Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill

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Clause 11

Restriction on imposing community sentences
Mr. Hanson: I beg to move amendment No. 20, in clause 11, page 8, line 24, leave out second ‘community’ and insert ‘rehabilitation’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment No. 57.
Mr. Hanson: Before speaking to the Government amendments, may I tell Committee members that, in the spirit of co-operation, during the course of our proceedings I will reflect on other amendments and consider them further? I hope that that reassures the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome and the official Opposition that I am willing to look at the issues that they raised. Indeed, that may become clear during our discussions later today.
Government amendment No. 20 corrects a minor drafting error in clause 11, which makes reference to the old-style youth community orders rather than the new youth rehabilitation order. The effect of the amendment is simple and will make it clearer to sentencers that the court is not required to make a youth rehabilitation order, even when it is open to the court to do so.
Mr. Burrowes: I do not take issue with the technical amendment, but perhaps I could take the opportunity to make a comment in more of a stand part mode. The Magistrates Association’s is concerned that clause 11 is repetitious and unnecessary. That theme developed in our debate on clause 10. Clause 11 makes the point that sentencers do not need to impose a community sentence when the community threshold has been reached, but magistrates and the judiciary are already aware of that, day in, day out, in the courts. If they wanted a reminder, they could look at the “Adult Court Bench Book”, or they could refer to the Sentencing Guidelines Council, which states:
“Sentencers must consider all of the disposals available at the time of sentence...before reaching the provisional decision to make a community sentence, so that, even where the threshold for a community sentence has been passed, a financial penalty or discharge may still be an appropriate penalty. Where an offender has a low risk of re-offending, particular care needs to be taken in the light of evidence that indicates that there are circumstances where inappropriate intervention will increase the risk of re-offending rather than decrease it.”
In addition, the point is made that enforcement of financial penalties make them a more viable sentence in a wider range of cases. Guidance and discretion are already available for the magistrates not to impose a community sentence, even if the threshold is reached, when there are particular mitigating circumstances, so why is it necessary for the Government to seek to spell matters out in additional legislation?
Mr. Hanson: I am happy, if you give your consent, Mr. Cook, to speak to address the points that have been raised, or I can cover them in the clause stand part debate.
The Chairman: Discussing a stand part issue now means that we will not discuss it later. I am aware of the fact that we are discussing Government amendment No. 20, but stand part is included.
Mr. Hanson: I am grateful, Mr. Cook, for that clarification. I do not wish to widen the debate too much beyond Government amendment Nos. 20 and 57, which I hope are accepted as simple matters.
Once again, this is a matter of judgment. I accept that there is an element of common practice, as the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate mentioned. We are keen to examine how we can put new energy into the issuing of fines, which we want to use as an alternative to some forms of community sentence. The purpose of clause 11 is to revitalise the fine, making it central to the process of redirecting probation resources where they are most needed, in particular using those resources to deal with more serious offenders. Many offenders can be adequately punished by a fine; in fact, for some offenders a fine is more of a punishment than a community sentence or another sentence.
The payment of fines now is significantly higher than it was before. Performance in the collection of fines has improved—it is more than 90 per cent—so sentencers can be confident that a fine is an effective punishment. It will be collected, and, in certain circumstances, it will be more effective than other types of punishment. We must face the reality that resources are scarce. I want probation resources to be used effectively, and if we can encourage the greater use of fines, that will help us to achieve our twin objectives. It will reduce the demands on probation resources and, at the same time, the magistrate’s ability to impose a fine will result in a more effective punishment for many individuals.
I accept that the greater use of fines is already evident. We are restating the principle, encouraging it and trying to give greater drive to it in clause 11. I commend clause 11 and Government amendments Nos. 20 and 57 to the Committee.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause 11, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 12

Indeterminate sentences: determination of tariffs
Mr. Heath: I beg to move amendment No. 137, in clause 12, page 8, line 34, after ‘below,’, insert
‘if the offender is over the age of 18 years,’.
There is, however, a particular problem with indeterminate sentences. Children and young people are different from adults. First, there are developmental changes— children grow up while in custody and may be very different people within a relatively short period of time. Secondly, a young person’s perception of their future will differ from that of somebody who has been in and out of the prison system, is of more mature years and can take a more phlegmatic view of things.
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There is a long established legal principle, set out in R v. Storey 1984, that when a child is given a sentence of long-term detention they should serve a period of time that enables them to see
“light at the end of the tunnel: the sentencer should take care to select a duration on which the offender can fix his eye with a view to emerging in the foreseeable future.”
There is a requirement, too, under article 37(b) of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child, which states:
“No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time”.
It is that last phrase which is the operative term.
I shall not press the amendment to a Division, as it is simply intended to probe the Minister’s views on the matter, but tariffs for indeterminate sentences imposed on a child should be no longer than what would be served under a determinate custodial penalty for the same offence. Given what I said about children’s development and the process of maturity, there may be a strong case for reviewing the threat that the young person poses to society at an earlier stage. There is no risk involved, if risk assessments are done properly and the Parole Board does its work when the young person is eligible for release, in reducing the sentence available to a limited period, because at that point there is an assessment of whether the young person represents a threat to society. If they do, they will not be released. That seems entirely right.
My argument is very simple. We recognise that the judicial system should treat young people differently from adults. There is an argument for a clear and determinate length of sentence for young people that should be commensurate with the offence, rather than an indeterminate sentence of the sort envisaged under the clause. I should be grateful for the Minister’s comments.
Mr. Garnier: Not so very long ago, I was going through the front door of Oakhill secure training centre in Milton Keynes as the Minister was coming out, accompanied by his colleague the Minister for Children, Young People and Families. They had gone to look at the provision of custodial services for 15, 16 and 17-year-olds in that establishment, which is run by a private company. There were a number of people in the centre with indeterminate sentences. They had committed very serious crimes—some had been found guilty of murder.
The way in which we deal with youngsters who commit very serious crimes is not something that we can simply brush under the carpet and put out of mind. It is extremely important that the way in which we sentence people who are, at law, minors should have a number of aims in view. I suspect that we need to have those aims in view when we are sentencing adults as well. Punishment and public reassurance are clearly vital. The possibility of redemption as a young person matures is greater than it might be for an old lag of my age. The amendment provides an opportunity to ask the Government what their policy is with regard to the imprisonment of children, including those who have committed very serious crimes.
On my short visit to Oakhill STC, I found that its regime was humane and much improved from what it was perhaps two years ago, when it went through a period of difficulty. I do not know what the experience of the Minister and his colleagues was. I should have mentioned that the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) was also there, as that establishment is in her constituency. I had a brief conversation with her before she left to attend to her other tasks.
We must be careful that we do not lump children or under-18s in with the rest of the criminal population. When children are detained during Her Majesty’s pleasure—I think that that is the frequently used expression—we should keep an eye out for education and rehabilitation, so that when that those children have served sufficient time for their punishment, they can be returned to society without the threat of being attacked or set upon by vigilantes, and without the concern that many of us have that they will reoffend if they have not been properly educated, reformed and rehabilitated. We should be able to stand up and say that when a young criminal is released, he or she will be a positive addition to society, not a drag on it or a further cause of problems. I suspect that the Minister, having been to Oakhill and, no doubt, other STCs, will largely agree with what I am saying. I congratulate the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome on raising the issue, albeit a difficult one to grasp.
Mr. Hanson: I shall try to answer this short debate positively. I have some sympathy with the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, and I hope that that shows that it is not all confrontation and disagreement among Committee members, and that there are occasions when we can reflect in a productive way on amendments that are tabled.
I recognise that there is precedent for a measure of the type suggested by the hon. Gentleman. Indeed, the murder tariff was debated in the context of the Bill that became the Criminal Justice Act 2003, and after consideration during the passage of that Bill, the Government reduced the starting point for juveniles convicted of murder. I have said that I have some sympathy with the amendment, but I ask the hon. Gentleman not to press it to a Division—I think that he has indicated that he will not. I ask him to withdraw the amendment and I will examine the issues in detail before we return to the matter following the end of the Committee’s consideration of this Bill.
I have little, if any, disagreement with the comments made by the hon. and learned Member for Harborough. Unfortunately, I did not see him when we exited Oakhill STC very rapidly. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Children, Young People and Families and I had to dash for a train so that we could return to London urgently for a further meeting. Had that not been the case, I would have happily had the hon. and learned Gentleman accompany me at Oakhill to look at the work going on there.
The hon. and learned Gentleman makes a valid point. I am not proud of the fact that when I woke up this morning, nearly 4,000 young people were in custody in secure training centres and other establishments. That is a failure of the system. We need to do several things, not least ensuring that when those individuals leave our care they are better individuals than when they came in. That means that we need to look at education—literacy and numeracy—at the difficulties in dealing with drug and alcohol problems, and at interventions outside establishments, with families and others. We must look at training and at skill levels and development, and we must consider housing and employment when individuals leave custody.
I know that the four Opposition Front Benchers and I have a common cause. The hon. and learned Member for Harborough and the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate take a positive view on this. I know that the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood is interested in the Blue Sky project in his constituency, which promotes positive investment in individuals, and I know that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome shares that aspiration. There is work to be done, and I hope that we can reach some form of cross-party consensus on what should be done to make secure training centres efficient and effective. It is not just a matter of detention and punishment, although it does involve that. It is also about rehabilitation, preventing reoffending, and ensuring that people leave those centres in a more positive way.
I say to the hon. and learned Member for Harborough that there is work to be done at Oakhill to raise standards still further, and the reason for our visit was to look at how we can do that. We all have that objective. In giving sympathy and consideration to the amendment, I hope that both in Committee and elsewhere we can look at how to make the operation of STCs more effective.
Finally, the reason why the Minister for Children, Young People and Families and myself were there was because since the new Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr. Brown), took office, he ensured that the Youth Justice Board was not the sole responsibility of the Ministry of Justice, but that of the Department for Children, Schools and Families, too. The purpose of that is to better integrate work in education and training, and outside-establishment interventions, and to ensure that we do exactly what the hon. and learned Member for Harborough says: make the experience more positive for those going through the system. Hopefully, in doing so, we can reduce the awful reoffending rate for those coming out of an STC, which is at about 75 per cent. That is not satisfactory to anybody. I hope that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome will withdraw his amendment and that my comments have helped to restore balance to the debate and to the Committee’s temper.
Mr. Heath: That is more like it. That is the way a Committee is supposed to work. I am grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Harborough for his support, and to the Minister for his response.
The Minister says that he is not proud of the number of young people who are incarcerated in this country. I would go further: we should all be heartily ashamed of the fact that we imprison more of our young people than any other comparable country. That is a scar on the nation’s conscience. If we can address that—I take what the Minister said about the matter entirely at face value—we will be doing something hugely worth while for society.
I am grateful to the Minister for agreeing to look again at the amendment. As I said, it was not my intention to divide the Committee irrespective of what he said—unless he really provoked me. The key point is that children and young people are different. There should not be an automaticity by which the approach to adults applies to younger people in the same way. Whenever we do anything within the judicial and penal system, we must look carefully at whether that is appropriate to the needs of young offenders, and whether it will encourage them not to reoffend, but to grow, mature and become responsible members of society. That should be our clear intention. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 4—Indeterminate sentences: determination of tariffs
‘(1) Section 82A of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 (c. 6) (determination of tariffs in cases where the sentence is not fixed by law) is amended as follows.
(2) For subsections (2) to (4A) substitute—
“(1A) The court shall have a complete discretion to set the minimum period to be served in custody by an offender subject to a discretionary life sentence for public protection.
(1B) In setting that period the court must take into account—
(a) the seriousness of the offence,
(b) the danger to the public represented by the offender,
(c) the impact of the offence on the victim, his family and the local community where the offence took place,
(d) the offender’s previous criminal record,
(e) the need for rehabilitation of the offender, and
(f) any other factor the court considers relevant.”.’.
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Mr. Garnier: The previous debate touches upon the one that we are about to have, albeit that we are now dealing with the mechanics by which a court will consider the minimum tariff that a person sentenced to an indeterminate life sentence should be given.
I ask the Committee first to open up the amendment paper at new clause 4 on page 397 and compare it with the wording of clause 12, which is gobbledegook. It is possible to understand what clause 12 intends to achieve, but it takes some little while to do so and not all of us have that some little while, particularly when we are busy dealing with someone in court. I push forward a plea for simplicity in English before we make such decisions.
The hon. and learned Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) made a similar point during the Queen’s Speech debate, and I agreed with him. Clause 12 is not quite impenetrable, but it is getting close. We therefore thought that it would be better to invite the Government to adopt new clause 4. It is instructive to compare the two measures. The new clause states that
“Section 82A of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act amended as follows.”
So far, so good.
Subsection (2) states:
“For subsections (2) to (4A) substitute—
‘(1A) The court shall have a complete discretion to set the minimum period to be served in custody by an offender subject to a discretionary life sentence for public protection.’”
As a matter of philosophy and sentencing practice, it is preferable for a court to have discretion. The adjective “complete” is perhaps unnecessary, but I submit that, giving the court discretion in relation to the appropriate sentence for the case, the defendant and the circumstances bit, is vital.
Several offences nowadays carry with them a life sentence. Some are discretionary life sentences, in that it is possible to give a determinate sentence with a limit. The same crime can be the subject of an indeterminate or life sentence. Clearly, an offence such as murder has a sentence prescribed by law, and that is life. However, the amount of time to be served by the defendant is not always the natural life of the defendant. The court has therefore to go through the exercise of working out the minimum that the defendant should serve before he is considered for release on licence by the Parole Board.
Clause 12(2) states:
“In subsection (3) (determination of the appropriate part of the sentence) at the end insert—
‘In Case A or Case B below, this subsection has effect subject to, and in accordance with, subsection (3C) below.’”
We understand what that means in English, but subsection (3) states:
“After subsection (3) insert—
‘(3A) Case A is where the court is of the opinion that the seriousness of the offence, or the combination of the offence and one or more other offences associated with it,—
(a) is exceptional (but not such that the court proposes to make an order under subsection (4) below)’”—
I interpose to suggest that the Government seem to be saying that the offences are exceptional, but not exceptionally exceptional. The subsection continues:
“(b) would not be adequately reflected by the period which the court would otherwise specify under subsection (2) above.”
So we go back upstairs and look at subsection (2). Having done that, let us now move on to new subsection (3B), which states:
“Case B is where the court is of the opinion that the period which it would otherwise specify under subsection (2) above would have little or no effect on time spent in custody, taking into account all the circumstances of the particular offender.”
I hope that you are still with me, Mr. Cook. I will now whizz on to new subsection (3C), which states:
“In Case A or Case B above, in deciding the effect which the comparison required by subsection (3)(c) above is to have on reducing the period which the court determines for the purposes of subsection (3)(a) (and before giving effect to subsection (3)(b) above), the court may, instead of reducing that period by one-half,—
(a) in Case A above, reduce it by such lesser amount (including nil) as the court may consider appropriate according to the seriousness of the offence, or
(b) in Case B above, reduce it by such lesser amount (but not by less than one-third) as the court may consider appropriate in the circumstances.
Then subsection (4) states:
“In subsection (4A) (no order to be made under subsection (4) in the case of certain sentences) after “No order under subsection (4) above may be made” insert “, and Case A above does not apply,”.
There we are. What a fuss I am making about nothing. That is clear as mud, and any sentencer who is faced with this sort of serious crime requiring the application of an indeterminate sentence, has only to look at that and go through the rubric and it is easy for him to decide what to do.
With some diffidence, I will address new clause 4 and see if it meets the problem that the Government think exists. It states:
“(1A) The court shall have a complete discretion to set the minimum period to be served as custody by an offender subject to a discretionary life sentence for public protection.”
Let me start by saying that if you want to change the wording, Mr. Cook, go ahead. All that I ask for is clarity. The following refers to the minimum period to be served in custody:
“(1B) In setting that period the court must take into account—
(a) the seriousness of the offence,
(b) the danger to the public represented by the offender,
(c) the impact of events on the victim, his family and the local community where the offence took place,
(d) the offender’s previous criminal record,
(e) the need for rehabilitation of the offender, and
(f) any other factor that the court considers relevant.”
I accept that that is a bit of a sweep up. I agree that I wrote that and, therefore, I think that it is marvellous in every particular, but I also suggest that you, Mr. Cook, probably found it a little easier to understand than clause 12. On that basis, I suggest that we substitute new clause 4 for clause 12 as appropriate, and I invite the Government to persuade me otherwise.
Mr. Heath: I recall that the Leader of the House had an idea a year or so ago, whereby legislation would be translated into simple English. I do not know what happened to that idea; it was done for one Bill and has now disappeared. My concern in that case was that we ended up with two different versions of the same Bill, which simply gave work for lawyers to determine which wording they felt that they could hang a case on more effectively; so I was not particularly enamoured of that approach. But clarity in legislation is desirable and the hon. and learned Member for Harborough is absolutely right to draw attention to clause 12 as being the antithesis of clarity in drafting. It does not suggest that it is fit for purpose. I am rather impressed by the new clause; it is rather good. I understand it and it seems to cover all the requirements. I will be interested to see where the Minister feels that it is deficient, but my view essentially is clause 12, bad; new clause 4, good.
Mr. Hanson: I do not know how this is recorded in Hansard, but I put my hands up and say that the clause is difficult to comprehend. I accept that it is not in a form of English that is in common parlance in my constituency or, indeed, in the constituencies of other members of the Committee. However, it serves a purpose and with the help of parliamentary counsel it is how we have expressed the intention of the clause.
In simple terms, the provision is as follows: it will ensure that courts have the discretion to set appropriately high tariffs for particularly serious crimes, which will not include the crime of murder, but will include crimes for which an offender could receive a life sentence. It will not include sentences currently given under imprisonment for public protection known as indeterminate sentences but there will be certain types of crime that are allocated a life sentence which are not murder and not IPP.
The effect of clause 12 will mean that in particularly serious cases the judges will not have to take into account the parole arrangements that apply to ordinary sentences when they calculate tariffs. As the hon. and learned Gentleman will know, the law at present obliges them to do so with the result that the final figure is half what a notional equivalent determinate sentence would be. If necessary, the court should be able to disregard the requirements completely or apply some reduction that is less than 50 per cent. as appropriate.
The current law requires working out a notional equivalent sentence and then reducing it, as would be the case with a determinate sentence which in some serious cases can result in what will appear to be, and are, disproportionately short sentences. They will continue to give rise to public discontent about particular sentences by the judiciary unless we examine and support the clause.
Hon. Members may recall the recently highlighted case of Sweeney, to which we referred in our consultation paper, “Making Sentencing Clearer”. Sweeney was sentenced to life imprisonment for the horrendous offences of kidnap and sexual assault of a child under the age of 13. There were serious aggravating factors in that case. Following the calculation on Sweeney’s conviction the tariff amounted to a mere six years for aggravated kidnap and sexual assault of a child under the age of 13. The case had an element of notoriety, certainly in my part of the world in Wales, when it was tried at Cardiff Crown court.
Clause 12 leaves intact the current arrangements for setting tariffs but gives the courts more flexibility to deal with the exceptional serious cases when needed, which I think is the objective of the hon. and learned Gentleman’s new clause. Had the clause been in place when the Sweeney case was heard, the judge would have had discretion to examine it and to raise the tariff accordingly above what would apply in a normal case based on his determination of the aggravating factors in the case.
I accept that the examination of clause 12 is a minefield and I greatly enjoyed the hon. and learned Gentleman’s gentle poking of parliamentary draftsmen and the Government in relation to it. The purpose of the clause is to give effect to the underlying principle, which I have outlined, and it should be supported for that reason.
The hon. and learned Gentleman has put much time and effort into his new clause but it would leave a number of gaps which, on reflection, he would not wish to occur and which would be opposed by members on both sides of the Committee. The new clause has the distinct disadvantage that it is not clear what its results would be. It asks the courts to consider seriousness but it does not specifically ask them to consider early release arrangements nor specifically permit them to disregard that part of the calculation. More importantly, the proposal might be read by courts as meaning that they were entitled to double all current tariffs. I would not wish to see the vast majority of tariffs doubled. We are looking at particular serious and difficult cases. If the new clause were accepted it would have tremendous resource implications as well as raising issues of the appropriateness of the new sentences. It seems to apply to sentences for public protection as well, which are not currently included in clause 12.
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I accept that the new clause, as drafted by the hon. and learned Gentleman, may appear to be simpler and clearer for sentencers, but there are severe gaps in it. For example, it removes the role of the Parole Board altogether from the procedures that are currently accepted.
Mr. Garnier: No.
Mr. Hanson: My assessment and examination, having taken advice, is that it does. I believe that the hon. and learned Gentleman shares our objective in clause 12, which is to give judicial discretion and to raise the tariff in cases where the seriousness of the case is examined by the judge and an increased tariff is deemed necessary, as in the case of Sweeney. It allows the judiciary to exercise that discretion accordingly and, whatever the minefield of clause 12, I assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that it achieves that objective.
Mr. Heath: Will the Minister put on record the fact that two outrages were associated with the Sweeney case? One was a consequence of the rules that applied and the way in which the judge was required to apply them to the sentence. Secondly, there was the bullying of the judge in print and in the media by people who should know better, including someone who put in place the rules that the judge was required to follow—the previous Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid).
Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): Frustration was expressed not just about the judicial aspects of the sentence. Intense anger and frustration was felt by people in my constituency who were directly affected by the events that led to the arrest and subsequent imprisonment of the individual concerned. We should remember that it is not just a question of protecting the proprieties of what goes on in court, but of making sure that common sense is applied by the courts when making decisions, and that that common sense is seen to apply. That was not the case on that occasion.
Mr. Hanson: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. He will know better than other Committee members the impact of the Sweeney case on the community in Cardiff and the reverberations generally. I accept the gentle chiding of the hon. and learned Member for Harborough. The interpretation of clause 12 does take some effort, but its objective is clear. I have checked with parliamentary counsel that it legislates for its objective, which is to allow judicial discretion on serious cases, such as those that I described to the Committee. I commend clause 12 to the Committee, and urge the hon. and learned Gentleman not to press new clause 4.
Mr. Garnier: When I argued in favour of new clause 4 and made criticisms of clause 12, I did so to the Minister, not parliamentary counsel. The Minister is elected to the House, and is appointed by the Prime Minister to speak for the Government. There is a great big Chinese wall between me and parliamentary counsel. I do not see him or her and, therefore, nothing that I have said is intended in any way as a rebuke or criticism of that person.
Mr. Hanson: Nor was it taken as such.
Mr. Garnier: I am glad that the Minster is taking it on the chin, because he is the person who speaks for the Government.
We all remember the events that followed the Sweeney case, which perhaps as a greater resonance for the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth than for others, because the crime, even though it did not take place in his constituency, affected his constituents and because the trial took place in the Cardiff Crown court.
What really annoyed me about the ministerial reaction to the sentencing remarks in the Sweeney case was the fact that the recorder of Cardiff was criticised for doing no more than what the Government required the judge to do. I have looked at the sentencing remarks—I deliberately downloaded them to ensure that I understood what he did. He applied faithfully and to the letter the rubric that the Government required him to apply as a result of their own sentencing legislation. Therefore, it was more than annoying—it was disgraceful—that the then Home Secretary made criticisms, swiftly followed by the Solicitor-General on an edition of “Any Questions” immediately after the sentence was given. It was outrageous that those two Ministers should make personal criticisms of the recorder of Cardiff, who, as I said, was doing no more than what this Government said he should do.
The Minister of State talked about discretion, but the recorder of Cardiff had no discretion and had to do exactly what an Act of Parliament stated. I fully appreciate that clause 12 is designed to prevent such problems from arising again, but that problem was made by the Government, not by the courts and certainly not by the recorder of Cardiff. It cannot be repeated too often that the recorder of Cardiff did precisely what he was required to do by the law, as passed by Parliament and initiated by the Government.
The Minister said that new clause 4 does not mention anything about early release. However, it deals with the minimum tariff that the court must set when sentencing someone to a discretionary life sentence. He said that new clause 4 would double the tariff, but it would do nothing of the sort. It would give the sentencing court the discretion to give an appropriate sentence in light of the facts and circumstances of the case. He claimed that the new clause would take the Parole Board out of the equation, but it would do nothing of the sort because the tariff is the minimum that a person serves, just as the six years handed down by the recorder of Cardiff in the Sweeney case was the minimum that the offender had to serve before he could apply to the Parole Board to be released on license. I have a suspicion, without prejudicing in any way the future decisions of the Parole Board in the Sweeney case, that it will be a very long time beyond the six years before Mr. Sweeney sees the outside of a prison wall.
The Minister kindly said that I must have spent a long time drafting new clause 4, but I can assure him that, having looked at clause 12, it took me about 10 minutes to do so. Perhaps I should have spent 15, 30 or 60 minutes drafting it, but it does not require that amount of time to work out what is wrong with the clause and why new clause 4 would be a marginal improvement.
Mr. Hanson: I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will take this in the spirit in which it is meant. By removing subsection (2) of section 82A, his new clause would have the knock-on effect of removing the application of the early release provisions in section 28 of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997. That section confers an important role on the Parole Board in recommending early release. While that is not set out in the new clause as clearly as I have tried to describe it, the consequences would be different from those which the hon. and learned Gentleman wishes to achieve.
Mr. Garnier: I am not sure that that is the Minister’s best point. I do not want to detain the Committee for too long. New clause 4(1) simply repeats his own clause. If my proposal affects the earlier legislation as he suggests, perhaps his does so as well. Let us not fuss too much about that. It is always said that Opposition new clauses and amendments are defective in their drafting. To use the expression that the Minister used a moment ago, I put my hands up. Of course, my drafting is not perfect, but so what? The clause is bad beyond description, although I understand what he is trying to do.
I make a simple plea for the legislation, particularly in the field of criminal justice, that Ministers present to Parliament and to the public and which will eventually be used by judges. Sentencing is the most difficult thing that a judge has to do. There are arguments about the inadmissibility of evidence and whether a particular line of questioning is relevant, but very often they sort themselves out. Sentencing is the most difficult thing that judges and magistrates have to do. It cannot just be read from a template or book that the tariff is four, 10 or six years. It is incredibly difficult. Anything that is designed to make the job of sentencing more difficult is to be deprecated and, I suggest, removed.
Having said that, if the Minister would be good enough to look at new clause 4 and compare it with the clause with his expert and eminent parliamentary counsel, perhaps he can come up with something a little more user-friendly—to use some new Labour jargon—and we would all be happy, as we might get some sentences that do not excite the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts or the Solicitor-General. I am ever hopeful that the Government will listen to something of what I have said, and on that basis I will not seek to press new clause 4.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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