House of Commons portcullis
House of Commons
Session 2008 - 09
Publications on the internet
Public Bill Committee Debates

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. David Wilshire
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing, West) (Con)
Burns, Mr. Simon (West Chelmsford) (Con)
Campbell, Mr. Alan (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)
Clarke, Mr. Tom (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab)
Cruddas, Jon (Dagenham) (Lab)
Hamilton, Mr. Fabian (Leeds, North-East) (Lab)
Huhne, Chris (Eastleigh) (LD)
Kramer, Susan (Richmond Park) (LD)
McCabe, Steve (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Murphy, Mr. Paul (Torfaen) (Lab)
Rifkind, Sir Malcolm (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con)
Riordan, Mrs. Linda (Halifax) (Lab/Co-op)
Ruffley, Mr. David (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con)
Shepherd, Mr. Richard (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham, South) (Lab)
Twigg, Derek (Halton) (Lab)
Gosia McBride, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Second Delegated Legislation Committee

Tuesday 7 July 2009

[Mr. David Wilshire in the Chair]

Draft Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 (Violent Offender Orders) (Notification Requirements) Regulations 2009
10.30 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Alan Campbell): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 (Violent Offender Orders) (Notification Requirements) Regulations 2009.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Wilshire.
Part 7 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 created violent offender orders. The Government intend to bring them into force on 3 August this year. Such orders are civil preventative orders designed to protect the public from the most dangerous violent offenders—those who continue to pose a high risk of serious violent harm to the public at the end of their licence or term of imprisonment.
On application from the police, a magistrates court may impose a violent offender order where the relevant criteria are met, containing prohibitions, restrictions or conditions on an individual. The restrictions may prevent the individual from going to any specified premises or place, attending any specified event or having contact with a specified individual. They may prohibit residence at a particular address, for example in the vicinity of a previous victim or known criminal associate. They may also prohibit contact with a particular individual, for example with a previous partner who was a victim of domestic abuse. Finally, it may prohibit attendance at certain events, such as extremist rallies, where the offender has a history of violence.
Additionally, a person subject to a violent offender order will have to comply with the notification requirements set out in the 2008 Act. An offender will need to inform the police at least annually of basic details such as name and any aliases used, date of birth, home address and any other address where they regularly stay. Breach of the order or its notification requirements is a criminal offence punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment.
The draft regulations contain two provisions relating to the notification regime. They set out notification requirements for offenders subject to a violent offender order who intend to travel outside the UK. They also strengthen the notification requirements for those who identify themselves to the police as having no sole or main residence in this country. Without the regulations, the police have limited ability to monitor such offenders. It could clearly pose a public protection risk if police officers were not able to track the location of those individuals because they may be out of the country, or because they have no sole or main UK residence.
Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): When someone who is subject to one of the orders notifies the police that they are travelling abroad, do the British authorities tell the person’s destination country that the person is going to their country and that they are subject to such an order?
Mr. Campbell: I will come back to that issue. Certainly, at that point, it ceases to be a matter simply for the police, but becomes a matter for other agencies that have contact with authorities abroad.
We want to close down the possibility that people subject to a violent offender order could deliberately frustrate the police management of their risk. The regulations therefore make it a requirement for a person subject to such an order who has no sole or main residence in the UK to notify the police weekly rather than annually. More frequent reporting will allow better monitoring of location and will also help to close the loop to those individuals who may claim to be homeless to evade the police.
The regulations also make it a requirement for a person subject to a violent offender order and who intends to travel outside the United Kingdom to notify the police of when they plan to leave the UK. That will ensure—regarding the hon. Gentleman’s point—that should it be necessary, the police can liaise with the authorities in the destination country as appropriate. Importantly, the offender will also be required to notify the police of information relating to their return to the UK.
The regulations are designed to further minimise the risk to the public from violent offenders, and with those introductory remarks, I commend them to the Committee.
10.34 am
Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con): As we have heard from the Minister, the regulations are technical and modify certain provisions relating to violent offenders, passed under the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008.
Violent offender orders are civil orders, which might be characterised as a cross between an antisocial behaviour order and a control order. The weakness and apparent failure of some of those orders does not set an entirely encouraging precedent. The court may issue a VOO against a person if they have been sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment or for a more serious, violent offence with the sanction of a prison sentence of up to five years for breach of the prohibitions, restrictions or conditions imposed by the order.
Paragraph 7 of the explanatory memorandum explains:
“Violent Offender Orders are designed to continue the active management of violent offenders beyond the completion of their sentence in order to limit their opportunities for violent re-offending.”
However, in a sense the problem is precisely that—the orders will not, of themselves, stop violence. They will not stop reoffending as such.
As we have seen in the past 24 hours, the Government record on following through on those who breach orders following release from prison is not compelling. Nine hundred and thirty-five offenders recalled from release on licence between January 1999 and March 2009 have not been returned to custody. Of those, 612 have been missing for a year, including 19 murderers and 26 sex offenders. There are direct parallels between what the Government are proposing through the implementation of VOOs under these regulations and the monitoring of prisoners on licence.
The whole point of releasing prisoners on licence is that they can be monitored and returned to prison if they breach. Will the Minister confirm what distinction will be drawn between the terms of a licence following the release of a prisoner and the violent offender orders contemplated by the regulations? Would the requirements contemplated by the regulations be capable of being imposed by licence terms? If the public are concerned now that the Government have lost track of almost 1,000 criminals—including murderers and sex offenders—surely the additional obligations under the regulations and violent offender orders could add to that concern.
Are the Government certain of the measures? I say that because paragraph 12 of the explanatory memorandum states:
“These orders and their supporting legislation will be monitored and reviewed for 12 months by the Violent Offender Orders management board and the legislation may be amended accordingly.”
Will the Minister tell the Committee what measures he is putting in place alongside the orders to ensure that action will be taken for breach? Will he make a clear statement of the practical proposals he envisages taking place when breach occurs? As with so many of the new orders contemplated under successive criminal justice Bills in the past 10 years, they are effective only to the extent of their enforcement.
The question of monitoring is a concern for the Opposition. Will the Minister confirm what additional resources his Department and the Ministry of Justice intend to make available to the probation service for monitoring the orders and the conditions attached to them through the regulations?
Will the Minister explain the interrelationship, which is not entirely clear to us, between regulations 5 and 8? Regulation 5 provides additional notification requirements for an offender proposing to leave the country for more than three days, including details of the return date and proposed port of entry. Regulation 8 supplements that, saying that if the information was not provided before departure the offender has three days from their return to provide it. First, why is the offender not, in a strict fashion, required to provide that information before leaving? Secondly, is the Minister content that a potentially violent offender has three days to notify the authorities on their return to the UK—as we are told in the regulations—if the orders are intended to promote the active management of potentially violent offenders and to help prevent violent reoffending? We do not understand the point about notification three days after return. Surely it is at the point of return to the UK that the risk may be highest, yet law enforcement might not even necessarily know. We are relying on a violent offender voluntarily making that information available.
That leads to the question of knowing when an offender has returned if they have not made the correct notification before they leave. What arrangements does the Minister propose through border checks and MAPPA—multi-agency public protection arrangements —to cover a situation in which an individual subject to a VOO does not notify the authorities of their return to the UK? How will the police know that a breach has been triggered? Does the Minister anticipate that there will be some form of watch list at ports in respect of offenders subject to VOOs who might return to the UK unannounced?
On the second part of the regulations, will the Minister explain why it was ever thought appropriate that someone of no fixed abode subject to a VOO should have been required to notify the police of their personal information only annually, as suggested by paragraph 7.4 of the explanatory memorandum? It is hardly surprising that the memorandum goes on to explain that the change of obligation from annual to weekly is
“to enable the police to have more frequent contact with a person who has no fixed abode and enable more effective monitoring of them.”
Will the Minister explain in what circumstances he believes it would be appropriate for a VOO to be issued to someone of no fixed abode? How is he satisfied that appropriate MAPPA arrangements can be put in place in such circumstances?
When VOOs were debated during the passage of the 2008 Act, Her Majesty’s Opposition made it clear that there was no convincing evidence that the orders would work, and that the focus should be on ensuring that criminal sanctions and sentences were effective and that the public were fully protected, rather than on establishing new legislative processes that blurred the distinctions between the civil and criminal fields and between fundamental rights. We remain of that view. Although we do not propose to divide the Committee on provisions that are largely technical, we are not convinced of the merits of VOOs and the regulations as set out today. If the Government were serious about preventing violent crime, they would do much better to focus on keeping prisoners in custody by scrapping their early release scheme, rather than letting offenders at risk of committing violence out into the community, however stringent the terms of any VOO might be and whatever notification requirements might be added.
I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to some of those specific questions.
10.43 am
Susan Kramer (Richmond Park) (LD): I welcome the move to require individuals who have been issued with a violent offender order to inform the authorities of their movements if they are to leave the country for more than three days. I further welcome the requirement that they inform the authorities on their return. It is a step in the right direction, but the Liberal Democrats argue that the Government do not go far enough. I encourage the Government to consider implementing the same standard of supervision for violent offenders as is currently afforded to sex offenders. That would further reduce the risk to the public from dangerous individuals who potentially will reoffend.
Although we support the measure, albeit we would like it to go further, we need to ensure that VOOs catch people who endanger the public, and it is not entirely clear which category of offender is likely to be caught by VOOs. We would like clarification of that if the Minister would be kind enough to provide it.
Given the success of the sex offenders register in enabling authorities to keep track of individuals, we struggle to understand why the Government do not extend the reporting requirements so that the offenders register applies to all individuals subject to a violent offender order. That would prevent information on the national database from going out of date. At present, only individuals with violent offender orders currently on probation or on licence are subject to the ongoing reporting requirements.
Proper supervision and support are critical to preventing individuals from reoffending once they have served their sentence or been released from psychiatric care. Do the Government recognise that if violent offenders are not subject to the same reporting requirements as sex offenders, we are likely to continue to have preventable tragedies such as that of the murdered banker John Monckton, who was stabbed by a man who had been released early from prison, or 16-year-old Mary-Ann Leneghan, who was tortured by six men, four of whom were on probation at the time?
I understand that the Government are finally prepared to implement exit and entry checks for that small section of society, but how will they do so when they do not have a broader system of entry and exit checks? Would this not be the opportunity to recognise that entry and exit checks would make sense for all individuals who come into and leave the country? Whether or not that made the immigration system more effective, it would certainly enable the system of managing violent offenders to be more effective.
Lastly, I understand that there has been no impact assessment as there is no foreseen impact on the private or voluntary sectors, but surely there are significant implications for the public sector. Has there been some assessment of that impact, and will the Minister share it with us?
10.48 am
Contents Continue
House of Commons 
home page Parliament home page House of 
Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2009
Prepared 8 July 2009