in each of the last four years. 
Mr. Straw: The table shows the number of persons sentenced to immediate custody of possession of an illegal firearm eligible for the mandatory minimum, and the proportion that received the mandatory minimum.
possessing or distributing prohibited weapons or ammunition under s. 5(1) (a), (b), (aba), (ac), (ad), (ae), (af) or (c) of the
Firearms Act 1968, as amended by s. 288 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.
possessing or distributing firearm disguised as other object under s. 5(1A)(a) of the Firearms Act 1968, also as amended by s. 288 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.
The mandatory minimum is five years for those aged 18 and over, and three years for those aged 16-17. The mandatory minimum came into affect in January 2004, and does not apply to those persons who committed offences before this date. The maximum penalty for these offences is 10 years.
The figures in the table are taken, from the Ministry of Justice (formerly Home Office) Court Proceedings Database and relate to sentences imposed (including life and indeterminate sentences) and the average sentence length of immediate custody (excluding life and indeterminate sentences) for those sentenced for such offences where the principal offence is the one for which they were found guilty. When a defendant has been found guilty of two or more offences it is the offence for which the heaviest penalty is imposed. Where the same disposal is imposed for two or more offences, the offence selected is the offence for which the statutory maximum penalty is the most severe. Where a person is convicted on the same occasion of one of these two firearms offences, and one such as homicide, conspiracy, robbery or GBH with intent (218 of OPA 1861) where the maximum is higher, the data in respect of the firearms offence will not have been included in the table.
Courts are required to impose the minimum sentence unless there are exceptional circumstances relating to the offence or to the offender which justify not doing so. The purpose of the minimum sentence is to tackle gun crime and gun culture. It is not aimed at purely technical offences. Exceptional circumstances might therefore include where the holder of a firearms certificate inadvertently forgets to renew his authority or where a war trophy is discovered among a deceased persons effects.
The Lord Chief Justice and I have concerns about the quality of this data and that relating to knife crime. An earlier project was undertaken that looked at cases reported to the Court Proceedings Database during the first 6 months of 2006 where the mandatory sentence was not given to persons aged 18 and over. These cases were checked with the Crown courts concerned. Of 65 cases, 12 were found to have the offence incorrectly classified (although two were still subject to the 5-year sentence). A further case had the custody duration recorded as five months instead of five years. Some 17 per cent. of Crown court cases checked therefore had the wrong offence classification. The majority correctly reflect the offence and court outcome although in few cases were the courts able to say whether exceptional circumstances, as allowed for in the Criminal Justice Act, had been the reason for the five year sentence not being imposed. Among reasons quoted were gun incapable of being fired, defendant clinically depressed, technical breach only and defendant too young for imprisonment.
|Persons( 1) sentenced for firearms possession offences( 2) involving mandatory custodial sentences, England and Wales|
|Of which: 5 years or over ( 3)|
|Age group||Total persons sentenced||Persons given immediate custody||Number||Percentage of total sentenced||Average custodial sentence length (months)|
|(1 )Principal offence basis.|
(2) Possessing or distributing prohibited weapons or ammunition or firearm disguised as other object.
Firearms Act 1968 sections 5(1)(a), (ab), (aba), (ac), (ad), (ae), (af) or (c) and section 5(1 A)(a) as amended by the Criminal Justice Act 2003 section 287.
(3 )Three years in the case of persons aged 16-17.
(4) Many of the persons dealt with in 2004 will have committed their offences prior to the mandatory sentence being introduced in January 2004.
These figures have been drawn from administrative data systems. Although care is taken when processing and analysing the returns, the detail collected is subject to the inaccuracies inherent in any large scale recording system.
RDS-NOMS, Ministry of Justice
27 March 2008
Maria Eagle: In 2000-01, the Legal Services Commission (LSC) contracted with 53 law centres and currently contracts with a total of 60 law centres. Contracted spend on law centres has increased from £6.7 million in 2000-01 to £11.6 million in 2006-07.
To ask the Secretary of State for Justice how many community law centres have given notice to his Department and the Legal Services Commission of an inability to continue (a) to operate and (b) to operate at current levels of service provision as a consequence of restricted funding; what response he has made to such notifications; and what steps he
is taking to secure continued service provision to individual users of those community law centres which have given notice of an intention to close. 
Maria Eagle: There is no expectation that any law centre will close because of Legal Services Commission (LSC) changes to the fee schemes. Out of the 60 law centres to which the LSC provides funding, four have indicated that they may cease to operate. These four providers have been affected by the withdrawal of non-LSC funding. Funding to law centres from the LSC has increased significantly over the last seven years from £6.7 million in 2000-01 to £11.6 million in 2006-07. It is not the only source of funding to Law Centres and the continuity of their operations depends on securing a range of flinders as well as on the general management of their business.
The LSC has introduced transitional provisions to minimise any short term impact from the new fee arrangements while law centres and other not for profit providers adapt to and take the opportunities provided by these arrangements. It is also working with local authorities and other funders to develop arrangements for community legal advice that will provide greater stability in total funding.
Maria Eagle: The Legal Services Commission (LSC) came into being April 2000 and figures are available from this period onwards. The Legal Aid Board provided funding to Law Centres prior to the creation of the LSC, however, data on this cannot be obtained except at disproportionate cost.
The LSCs total spend (help and representation) on Law Centres from 2000-01 to 2007-08 is detailed in the following table. The table also shows the LSCs legal help spend on not for profit organisations overall in the same period.
|Financial year||LSC funding to law centres||Total LSC NfP funding for sector (legal help only)|
|(1) Figure to datefinal figure calculated after the year end and not currently available.|
Mr. Austin Mitchell: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what (a) cost reductions and (b) efficiency gains have been achieved by the National Offender Management Service since its inception. 
Mr. Hanson: The National Offender Management Service was established in 2004. The cashable and non cashable efficiency savings achieved since April 2004 under the NOMS Value for Money Programme (comprising the Prison Service, Probation Service, Youth Justice Board and NOMS HQ) are as follows:
|Cashable savings (cumulative)||Non cashable savings (cumulative)|
Mr. Heath: To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what the ratio of (a) prison officers and (b) other prison staff to prisoners was in each (i) contracted-out and (ii) public prison in each of the last five years. 
Information on the ratio of prisoners to each officer and prisoners to other staff for each public sector Prison Service establishment in each of the last five years is contained in the following tables. The ratios given are a snapshot at the end of each March and the latest available date.
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