Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment
of Offenders bill
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Kate Emms, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
‘(3) (a) The Secretary of State shall not exercise his powers under sections 6A, 6B and 6C of the Repatriation of Prisoners Act 1984 unless he makes a declaration that any person transited under these sections is not at risk of execution, torture or persecution.
(b) A declaration must be in writing and be published in such a manner as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.’.—(Helen Goodman.)
Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): It is good to see you in the Chair for the last sitting of the Committee, Mr Hollobone. Before the break, we were discussing clause 105 and I raised concerns about human rights issues and countries to which people were being sent. However, the Minister has assured me that he sees no risk and that the administrative systems in place mean that such risks could not be overlooked, so there would not be authorisation for people to be sent to countries where they would be liable to be tortured. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Helen Goodman: On a point of order, Mr Hollobone. I seek your guidance. Is this not the point at which we may discuss schedule 14? I thought that clause 106 made provision for incorporating schedule 14. Is that right?
The Chair: The order of proceedings for consideration of amendments, clauses, schedules and so on was set out in the programme motion, so we must consider clause 106 before we get to schedule 14. That is the Committee’s wish, which it is my humble duty to follow.
‘““approved educational course” means an educational course run by the Probation service””.’.
Helen Goodman: We have concerns about the schedule and the proposals to extend penalty notices for disorder, or rather, the proposed relaxation of the process for issuing such notices. Amendment 426 is designed to maintain the obligation for a police officer issuing a penalty notice for disorder to be in uniform and for the act to take place within a police station. I want to explain why we have that concern, and I need to say some things about penalty notices for disorder to set it in context.
Penalty notices for disorder are fixed financial penalties that can be imposed as a result of committing minor offences. They are a long-standing measure for dealing with speeding and parking fines, but in 2000 the then Labour Government extended them to prevent antisocial and drunken behaviour. They were introduced for the 43 police forces in England and Wales in 2004 under the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001.
At present, any person over the age of 16 may receive a PND for a minor disorder, provided that the issuing officer has reason to believe that the person has committed a specified offence. Currently, the fine level is £50 for minor offences, but may be up to £80 for more serious offences.
PNDs were intended to offer officers an effective alternative means of dealing with low-level crime, to deliver swift, simple and effective justice, to reduce the amount of time spent on paperwork, and to increase the amount of time spent on the beat. In fact, it is estimated that they have had those effects. Preparing an evidential case file takes two hours, but a PND takes about half an hour to process. There are also various provisions in the event that an offender does not comply with the PND, and they may be taken to court and end up with a criminal record.
We are worried about allowing PNDs to be issued by police officers who are not in uniform, but are out on the street anywhere. I want to take the Committee back to a former Prime Minister’s idea of marching people to cash points. That was generally thought not to be very sensible, and I suggest that the proposal before us is similar to that. The practicalities are alarming. We are worried about personation if a police officer is not in uniform, and about intemperate use of PNDs on the spot. We believe it important to retain the requirement that only authorised constables in a police station may issue PNDs and not, for example, new recruits. Her Majesty’s Opposition are totally committed to membership of the European Union, but the provision moves us in a continental direction with which we are not entirely comfortable.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Crispin Blunt): Amendment 427 seeks to amend schedule 14 by redefining “approved educational course”—[ Interruption. ] We are dealing with the amendments together, and I am able to make only one speech on them.
Mr Blunt: I cannot tell you, Mr Hollobone, with what enthusiasm your ruling has been received by the Committee. With amendment 427, I will get my retaliation in first, and I imagine that you will be generous enough to enable the hon. Lady to return to the charge. I will try to inflict only one speech on the Committee and deal with both amendments.
rather than the police. That would not be appropriate and would run counter to our vision for education schemes. Probation resources are stretched in the current climate—the Opposition constantly remind us of that, despite being responsible for the problem—and are therefore rightly focused on much more serious offenders than those who would receive a PND, whom educational course schemes are intended to target. The probation service would therefore not be qualified or resourced to establish national or local PND educational courses. The police are far better placed to run such courses locally, which will highlight the consequences of the sort of low-level antisocial behaviour that PNDs are intended to tackle. Indeed, a number of forces already run informal education schemes. PNDs are not suitable for offenders with the ingrained underlying problems that existing probation services are designed to tackle.
Amendment 426 would reinstate the requirement that a constable must be in uniform when using a PND outside a police station, and that an officer must be formally authorised to issue a PND inside a police station. Such requirements are unnecessary and can cause difficulties for the police at an operational level. The first element concerns authorisation of police officers in uniform in a police station. We definitely consider that to be unnecessary bureaucracy that can be done away with, as far as issuing PNDs within the confines of a police station is concerned.
As for the issue of police on the streets in plain clothes, what we are seeking to address is operations such as test purchases for under-age alcohol sales. Such officers are not in uniform, and are consequently forced to bring suspects back to the police station to issue a PND. We want to remove such inefficiency and bureaucratic obstacles and simplify front-line police processes. There is no longer a need for such restrictive practices.
Let me return to the issue of police officers in police stations, because the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland was looking deeply sceptical at that point. She talked about trainee police officers. Of course, all officers are fully trained to issue PNDs appropriately as part of their probationary training. To then require them to be formally authorised to issue PNDs after they have received that probationary training inside a police station
As for why police should be in uniform, the hon. Lady raised the issue of personation. It would be slightly odd—I suppose it is conceivably possible—for someone to pretend to be a police officer and issue a penalty notice. Such a penalty notice plainly would not have any merit, because it would not be an official penalty notice. Penalty notices do not require the paying of cash on the spot; it is a penalty notice that is ordered, and the dealing of the penalty is not part of the process of issuing the notice. Therefore, it is not a concern that should weigh very heavily against the potential advantages of such a scheme. I mentioned the example of operations against under-age alcohol sales. Another situation envisaged is plain clothes detectives investigating reports of potentially serious offending. They will be unable to issue on-the-spot PNDs for the offence of wasting police time if those reports turn out to be false or mischievous.
Equally, if, during drug dealing investigations, officers in plain clothes have to deal with more minor offences being committed such as the possession of cannabis, which might attract a PND, they would not, under current arrangements, be able to issue a PND for the offence on the street. This measure is about appropriate operational flexibility. I hope that my examples make it clear in what circumstances police in plain clothes might issue PNDs. I do not anticipate circumstances that will widen their scope.
Mr Blunt: I am happy to provide that the hon. Gentleman with that information, and I shall be happy to listen to the hon. Lady’s case for amendment 427, if she is allowed another go. However, I hope I have provided a strong case against it that the Committee finds satisfactory, without my having to return to it.
Helen Goodman: The hon. Gentleman’s attitude to amendment 426 was rather cavalier. I remind him of the responses to the White Paper, “Breaking the Cycle”. The criminal sub-committee of the Council of Her Majesty’s Circuit Judges said:
“We have expressed our concerns about the ever increasing use of out of court disposals for what is, in reality, criminal activity for some years. We remain very concerned…Out of court disposals have, increasingly, been used as a response to truly criminal activity and the general public may have no idea how the situation has developed and the range of matters that may now be dealt with by extra judicial processes…Until recent years, in our view appropriately, the use of fixed financial penalties has been in relation to offences that might be termed ‘regulatory.’”
“The use of fixed penalties as a response to truly criminal offending is to create the impression that truly criminal offending is not to be treated as significant. We are concerned that this is likely to encourage the belief that crime may not result in retribution and introduce the perception that some criminal activity does not merit proper process or consequences whilst other matters which might be deemed regulatory breach rather than truly criminal activity, result in equivalent or more serious consequences. In the long term, such a policy carries substantial risk. If less serious, but nonetheless criminal activity is to result in similar sanctions to regulatory breach, it is likely to come to be regarded as no more serious. So at the risk of stating the obvious if, for example, theft in a shop attracts the same consequence as unlawful parking, it may come to be regarded as equivalent in seriousness. This must have an impact upon the numbers who may be tempted to engage in truly criminal activity.”
The committee was not only the only body to ask some serious questions. Liberty was also worried about proposals aimed at increasing the use of out-of-court disposals, including notices for disorder. It believes that it is contrary to fundamental principles of justice for prosecutors and
“police to be able to impose on-the-spot punishment without the involvement of the judiciary. By-passing normal judicial and fair trial safeguards can leave individuals open to bias and irrationality in sentencing decisions.”
In their reply, Lord Justices Thomas and Goldring said that there was a general question mark over the record of out-of-court disposals and, further, that it was sometimes difficult properly to assess the seriousness of a case.
Mr Blunt: We have not had the stand part debate on the matter, which is where the hon. Lady is taking us. I was replying to her specific amendments, but I am detecting a change in Opposition policy. She made remarks about the previous Prime Minister. Has the Opposition’s policy on PNDs changed?
Helen Goodman: No. We are opposing the changes to the way in which PNDs put in place by this Government will operate. The fact is that they are proposing a change, and we are trying to maintain the existing boundaries and processes that we feel are necessary to get the balance right between effectiveness and flexibility, and the risk of inappropriate use of PNDs. We feel that these changes move over that boundary.
Mr Dave Watts (St Helens North) (Lab): Is not the provision a charter, for example, for people to join a club, get themselves involved in vandalism and pay a fine that never shows up anywhere else on their record? They can then go out the following week and carry out the same sort of activity. Is such an approach not encouraging bad behaviour? It sounds to me like something that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor might have been involved in.
Helen Goodman: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. I am not suggesting that this relates in any way to the sort of activities that Government Members might have been involved in earlier in their careers. I am saying that there is scope for criminal activity and personation. For example, the Minister says, “Well, it’s all okay
Ben Gummer (Ipswich) (Con): I am glad that the hon. Lady shares my concern about the activity of my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon in male voice choirs earlier in his career. The point is not about PNDs—on which we can have a legitimate discussion elsewhere, and which were the subject of considerable debate in previous Parliaments—but about the bureaucracy involved in the issuing of PNDs. Clearly, a plain-clothes policeman showing a warrant card should be able to issue a PND, rather than having to go through the palaver of asking a uniformed officer, who is probably needed elsewhere, to turn up at the scene to issue one. All the Government are trying to do is to simplify and de-bureaucratise what is now a commonplace.
Helen Goodman: That may be the Government’s intention, and I am not going to question the motives of Government Members, but Opposition Members see risks with what is being proposed. Those fears have not been allayed by what has been said so far.
Let me move on to education. To be honest, we were a bit puzzled by this. At a time when the police are under pressure to manage their resources very tightly, Ministers are suggesting a whole new area of activity. I appreciate that the proposal is that people pay for the courses; nevertheless, given issues such as the amount of time required to set up these things, up-front investment will be required. I am not confident that the range of skills required to do that successfully are available to police forces at the moment. What do the police think about the matter? When I had discussions with the Association of Chief Police Officers, it was totally unaware of the proposal. I am not sure what consultation Ministers undertook on the issue. It is not at all clear whether we can have courses of an even standard throughout the country, or what kind of quality control the Minister is thinking of.
Finally, may I bring to the Minister’s attention a practical example? A constituent of mine in Durham was charged with speeding in Wales, and was asked to go on the course in Wales. That is not a practical or sensible way of carrying on, yet the Bill will reinforce that problem—people who commit an offence in a particular place being expected to go back to that place. Can the Minister offer a little more by way of explanation?
Mr Llwyd: On speeding in Wales and the courses there, I can tell the hon. Lady about a friend of mine who was a graduate of such a course. When he was having his mid-afternoon tea, his “tutor” asked him whether he lived near Bala, and he said yes. He was asked, “How long will it take you to get home?” He said, “Well, if I put my foot down”. I hope that helps.
Mr Blunt: I am afraid that I shall inflict another speech on the Committee, for which I apologise, but I must respond to the hon. Lady’s points. I think I have disposed of the personation issue and I do not intend to return to it.
Education courses are simply an option for police forces. They do not have to set up such schemes if they do not wish to, but the provision gives individual forces the opportunity to do so. The hon. Lady drew attention to the difficulties experienced by people on the speeding scheme, who are expected to attend a course instead of taking the points, and who pay for the course rather than paying the fine. She said that her constituent had to go to Wales because that is where they were caught speeding. First, people have the option of taking the points and paying the fine; they do not have to go to Wales to attend the programme. As I understand it, if such a scheme is available closer to someone’s home, they can choose to go on a course closer to home, so there is already some flexibility built into the system. There is a national website that lists where courses are available. That is just one example of the case that the hon. Lady gave.
Helen Goodman: It is an example that applies only to the driving courses. The Minister has just told us that education courses could be set up by police forces if they so wish. A person can take points in a speeding case, but what is the alternative with education courses? Although he may have a case—not a very strong one—regarding moving around the country for the speeding courses, if, say, only five out of 43 constabularies decide to go down this road, it will not be possible to do the education courses.
Mr Blunt: The parallel is precisely the same as in the case of speeding courses now. A person is issued with a penalty; they can effectively buy out the penalty by doing the education course. They do not have to do the course; if they decide it is massively inconvenient to do the course, they can pay the penalty. That is the position. The operational objections do not exist. In the speeding cases, the purpose is to try to encourage people to take part in the programme so that they receive education on the issue of speeding. If police forces set up education schemes relating to particular forms of disagreeable antisocial behaviour to try to make people behave better, the object will be to get people to take part in such programmes. If they do not, they will have to pay the penalty. Plainly, it will be better for people to take part in a programme than pay the penalty, which is why the price of a programme is likely to be less than a penalty. I do not imagine that police forces will come forward with programmes that will not, at the very least, cover their costs; the hon. Lady is right about that.
The clause would remove the requirement that before a police officer can impose a conditional caution they must first refer the matter to the Crown Prosecution Service. Currently, before an authorised person—usually a police officer—can impose a conditional caution, it is necessary for the relevant prosecutor, which is usually the CPS, to decide whether there is sufficient evidence to charge the offender with the offence, and impose the conditional caution.
Removing the requirement that the police must first refer the offender’s case to the CPS could be dangerous, as it would effectively allow the police to sentence the offender, as well as being responsible for his or her arrest. The Opposition believe that the involvement of the CPS would be likely to result in a more robust approach to conditional cautions than if the police had sole responsibility.
In addition, the clause would allow the police to decide and vary the conditions that the offender consented to. Obviously, most police officers in this country are excellent, but we feel that without such a cross-check there is a risk that conditional cautions will be given inappropriately and that biases of various kinds could arise. For example, young offenders, people with mental health problems or learning difficulties, or foreign offenders might be persuaded to accept a conditional caution without realising the full implications.
This relaxation has to be taken in the context of the increase in the use of conditional cautions. In 2003, 241,000 alleged offences were dealt with out of court. By 2008, the figure had more than doubled to 567,000, so the proportion of alleged offences dealt with outside court has produced a sea change in the use of this approach to tackling crime. We have had representations from both Liberty and the Magistrates’ Association about the inconsistent use of conditional cautions in different constabularies. For example, in some areas chief constables have targets for the proportion of offences that are dealt with out of court and the proportion that go to trial. We feel that this is problematic and inappropriate and that if we do not have the advice of the Crown Prosecution Service, that kind of thing might get out of control.
Some things are pretty straightforward. It is not very difficult to ascertain whether someone has parked on a double yellow line, but police officers who have to determine whether there is a problem of disorder are making more complex judgments about what has happened. We are not comfortable with them doing that without the second opinion of the CPS. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary said in its report that there are
Although Ministers have repeatedly told us that they want to reduce target chasing, we think the measure is more likely to engender such behaviour by constabularies, especially when the Government are putting them under such severe financial pressure. If the constabulary takes the view that it is a way to save resources because it is not so resource intensive, injustices may result. We are concerned that by accepting conditional cautions, people may not understand the implications for their employment and their ability to travel abroad. It is extremely important, given the significant level of controversy, that the system provides safeguards and gives the public more confidence that it is being operated properly and equitably throughout the country. I expect that the Minister will say that the provision is a little bureaucratic measure that is all about money-saving—so much of the Bill is about that—but we say that the quality of justice matters and that it is not right to put a cost-cutting agenda above public protection.
Mr Blunt: We have received an interesting lecture on the consequences of target setting from the hon. Lady, and it has to be said that she and her colleagues ought to know. The use of PNDs fell substantially after 2007, because before that the numbers had been seriously inflated by Government targets for bringing offenders to justice.
Clause 107 will enable a police officer to decide whether to offer a conditional caution to an offender, to set and vary the conditions attached to the caution and to decide whether to charge the offender for the original offence in the event of non-compliance. It will remove the existing requirement that such matters be referred to the Crown Prosecution Service for a decision by a prosecutor in every case. At present, a police officer cannot make the decision to offer a conditional caution, even for offences where the police have the power to charge the offender or to administer a simple caution without reference to the CPS. That inconsistency in a police officer’s decision-making powers can create not only confusion, but unnecessary bureaucracy for both the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.
Conditional cautions provide scope for reparation to be made to victims and communities, for rehabilitative conditions to tackle the underlying causes of an offender’s behaviour and for punishments to be administered in a way that cannot be done with simple cautions and other out-of-court disposals. It is unfortunate that the requirement for a prosecutor to authorise the decision to offer a conditional caution has perhaps resulted in such disposals being used less often than they might have been. The clause will remove that requirement.
I shall be surprised if the figure for conditional cautions goes from between 7,000 and 8,000 to 500,000, but I should be delighted if they were more widely used as part of ordinary, everyday policing. The clause is intended precisely to give more flexibility to the police to deal appropriately with low-level offences, which is entirely consistent with delivering restorative justice at a lower level.
The other requirements for a conditional caution remain unchanged, including that offenders must admit the offence, that they consent to being given a conditional caution and that they agree to the conditions. Offenders will always have the right to decline the offer of a conditional caution or to withdraw their previous agreement, in which case they may be prosecuted for the original offence.
The clause does not remove the power for the CPS to give a conditional caution and vary conditions, nor does it prevent the police from seeking advice from the CPS on whether a conditional caution would be appropriate in individual cases. We recognise that there are likely to be cases where it will remain more appropriate for the CPS rather than the police to decide to offer a conditional caution, and arrangements for such cases will be set out in guidance. This excellent clause will aid significantly the delivery of effective lower-level policing.
Helen Goodman: The Minister has corrected my statistics, but in doing so he has unwittingly demonstrated that the justice process is being undermined and that no significant savings from the measure will be accrued
‘(c) the Secretary of State shall make a declaration that any offender repatriated under this section is not at risk of torture or persecution.’.
Although we do not oppose the clause in principle, we want the Government’s reassurance that they have administrative systems in place to ensure, as we have discussed, that foreign offenders who are repatriated under the clause are not repatriated to countries where they individually face the risk of being tortured, and that vulnerable offenders are not presented with this as the only option available to them. I just want the Minister to explain how he intends the measure to operate.
Mr Blunt: The hon. Lady asks an entirely reasonable question. The clause relates to the administration of the new types of conditions that can be attached to a conditional caution with the object of bringing about the departure from the UK of a foreign national offender who has no leave to enter or remain in the country and ensuring that they do not return for a specified period.
The amendment would seek to have the Secretary of State ensure that in every case where such conditions are offered the foreign national is not at risk of torture or persecution. The amendment is unnecessary because the new conditions do not remove the obligations of the Secretary of State to provide protection for those at risk of torture and persecution. No one will be forcibly removed from the United Kingdom when to do so would breach our international treaty and human rights obligations. The clause does not change that. It is for an individual to make a claim for international protection,
It is possible that some of the document fraud offences in the scope of the clause could be committed by someone seeking to enter the United Kingdom due to a fear of torture or persecution abroad. I imagine that that is the concern behind the amendment. The Committee should note that a statutory defence to such offences already applies where the person has a good reason for their illegal entry, and has presented themselves to the UK authorities without delay and made an asylum claim within a reasonable period after entry. Prosecution is not appropriate where that defence applies, and nor is a caution. The intention behind the conditions described in clause 108 is to provide an alternative to prosecution in appropriate cases involving foreign offenders who have no right to be in the United Kingdom. The conditions will be offered only to those offenders who have no legal right to enter or remain in the United Kingdom, who admit the offence and who accept the conditional caution and the condition that he or she depart from the United Kingdom and not return for a specified period. I am grateful for the Opposition’s support for that objective.
Foreign nationals who make asylum or human rights claims to remain in the UK, or who have such outstanding claims, will not be eligible to receive a conditional caution because they have a legal basis to stay in the country while their claim is considered and, clearly, they would not agree to depart from the United Kingdom. Additionally, it is worth noting that a foreign national who accepts a conditional caution with the new conditions is in no way prevented from subsequently lodging an asylum or human rights claim to remain in the UK should their circumstances change in any way. In such cases, the conditional caution will be withdrawn and the individual may instead be prosecuted for the offence they had committed.
Care needs to be taken to ensure that such a scheme operates fairly and effectively and in line with our obligations under the refugee convention and the European convention on human rights. Proper consideration of the circumstances of each case by the police and the UK Border Agency, with advice from the Crown Prosecution Service, is vital for making appropriate decisions on the suitability of offering conditional cautions to foreign offenders, but the safeguard proposed by the amendment is not needed to achieve that.
For the reasons I have outlined, I hope that the hon. Lady is satisfied that sufficient safeguards already exist and that it is unnecessary for the Secretary of State to make a declaration such as that required by the amendment.
Helen Goodman: I am grateful to the Minister for addressing the cases of people who become refugees. I had such a case in my constituency. He was an Iranian who came out as homosexual, and, obviously, had he been repatriated to Iran, where homosexuality is a criminal offence, he would have been endangered.
‘(1) A constable may give a child or young person (“Y”) a caution under this section (“a youth caution”) where the following requirements are satisfied—
(a) the first requirement is that the constable has evidence that the young offender has committed an offence, and
(b) the second requirement is that a relevant prosecutor decides—
(i) that there is sufficient evidence to charge the young offender with the offence, and
(ii) that a caution should be given to the young offender in respect of the offence,
(c) the third requirement is that the young offender admits to the constable in the presence of an appropriate adult that he committed the offence,
(d) the fourth requirement is that the authorised person explains the effect of the caution to the young offender in the presence of an appropriate adult, including the fact that it will appear on a Criminal Records Bureau check’.
‘(8) In this Chapter “relevant prosecutor” has the meaning set out in section 27 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003’.
Mr Slaughter: This is the last group of amendments and the last chapter that I will address on this Committee, so as I believe you will not be with us at the end of the afternoon, Mr Hollobone, I want to put on record my thanks, and those of my colleagues, for the exemplary way in which you have chaired the Committee. It has been a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.
The amendments fall into two groups. The first group addresses the simple point of whether “appropriate adult” should apply to 17-year-olds as it applies to under-17s. We feel the amendments are consistent with the Government’s other changes to the treatment of 17-year-olds in the criminal justice system. I do not need to say any more about that because it is straightforward, and I hope it will be straightforwardly accepted by the Government and, in doing so, that we break their duck on accepting Opposition amendments.
The second group of amendments are like the amendments to the previous clauses, on the adult context, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland. The remainder of the clauses in the chapter address out-of-court disposals, and the amendments address prosecutorial oversight. I hope that, by addressing that issue, my comments will apply equally to our approach and to what we hope is the Government’s approach to these clauses. Hopefully, that will mean
We do not oppose the Government’s track here, but I am slightly concerned about what the Minister said to my hon. Friend a few moments ago about separating conditional adult cautions from other types of out-of-court disposal. There is a need not to salami-slice but to look at how out-of-court disposals are dealt with, how they differ from other disposals, the flexibilities that are granted and the degree of oversight provided. There was a large expansion of out-of court disposals under previous Labour Governments—they are appropriate in many cases; they are quicker and cheaper and do not interfere with the course of justice—but when we make such changes or review the process we must consider the implications.
Clause 109 deals essentially with flexibility, which can be argued both ways. The Government argue that flexibility increases the sentencer’s discretion, making the system less rigid, and that it may, therefore, provide a wider range of possibilities, which might, in the long run, be in everyone’s interest, including that of the offender. The clause contains a change from the two-stage “two strikes and you’re out” process introduced by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 to a situation allowing for a further and more general process for youth cautions, and the following clause states that the process can be used more than once, even after conviction and sentencing.
We are not minded to oppose the provision; we simply say that there are risks because the more rigid system at least gives clear guidance. It provides an escalator effect, saying to young people that they are encountering the criminal justice system for the first time, and that the system has repercussions that become more serious as they move through the process. First there is a reprimand, then a final warning, and then the possibility of a criminal conviction. There is some rigidity, which might focus the mind and divert the young person.
The Government wish to try an alternative approach. In the long term, it might be more successful and we are willing to give it a go, but when one changes a system in such a way it is appropriate to review where one is and, particularly when greater flexibilities and options are introduced, to consider whether checks and balances are needed. That is why we raise the issue of prosecutorial oversight in amendments 337 to 339, and it would be interesting to hear the Minister’s response, including how the Government see out-of-court disposals more generally—whether there is likely to be a great expansion, or more variety in the ways they are dealt with. I do not think that he has addressed those matters.
On out-of-court disposals, there are serious concerns both from the sentencer’s point of view—my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland quoted some comments about that, including from the criminal sub-committee of the Council of Her Majesty’s Circuit Judges—and about the opportunity for more serious offences, which the general public would consider offences of violence or disobedience rather than of strict liability, to become the subject of out-of-court disposals. Circuit judges take the view that liberalising how out-of-court disposals are given might create a tendency to trivialise. In their
“may be exercising his discretion on an incomplete basis. He/she may not know whether there are unpaid fixed penalty notices, or an out of court disposal in another police area for a similar offence.”
When one is liberalising the system, it may be appropriate to see whether procedural problems arise. All too often, records are incomplete when matters to go court. A particular court may not have all the information that it needs on the offender at that stage, but at least that is a known requirement, and if the information is not there, the matter may be adjourned. If one left such matters entirely to individual officers, there could be more of a risk. There are both practical matters and issues of principle.
Equally, the objection from organisations such as Liberty—it might be called the fair trial objection—is that the more one moves towards forms of summary justice, the more discretion one gives to police officers rather than to judicial authorities. The wider the range of opportunities in the process of offending, the greater the opportunity there is for injustices to occur. Although the offences are not of the most serious, they can be important—offences of dishonesty and of violence, such as criminal damage. They could have a material impact on the life chances of the offender or the prejudices that may be shown towards them, so they may therefore need a greater degree of advice and scrutiny at the time.
For those reasons, we raise the matter as one of concern. I will not say more about it at the moment, but we would like assurances that the Minister has considered the issues. Does he consider, specifically in the context of the amendments, that a greater degree of prosecutorial oversight is necessary, given that the Government’s changes on youth cautions are quite substantial? Does he share the concerns expressed by senior members of the judiciary and organisations with a great deal of experience in monitoring out-of-court disposals over the years that they have been in effect?
Mr Llwyd: The hon. Gentleman has raised some important issues in the debate, short as it was. He quoted Lord Justices Thomas and Goldring on what they said about the possibility of imposing penalties—for penalties they are—on incomplete information. That is important. An offender could have several unexpired similar impositions, and officers would simply not know on the spot whether that was the case. That is an important point. Several of his other points need exploration, too. For my part, I fully support the hon. Gentleman’s comments.
Mr Blunt: Since both the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd and the hon. Member for Hammersmith addressed the general issues of the clause as much as the specifics of the amendments, I will make my remarks as if we were having a clause stand part debate, at the beginning of the section on youth cautions, in order to put the whole section in context. I am grateful for the Opposition’s general support for what we are seeking to do in this part of the Bill.
Clause 109 will repeal sections 65 and 66 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which provide for reprimands and warnings, also known as the final warning scheme.
The clause forms part of the reforms in the Bill that we are making to the current system of youth out-of-court disposals, which we signalled in the justice Green Paper, “Breaking the Cycle”. The current system is unnecessarily complex and does not consistently apply assessments and interventions designed to rehabilitate young offenders and reduce reoffending, so we are removing the escalator principle inherent in reprimands and warnings. That principle normally results in a higher-level response for a further offence, regardless of the seriousness of the offence and the proportionality of the response. Consequently, the effect of the clause will be to increase professional discretion, so that the most appropriate disposal can be used based on the circumstances of the offence.
At present, the system is inflexible and disproportionate, arbitrarily requiring youth offenders to be dealt with in court when an adult would not be. We believe that offenders under the age of 18 should have the same opportunity to be dealt with out of court when the offence is minor and a full court hearing is not necessary. The youth caution is an out-of-court disposal that will be available to a young person who admits committing a minor offence. The youth offending team will be notified of every youth caution that is given and it will be able to assess the young person and, if necessary, put in place interventions designed to prevent further offending.
Following a second or subsequent youth caution, the youth offending team will be required to assess the young person formally and to put in place a rehabilitation programme unless that is considered inappropriate.
Mr Slaughter: We certainly do not oppose the greater involvement of YOTs, which seems entirely sensible. However, has the Minister made any assessment of the additional costs that will be incurred as a result of this change?
As I was saying, following a second or subsequent youth caution, the youth offending team will be required to assess the young person formally and to put in place a rehabilitation programme unless that is considered inappropriate.
On the issue of costs that the hon. Gentleman has just raised, I will see if I have clear advice to give him and the Committee. However, I do not see that this process will lead to increased costs; indeed, the reverse is probably true. Giving proper flexibility and getting away from the escalator principle prevents our going down a route whereby people perhaps get disproportionate disposals that are more expensive than the offence and its circumstances merit. The thresholds remain as before.
This more extensive action reflects the current arrangements under the final warning scheme. The content of the rehabilitation programme will still be decided by the YOT, but it may include addressing
However, the clause places a restriction on the court’s power conditionally to discharge an offender when they have been convicted of a further offence within two years of receiving a youth caution if, before the caution, they have received another caution or a youth conditional caution. That ensures that repeated offending is dealt with and that intervention by a YOT will be triggered. The new provisions also allow for the receipt of a youth caution, or a failure to participate in an intervention arising from a youth caution, to be cited if the offender is brought back before the court for further offending. That replicates existing provisions for warnings.
I now turn to the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Hammersmith. Amendments 337 and 338 would require the consent of a relevant prosecutor for a youth caution to be administered; in both cases, that would be the Crown Prosecution Service. It is a long-standing principle that the police should be able to caution an offender for a minor offence, if the offender admits responsibility for that offence and it is not in the public interest to prosecute. Police can offer an adult a simple caution without reference to a prosecutor for all but the most serious offences, and it would be inconsistent for that not to apply to juveniles. We believe that the police are capable of determining when it is appropriate to administer a youth caution. Where there is doubt, they will be able to refer the case to a prosecutor, as is the existing practice.
Amendments 337 and 338 would impose an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy on both the police and prosecutors, and they would create an unwarranted delay in resolving cases. Such a delay is not in the interests of justice, victims or communities, and it would take police away from vital and visible front-line policing while they fill in forms and await the prosecutor’s consent. It is for those very reasons that the Bill contains clauses that allow the police to offer adult and youth conditional cautions without reference to a Crown prosecutor.
Amendment 337 would also require that the young person’s admission be made in the presence of an appropriate adult, and that the young person must be warned that the youth caution will appear on any Criminal Records Bureau check. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 codes of practice require that police interviews of persons aged under 17 who are suspected of having committed criminal offences should normally be made in the presence of an appropriate adult. In addition, clause 109 already provides for the effect of the caution to be explained to the young person in the presence of an appropriate adult if the young person is aged under 17. The guidance that must be published under proposed new section 66ZB will set out the implications of receiving a youth caution for the recipient,
Amendment 339 would remove the bar to sentencing a young person to a conditional discharge if they have received a youth caution in the two years before their conviction and they have also received other youth cautions or youth conditional cautions at any point prior to that. The amendment seeks to remove that restriction, and the Government cannot support it. In the case of young offenders, we believe that early and rehabilitative intervention is critical in meeting our aim of reducing reoffending rates. A conditional discharge has its place in the sentencing structure, but it does not involve the young person receiving intervention to prevent them from reoffending.
Where there is a pattern of repeat offending, and multiple cautions have been given, a more interventionist and robust sentence such as a referral order or a youth rehabilitation order should be available unless exceptional circumstances apply that would justify a conditional discharge. In that way, we will ensure that if a young person is sentenced after receiving youth cautions, they will receive a sentence that proactively tackles their offending behaviour. That is the purpose of our rehabilitation agenda.
Amendments 347 and 348 would routinely require an appropriate adult to be present when a 17-year-old is given a youth caution. The presence of an appropriate adult in such circumstances is not currently required by PACE or its codes of practice. For the reasons that I will set out, the amendments are both undesirable and unnecessary. Clause 109 requires an appropriate adult to be present when a youth caution is issued to someone aged under 17. PACE and the codes of practice currently require an appropriate adult to be present for a person aged under 17 from the outset when, for example, the young person is informed of the grounds of their detention, informed of their rights or interviewed. The codes of practice also require an appropriate adult to be present from the outset for a 17-year-old, or indeed anyone over that age, whenever there is any doubt about their mental state or capacity to understand their position and what is happening. If such doubt exists, they must be treated as being vulnerable, and an appropriate adult must be called.
By departing from the established position under PACE and the codes of practice, the amendments would create a series of consequences, the most undesirable of which includes a possible doubling of demand for appropriate adults across England and Wales. In the absence of arrangements to compensate for the increased demand, fewer appropriate adults would be available for detainees under 17, which in turn would be likely to increase the periods for which they are detained as well as increasing costs for police. Under the terms of the amendments, the giving of a proposed youth caution to a 17-year-old would almost certainly have to be delayed until the appropriate adult arrived. In addition, when a constable decides that a person is not to be prosecuted, their release cannot be delayed solely to give a youth caution. In such circumstances, therefore, the young person would need to be bailed to return when an appropriate adult would be present, adding to the delay and requiring bail paperwork to be completed solely for that purpose.
We are not unsympathetic to the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Hammersmith that those aged 17, like those under 17, should be entitled to the presence of an appropriate adult. Work is already under way in the Home Office, the Youth Justice Board and the Ministry of Justice to consider that matter. However, the resource implications I have outlined are significant, and in the current circumstances they must be overcome before any change can be made. With those assurances, I hope the hon. Gentleman will be persuaded to withdraw the amendment.
Mr Slaughter: I am grateful for the Minister’s response, particularly for his final comments about the fact that the Ministry of Justice is, at least, considering the matter of appropriate adults. Our proposal is consistent with the Government’s approach elsewhere. We feel strongly that many 17-year-olds in such cases will be immature and, finding themselves in intimidating circumstances, they will need support.
I entirely agree with the Minister’s remarks about resources. From my experience, the appropriate adult system is already in a state of disarray because of the Government’s failure to support it sufficiently. I have talked to people who act as appropriate adults in my constituency and have learned that they are being asked to do double shifts and weekend work, and to make themselves available in a way that was not previously required, because there are insufficient people to do the job. However, in the light of the Minister’s comments, I shall not press the amendments to a vote.
We have concerns about the substantial changes to how youth cautions will work, which might send out the wrong signals—that youth cautions can be used in a much more liberal fashion now, in that they can be issued post-conviction and be used several times rather than once or twice, compared with warnings and reprimands. That gives a great deal more licence and discretion to those who are issuing them. Nevertheless, we are prepared to suck it and see, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
‘person under the age of 21’.
‘person under the age of 21’.
The amendments aim to extend the youth cautioning system to young adults between the ages of 18 and 20, and would require the police officer who gives the caution to refer such young adults to the local probation trust. The Prison Reform Trust and other experienced external bodies, which I support, believe an approach similar to the one we propose would be beneficial for young adults aged between 18 and 20. Such young people, like juveniles, often lack maturity, and those who are given to unruly behaviour particularly demonstrate that.
The amendments are probing, and I do not intend to press them to a vote, but I shall briefly make their case. On the background to the proposals, we know that in the past decade, the youth justice system has been greatly transformed. There is no doubt that it has improved—thanks, largely, to the important work of the Youth Justice Board and the many positive interventions of individual youth offending teams.
Those changes are having a real impact on the ground. Between 2007-08 and 2009-10, the number of children entering the system for the first time fell by 39% to approximately 61,000. The number of those sentenced to custody fell from 6,853 to 5,130, a drop of 25%. As a result, the number of offences committed by children fell by about one third to just below 200,000 in 2010.
As I said, the Prison Reform Trust, among others, believes that the time is right to build on this success by extending the multi-agency approach to young adults aged 18 to 20. Let us pause to think for a moment—many of these youngsters are illiterate, innumerate and may well be harbouring feelings of hopelessness. They are, to say the very least, immature and we would not really regard them as young adults. They are legally young adults, but they should be dealt with differently. That is the main thrust of my argument.
In June last year, there were 7,927 18 to 20-year-olds in custody—almost 10% of the prison population. Although the Ministry of Justice notes a slight downward trend in the number of young adults sentenced to custody, reoffending rates are still stubbornly high. As I said, social factors obviously play a part, but the lack of any real focus on the specific needs of these young adults in the criminal justice system appears to undermine the chances of reducing offending behaviour by this age group.
More than half of the young adults given a custodial sentence reoffend within a year of release, and up to two thirds of them do so within two years, which is absolutely appalling. The cost of young adult offending is estimated to be about £19 billion per annum, including more than £1 billion on custodial and community services. It is, therefore, not surprising that young adults are disproportionately represented in the current prison population. Young men from black and minority ethnic backgrounds are even more starkly over-represented.
Research by the Barrow Cadbury Trust has recently revealed that between 40% and 49% of 18 to 21-year-old young men in custody have been in local authority residential care. Forty per cent. of young women and
Perhaps as important as the youth caution itself is the requirement to refer the child or the young person or young adult to the local youth offending team. These teams have responsibility to ensure that those at risk of falling into a pattern of offending behaviour are diverted from that outcome through the development of a rehabilitation programme, including intensive support services. Their work has been crucial to the reduction in the number of offences committed by children. It could, therefore, be extended, with great benefit.
Responsibility for those aged 18 to 20 rests with the probation service and the few individual trusts with dedicated young adult teams. However, the increased focus of probation trusts on those posing the greatest risk to the public means that that is much less common today than in the past. The introduction of a requirement to refer young adults who have been cautioned to the local probation trust would therefore enable an assessment to be made of the benefit of a rehabilitation programme or their need for other support services.
Of course, that will not be necessary in most cases, and in any case the probation service cannot be expected to take on these additional responsibilities without some additional funding. That is clearly recognised and it would be foolish not to do it. At the end of the day, the cost-benefit analysis should be not simply in terms of monetary cost, which I support, but in terms of the cost to the families and the individuals themselves who are being hampered in their development as good citizens for the future.
As I mentioned at the commencement, these are probing amendments. I hope that the Minister will respond in due course with the Government’s approach. There is a great deal of support for the measures. These are not amendments for the sake of amendment; they involve a target group that is not making as much progress as it should.
I said that progress has been made on children, but the group slightly above children is not being dealt with equally well. Their results are not as good, and society is suffering for it, as well as the individuals and their families. There is a ready answer that should be tried, even for a limited period. If it were trialled for two years, that would be beneficial, in my view. In the view of others far more proficient than I, it would definitely pay dividends.
Mr Blunt: I am not sure what time you are pushing off, Mr Hollobone, but I echo the remarks made in tribute to your chairmanship. It was delightful to hear the hon. Member for Hammersmith being so charming in his compliments on how you have managed our affairs.
I am tempted to dispose of my advice, which was aimed carefully at the amendments tabled by the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd. He has raised the issue of how we deal with a particular group, and I am content to accept the general nature of his analysis. It is a particularly difficult group, and the system at the moment is plainly not succeeding as we would wish. The solution suggested by the amendments is that we should be able to refer people in that group to the arrangements available in youth offending teams.
I resist the amendments because they would create, in legal and statutory terms, one set of legislation aimed at children—that is, those under 18—and one aimed at adults. We should try to keep legislative principles clear about when we legislate for adults and when for children. Legislation is not the right place to address the complexity of the challenge faced by that particular age group. We must consider the tools that we have made available to ourselves through Parliament and statute.
Furthermore, the issue is more about resourcing. The right hon. Gentleman discussed the cost-benefit analysis, saying that interventions for that age group, such as investing in rehabilitative treatment and attention, would be likely to yield considerable benefits. I am happy to concede that point, as I believe it to be true; my only problem as the prisons Minister is resources. He referred to the probation service. If, in the current climate, we created extra burdens through statute by delivering interventions to that age group as intense as those youth offending teams bring to people under 18, I would not have the resources to give to the probation service or to youth offending teams—whichever took responsibility—to deliver what we prescribed, so we cannot prescribe in that way.
That takes us in the direction of payment by results. We must consider more imaginative ways to find the resources to create interventions to address all offender groups, but this group presents particular difficulties. We must find interventions that can make use of social finance or identify through local authorities, police forces, private companies that run prisons and public sector prisons all the mechanisms for obtaining better-quality and more effective interventions for that age group.
I do not have the answers for the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd on how the system operates. I do not think that the right way to go about it is to complicate further the legislative framework to try to address the issue. All I can say is that I am acutely conscious of the problem. We need to ensure that, given the colossal cost of failing to turn this particular age group around, we find ways to get interventions and investment into it, which will then deliver savings to the Ministry of Justice, because of the huge advantage of getting these people better and making them pro-social members of society. I do not want to rehearse all the different ways in which we are trying to do that, such as having payment by results. Payment by results will apply to this age group in all the different environments, as they will to the rest of the adult age group.
I accept the right hon. Gentleman’s general point about 18 to 20-year-olds presenting a particular challenge, and we need to be imaginative about how we deal with that. Hopefully, the potential benefits that arise from
There are operational issues that sit underneath this with 18 to 20-year-olds and young offender institutions: is it the right answer to concentrate it in particular places? Should one be trying to get adults mixed in with an offender population in custody? I know the right hon. Gentleman’s amendments go wider, to the whole gamut of offenders—both under supervision and in the community as well. Many issues flow from this. I hope that I have at least convinced the right hon. Gentleman that I am conscious of the challenge that we face. I hope that he will see that our systems have the flexibility to enable people within the criminal justice system to begin to address a priority age group.
Mr Llwyd: I am grateful to the Minister for his full response. Obviously, I would have preferred some action points to have emanated from it. To be fair and reasonable, however, I understand what he says. He and I will no doubt meet over the coming months, as I wear my hat as the chair of the justice unions group. Perhaps at that time we will be able to revisit the fact that he readily and fairly agrees that there is a concern and a discrete problem here. Hopefully, we will be able to discuss this matter further in the coming months, because it is vital. However we take it forward, something should be done.
Mr Slaughter: Our concerns about adult cautions were addressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland and, during my remarks on clause 109, I covered our approach to the group of clauses relating to youth cautions, so I do not need to speak at length on this matter. It goes without saying that what applies to adults in terms of taking care and ensuring that processes are not only thorough, but conducted at the appropriate level and with the appropriate scrutiny, applies even more to young people.
This change in policy removes the involvement of prosecutors in youth conditional cautions. I take the Minister’s practical point, which I am sure he will repeat in his response, that there may be a temptation not to invoke conditional cautions if that involves additional time, bureaucracy, and it results in a more complicated
Mr Blunt: This is similar to our previous debate. Turning to the detail, the clause does not remove the power of the CPS to authorise a youth conditional caution and vary conditions, nor does it prevent the police from seeking advice from the CPS on whether a conditional caution would be appropriate in individual cases. It enables an “authorised person”—normally a police officer—to make the decision to offer a youth conditional caution to an offender, to set and vary conditions, and to take the decision to prosecute for the original offence in the event of non-compliance.
As the hon. Gentleman’s remarks made clear, the clause removes the existing requirement in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 for such matters to be referred to a prosecutor to authorise. A police officer cannot currently make the decision to offer a youth conditional caution, including for offences where they have the power to charge an offender or administer a simple caution, reprimand or warning, without reference to a prosecutor. That inconsistency in a police officer’s decision-making powers creates confusion and unnecessary bureaucracy for the CPS. As a result, in many cases where a youth conditional caution may have been the most appropriate disposal for the young offender and the victim, the police have instead had to charge the offender or offer a simple caution with no conditions, because doing so was quicker and simpler than referring the case to the CPS. The existence of such a situation cannot be right, and the clause would address that problem.
Youth conditional cautions are currently available in five pilot areas, and I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support for the wider principle involved. The cautions contain rigorous conditions designed to address offending behaviour and to ensure that the offender makes amends to their local community by, for example, repairing any damage that they may have caused, or by paying compensation. The young person must comply with such conditions or risk being prosecuted for the original offence.
Giving the police the power to offer youth conditional cautions will help to ensure that such disposals are used in appropriate circumstances. Guidance will set out the level of training and which persons are appropriate to authorise a youth conditional caution. The opportunities for offenders to make swift reparations to victims and communities will be increased and reoffending will be reduced by providing greater opportunity for offenders to be given quick access to rehabilitative services.
The other requirements for a youth conditional caution remain unchanged. The youth offending team will continue to assess the young person, advise on appropriate conditions,
We recognise that there are likely to be some cases in which it would remain more appropriate for the CPS, rather than the police, to make the decision to offer a conditional caution. We will set out those circumstances and arrangements in guidance.
Offences of threatening with article with blade or point or offensive weapon in public or on school premises
Mr Blunt: Knives on our streets are a social scourge. That is why the unlawful possession of a bladed or pointed article or offensive weapon is already a serious criminal offence carrying a maximum custodial sentence of four years.
Clause 113 goes further than those possession offences. Our aim, through the clause, is to send a clear message to those in possession of a bladed or pointed article or offensive weapon, that if they then go on to threaten and cause an immediate risk of serious physical harm to another person they can expect an automatic custodial sentence. The existing possession offences have defences of lawful authority and good reason or reasonable excuse for having a bladed or pointed article or offensive weapon. Those are important defences that allow for people who may, for example, be carrying a knife for
Because the new offences build on the basic possession offences, which target people who are in unlawful possession, the defences that apply to the basic possession offences were carried through to the aggravated offences. However, on reflection, the Government are concerned that there is a small risk that the person using a bladed or pointed article or offensive weapon to threaten and endanger could theoretically be acquitted because they were in lawful possession of the article. While in practice anyone brandishing a blade or pointed article or offensive weapon would struggle to persuade a jury that they were in lawful possession of it at the time, amendments 389 and 393 would remove any risk of that happening. The offence will, therefore, apply to individuals regardless of whether the possession is lawful.
Amendments 392 and 393 simply make it clear that if a defendant is found not guilty of the new aggravated offence, but it is proved that the defendant committed the relevant basic possession offence, the court can return an alternative verdict of guilty to the basic offence. The overall effect of that is that lawful authority or good reason or reasonable excuse for possession alone would not be available.
Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): I do not want to make light of the clause, but I have a question in which I have an interest, as a Scotsman who wears a kilt and carries a skean-dhu. What is the situation regarding a Scottish person carrying a skean-dhu as part of the national dress?
Mr Blunt: Subject to any advice I might receive, I presume there would be a reason to be wearing national dress, which might be parallel to a Sikh taking part in a religious ceremony. I hope that that parallel does not get me into trouble, but that would be lawful reason to possess the knife about one’s person. However, if the hon. Gentleman drew it and used it in a threatening way, he would not be able to use the defence that he was in lawful possession of his knife and he would therefore be subject to a mandatory custodial sentence, as the clause will require.
Mr Blunt: It will not be me the hon. Gentleman has to convince. If he finds himself in such circumstances where he has drawn his knife and used it in a threatening way, it will be the appropriate constabulary and prosecutors to whom his unlawful behaviour will have imperilled him in terms of mandatory custody.
After that entertaining Celtic sally, I repeat that the overall effect of the provision will be that lawful authority or good reason or reasonable excuse for possession alone would not be available as defences for the new offences because they do not justify threatening and dangerous conduct, as I said to the hon. Gentleman. However, those defences will continue to be available to the basic possession offences that he mentioned inHon. Members:“ A skean-dhu”] Indeed. A skidoo is something slightly different I think. I presume as a Scot in traditional dress he would have that defence. I will be interested to see whether I am now supplied with advice that states that that is not an adequate defence.
I trust that the Committee will feel able to support this group of small but important amendments that will ensure aggravated offences will now apply regardless of whether the initial possession can be justified in law. The amendments will also ensure that courts that do not find the defendant guilty of the new aggravated offence are, nevertheless, able to return an alternate verdict of a possession offence that is appropriate to the case.
‘( ) In relation to an offence committed before the commencement of section 154(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, the reference in subsection (5)(a) to 12 months is to be read as a reference to 6 months.’.
‘( ) If on a person’s trial for an offence under this section (whether on indictment or not) the person is found not guilty of that offence but it is proved that the person committed an offence under section 1, the person may be convicted of the offence under that section.”’.
‘( ) In relation to an offence committed before the commencement of section 154(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, the reference in subsection (8)(a) to 12 months is to be read as a reference to 6 months.’.
‘( ) If on a person’s trial for an offence under this section (whether on indictment or not) the person is found not guilty of that offence but it is proved that the person committed an offence under section 139 or 139A, the person may be convicted of the offence under that section.”’.—(Mr Blunt.)
Helen Goodman: May I say what a pleasure it has been to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, during the course of these debates and how unfailingly fair and helpful you have been to Committee members?
The issue of knife crime is obviously extremely serious. In the 12 months up to June 2010, nearly 30,000 offences were committed and, even more worryingly, 4,600 people were taken to hospital as a result of knife crimes. The clause creates a new offence of threatening with a blade or point or offensive weapon in public or on a school premises. At the moment, it is the only clause in the Bill that creates a new offence.
I am rather concerned about the way that the Government are using legislation here. As was mentioned earlier, it seems to be further complicating the legislative framework, and I suspect that this piece of legislation is being used for rhetorical purposes.
“We have to send a serious, unambiguous message that carrying a knife is totally unacceptable, so we will make it clear that anyone convicted of a knife crime can expect to face a prison sentence. We will introduce mobile knife scanners on streets and public transport,”
and so on. The clause does not do what the Prime Minister said, which was to make the carrying of a knife in any circumstances a criminal offence. The reason why Ministers are using this legislation in a rhetorical way is that we had the “tough on crime” message from before the general election, but then, in October 2010, the Justice Secretary made a U-turn. A BBC News article titled, “Ken Clarke to drop Tory knife jail pledge”, from 6 December 2010 states that
“‘We’re not setting out absolute tariffs for particular things. What happens is pundits or newspapers suggest levels for particular forms of crimes… Parliament in its wisdom enacts them—it doesn’t work.
Anybody who is guilty of serious knife crime will go to prison but I’m not in favour of absolute rules. I’m in favour of actually allowing judges to see how nasty the offender is, see what the offence was, see what the best way of protecting the public from him is.
Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con): On what basis does the hon. Lady say that it is soft to say that people who carry knives in the manner described by the Justice Secretary should expect to go to prison for a considerable length of time? Will she remind us again about the manifesto commitment that people who carry knives could “expect” to face a prison sentence, which implies a non-mandatory sentence and that seems to me to be exactly what is set out in the legislation?
Helen Goodman: If I may say so, the hon. Lady has admirably, and not for the first time in Committee, demonstrated the point, because the fact is that if I had read that, I would have expected it to be mandatory.
As I was going to say, the Justice Secretary then said something different, but after the shambles around 50% discounts for early guilty pleas, we then had the insertion of this clause into the Bill. The clause was not consulted on in the White Paper. I feel that this legislation is being used to make rhetorical point. I am not convinced that it will have a significant impact, because the Government are talking tough with this clause, but failing to deal with the root causes of youth crime.
Earlier this year, the Government commissioned a report by Brooke Kinsella—the sister of Ben Kinsella, who was stabbed to death at the age of 16 in Islington—titled, “Tackling knife crime together”, and it was published in February. In the course of preparing her report, she visited a large number of organisations and projects around the country that seek to turn young people away from a life of crime and gang violence, including the Prince’s Trust and Catch22.
In her thoughtful report, Brooke Kinsella made a large number of recommendations, including for knife crime programmes to be taught in schools, better data sharing, the encouragement of communities to come together, a communal website to link charities to funding opportunities, more projects to promote knife crime education and awareness, and a credit scheme for young people—all sorts of things—but at no point did she discuss changing the law and there was no recommendation about sentencing for adults or young people.
Brooke Kinsella particularly recommended the knife crime prevention programme in Liverpool, which seeks to challenge the behaviour of young people who are found carrying a weapon and encourages wider stakeholders—for example, accident and emergency nurses—to explain the impact of knife crime to dissuade young people. I know from an anaesthetist in an A and E department in Liverpool that knife crime is a very big problem in that city. People with other illnesses and injuries are put at the back of queue, because young men—usually, but not invariably, young men—turn up and jump to the front of the queue every Monday morning.
The Government are ignoring the prevention measures that they need to take on knives and gangs. The Minister may have read the Hansard report of the Westminster Hall debate this week, which was initiated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy). He pointed out that there is a growing problem: in London, knife crime rose by 8% last year, and in his constituency, 50% of 14 to 16-year-olds said that knife crime was the biggest issue that they face today. The reason why I say that the Government are not tackling the issues in an intelligent way or in a way that is likely to work is that, despite the very real problems, the budget for the youth offending service in Haringey has been cut by 50%.
The right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington is not in his place, which is a shame because he, too, contributed to that debate. He said that better information sharing across boroughs was needed. He noted the success of the project in Cardiff that tries to bring together people from hospitals and from the police to ensure that they have a better understanding of what is going on.
When the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) responded, he agreed with the Brooke Kinsella report, saying that we must be more “hard-headed” about interventions. At no point during that debate did anyone call for tougher sentencing or discuss the Government’s plan to create a new knife crime.
This provision is little more than ‘tough on crime’ window dressing on a Bill which is actually intended to reduce the prison population and the associated cost to the State. While it may have impressed certain sections of the tabloid press, the actions it covers have been criminalised by existing provisions; namely sections 3 and 4 of the Public Act”—
My point is not that we will oppose the clause, which I have to say is otiose and unexceptionable, but that if Ministers were really serious about knife crime they would tackle it in a totally different way.
Mr Blunt: We can be upbraided for not being able to deliver our manifesto commitments, but it is rather a shame that we did not win the general election outright. The Government’s programme is not based on the Conservative manifesto, but on the coalition agreement. [ Interruption. ] It is a coalition Government and there are no commitments on knife crime in the coalition agreement. If the hon. Lady wants to put the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington and his colleagues in the parliamentary Liberal party in the dock, she can do so. But it is therefore the success of the Conservative part of this coalition that they have agreed to support, as part of the coalition, these arrangements that send an unequivocal message about this coalition Government’s attitude to knife crime.
The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland said that this is about rhetoric. I can tell her that it is about message and clarity—to make it clear beyond a scintilla of doubt that the coalition Government take knife crime extremely seriously. That is why we are taking these steps to put on the statute book a mandatory sentence when people use knives in a threatening manner.
Mr Slaughter: I am slightly surprised by the Minister’s sudden and unprovoked attack on his coalition partners, particularly when the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington is not here. I do not know whether we will hear from the hon. Member for Edinburgh West, who may need to clarify the situation. The Minister certainly needs to do so.
Are we being told that there would have been a stronger provision on knife crime had there been a Conservative Government, or are we to believe what we were told by the hon. Member for Broxtowe a few moments ago, which is that this does exactly the job that the Prime Minister said it would do before the election? They cannot both be true.
Mr Blunt: We fought the general election on the manifesto. The hon. Gentleman will have observed that, much to my distress, we did not have a majority on the basis of that manifesto. That is why we are in a coalition and the programme for the Government is the coalition agreement. While there was no reference to knife crime in the coalition agreement, the coalition Government, after due consideration, are sending an unequivocal message through the measure that we propose to put on the statute book in this clause. Of course, we enjoy the full support of our Liberal Democrat colleagues on this.
Ben Gummer: I am surprised by the shadow Minister’s tone here. It is not about rhetoric. It is about sending an important message. The message is important in itself for this reason. She will be well aware that the whole
Mr Blunt: I wish I had a crystal ball and could say exactly what will happen once we pass legislation. We are trying to create the circumstances where we will have an effect and the clarity of the message sent will have an effect. We have to be careful with the conduct of this discussion. If I have contributed to the levity, then I should apologise. This is a serious issue, and we have to find a way as legislators of doing our level best to address it. We have to do it within the proper justice framework and we have to have measures that will be effective. This is the judgment that the coalition Government have come to about how to send what I think we all agree is the necessary message about the absolute unacceptability of knife crime.
Anna Soubry: The Criminal Justice Act 2003 made the possession of a firearm an offence attracting a mandatory five-year sentence. In doing so, the Act sent out a powerful message, which many people, especially those at the sharp end of the criminal justice system, believe had a profound effect on the carrying of firearms and, in cities such as Nottingham, led to a steep reduction in the use and possession of firearms.
Mr Blunt: My hon. Friend makes an extremely powerful point about the messages that accompany our measures, the practical benefits that are felt on the ground and on the enormous benefit to people who would otherwise be victims.
I shall now address the detail of the clause, which creates the new offences of using a blade, pointed article or offensive weapon to threaten or cause immediate risk of serious physical harm to another. The offences under this clause will apply in England and Wales, and they will be triable either way and subject to a maximum penalty of four years’ imprisonment on indictment.
The clause provides that the courts must impose a minimum custodial sentence of six months if the offender is aged 18 or over, unless there are particular circumstances relating to the offence or offender that would make it unjust to do so. That exception exists for firearms offences, and it is usual for such mandatory sentence laws to make exceptions in appropriate cases to avoid the possibility of an unlawfully disproportionate sentence being imposed.
Special considerations apply to young people, which is why there is a separate sentencing framework for juveniles in the criminal justice system. The juvenile
We will tackle the scourge of knives by complementing existing offences and initiatives with new offences that target the most serious threatening behaviour in which people carry a knife or offensive weapon and use it to put others at risk. Young people convicted of a knife crime and who receive a community penalty will usually be directed to attend a knife crime prevention programme. We are determined to stamp out knife crime, and we need to ensure that young people know why carrying a knife is wrong. Knife crime prevention programmes deliver a powerful message that carrying knives is wrong and may result in tragic outcomes for victims and their families. Modules include sessions delivered by victims’ families and by national health service senior clinicians, who give their first-hand experience of the impact of knife crime. Such programmes are reported as effective and are welcomed by youth offending teams.
Unlawful possession of a knife or offensive weapon is already a serious criminal offence that carries a maximum custodial sentence of four years. If someone is physically harmed, there is also a range of existing offences against the person, particularly offences of wounding or causing grievous bodily harm, that reflect the seriousness of the offending behaviour and the harm caused. The maximum penalty for grievous bodily harm with intent, for example, is life imprisonment. The use of a weapon is an aggravating factor in sentencing. We want to strengthen the existing legislative framework.
Mr Slaughter: The Minister is arguing against himself. He is effectively conceding the point that this is a cosmetic offence. In their comments, Government Members, including the Minister, are eliding two different things—the offence is one of threatening, not possession—and are trying to cover up their embarrassment at not fulfilling their manifesto programme. There are already offences on the statute book that address the issue.
It is not right that legislation is used simply to send a message. There is nothing wrong with such an offence. It does not do anything bad. We shall not oppose it. I am sure that my hon. Friend will deal with such matters, but the Minister ought to be a little more straight and direct, and accept that he is not actually introducing a measure that will have a material effect on sentencing. He cannot get away with eliding what the offence will do and what the Government promised in the first place.
Mr Blunt: There is no difference; the Government have been absolutely consistent since the formation of the issue and will continue to be so. It is a shame that the hon. Gentleman and the style of his interventions serve to undermine the unequivocal message that I hope the whole of Parliament is sending out about such offences. I would rather that we had his support, delivered with more enthusiasm and better grace so that Parliament’s intention to deal with such a scourge is made clear.
We want to strengthen the existing legislative framework by targeting behaviour that amounts to more than simple possession, but does not go as far as resulting in injury to the victim. Our new offences will complement the existing offences of possession that deal with people who carry weapons in public places or schools without lawful authority, reasonable excuse or good reason. With or without the assistance of the hon. Member for Hammersmith, we send through the clause a clear and unequivocal message from Parliament to people who defy the law by carrying knives and offensive weapons in public places or schools and use them to threaten or endanger people.
Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Hollobone. My name appeared on an amendment in respect of knife crime. I have made inquiries and, for the record, I want to make it clear that it was a mistake.
Mr Blunt: The amendments are minor and consequential, and flow from clause 113. Amendment 404 amends the Armed Forces Act 2006, which makes equivalent provision in respect of sentencing by a service court to that made under clause 113 and schedule 16 in respect of sentencing by a civilian court.
‘Mental Health Act 1983 (c. 20)
1A (1) Section 37(1A) of the Mental Health Act 1983 (powers of courts to order hospital admission or guardianship) is amended as follows.
(2) Before paragraph (a) insert—
“(za) under section 1A(6) of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953,”.
(3) After paragraph (a) insert—
“(aa) under section 139AA(9) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988,”.
Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (c. 60)
1B In section 1(8A) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (power of constable to stop and search persons, vehicles etc) after “139” insert “or 139AA”.’.
1C The Criminal Justice Act 1988 is amended as follows.
1D (1) Section 36(2)(b) (reviews of sentencing) is amended as follows.
(2) Before sub-paragraph (i) insert—
(zi) section 1A(6) of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953;”.
(3) After sub-paragraph (i) insert—
(ia) section 139AA(9) of this Act;”.
1E (1) Section 139B (power of entry to search for articles with a blade or point and offensive weapons) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (1) after “139A” insert “or 139AA”.
(3) In subsection (4)—
(a) after “In the application of this section to Northern Ireland” insert “—
(b) at the end add “, and
(b) the reference in subsection (1) to section 139AA is omitted.”’.
‘Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 (c. 23)
2A (1) Schedule 1A to the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 (relevant offences for the purposes of section 17: witnesses eligible for assistance on grounds of fear or distress about testifying) is amended as follows.
(2) After paragraph 9 insert—
9A An offence under section 1A of that Act (threatening with a weapon in public).
(3) After paragraph 26 insert—
26A An offence under section 139AA of that Act (threatening with article with blade or point or offensive weapon).”
Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 (c. 6)
2B The Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 is amended as follows.
2C In section 12(1) (absolute and conditional discharge) for “section 51A(2) of the Firearms Act 1968” substitute “section 1A(6) of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953, section 51A(2) of the Firearms Act 1968, section 139AA(9) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988”.
2D In section 130(2) (compensation orders against convicted persons) for “section 51A(2) of the Firearms Act 1968” substitute “section 1A(6) of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953, section 51A(2) of the Firearms Act 1968, section 139AA(9) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988”.
2E In section 146(2) (driving disqualification for any offence) for “section 51A(2) of the Firearms Act 1968” substitute “section 1A(6) of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953, section 51A(2) of the Firearms Act 1968, section 139AA(9) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988”.
2F (1) Section 164(3) (further interpretative provisions) is amended as follows.
(2) After paragraph (a) insert—
“(aa) under section 1A(6) of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953,”.
(3) After paragraph (b) insert—
“(ba) under section 139AA(9) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988,”.’.
2G The Criminal Justice Act 2003 is amended as follows.
2H (1) Section 142(2)(c) (purposes of sentencing: offenders aged 18 or over) is amended as follows.
(2) After “falls to be imposed” insert “under section 1A(6) of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 (minimum sentence for offence of threatening with offensive weapon in public),”.
(3) After “firearms offences),” insert “under section 139AA(9) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (minimum sentence for offence of threatening with article with blade or point or offensive weapon),”.’.
3A (1) Section 150 (community sentence not available where sentence fixed by law etc) is amended as follows.
(2) After paragraph (a) insert—
“(aa) falls to be imposed under section 1A(6) of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 (minimum sentence for offence of threatening with offensive weapon in public),”.
(3) After paragraph (b) insert—
“(ba) falls to be imposed under section 139AA(9) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (minimum sentence for offence of threatening with article with blade or point or offensive weapon),”.
3B In section 152(1)(b) (general restrictions on imposing discretionary custodial sentences) for “under section 51A(2) of the Firearms Act 1968 (c. 27),” substitute “under section 1A(6) of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953, under section 51A(2) of the Firearms Act 1968, under section 139AA(9) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988,”.
3C In section 153(2) (length of discretionary custodial sentences: general provision) for “section 51A(2) of the Firearms Act 1968 (c. 27),” substitute “section 1A(6) of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953, section 51A(2) of the Firearms Act 1968, section 139AA(9) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988,”.
3D (1) Section 305(4) (interpretation of Part 12) is amended as follows.
(2) Before paragraph (a) insert—
“(za) a sentence falls to be imposed under subsection (6) of section 1A of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 if it is required by that subsection and the court is not of the opinion there mentioned,”.
(3) After paragraph (a) insert—
“(aa) a sentence falls to be imposed under subsection (9) of section 139AA of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 if it is required by that subsection and the court is not of the opinion there mentioned,”.
Armed Forces Act 2006 (c. 52)
3E The Armed Forces Act 2006 is amended as follows.
3F After section 227 (firearms offences) insert—
“227A Offences of threatening with a weapon in public or on school premises
(1) This section applies if—
(a) a person aged 18 or over is convicted by a court of an offence under section 42 (criminal conduct); and
(b) the corresponding offence under the law of England and Wales is an offence under section 1A of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 or section 139AA of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (threatening with article with blade or point or offensive weapon in public or on school premises).
(2) The court must impose a sentence of imprisonment for a term of at least 6 months unless the court is of the opinion that there are particular circumstances which—
(a) relate to the offence or to the offender, and
(b) would make it unjust to do so in all the circumstances.
(3) In relation to times before the coming into force of section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000, the reference in subsection (2) to a sentence of imprisonment, in relation to an offender aged under 21 at the time of conviction, is to be read as a reference to a sentence of detention in a young offender institution.”
3G In section 237(3) (duty to have regard to purposes of sentencing etc) after paragraph (b) insert “;
(c) an offence the sentence for which falls to be imposed under section 227A(2).”
3H In section 239 (reduction in sentences for guilty pleas) at the end insert—
“(6) Nothing in section 227A(2) prevents the court, after taking into account any matter mentioned in subsection (2) of this section, from imposing any sentence which is at least 80% of that specified in section 227A(2).”
3I In section 260(1)(b) (discretionary custodial sentences: general restrictions) for “227” substitute “227A”.
3J In section 261(3) (length of discretionary custodial sentences: general provision) for “and 227” substitute “, 227 and 227A”.
3K In section 273(6)(b) (review of unduly lenient sentence by Court Martial Appeal Court) for “or 227” substitute “, 227 or 227A”.
3L (1) Paragraph 12 of Schedule 2 (“Schedule 2 offences”) is amended as follows.
(2) After sub-paragraph (r) insert—
(ra) an offence under section 1A of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 (threatening with weapon in public);”.
(3) In paragraph (ai)—
(a) after “134” insert “, 139AA”;
(b) after “torture,” insert “threatening with article with blade or point or offensive weapon,”.
Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (c. 25)
3M (1) Section 125(6) of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (sentencing guidelines: duty of court) is amended as follows.
(2) After paragraph (e) insert—
“(ea) section 1A(6) of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 (minimum sentence for offence of threatening with offensive weapon in public);”.
(3) After paragraph (f) insert—
“(fa) section 139AA(9) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (minimum sentence for offence of threatening with article with blade or point or offensive weapon);”.’.—(Mr Blunt.)
‘(1) Section 182 of the Armed Forces Act 2006 (general provisions about overseas community orders) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (1)(a) (requirements that may be imposed by overseas community orders), after “Act)” insert “(but see subsection (1A) below)”.
(3) After subsection (1) insert—
“(1A) The order may not include a requirement mentioned in section 177(1)(ga) (a foreign travel prohibition requirement).”
(4) In subsection (4) (application of section 177(5) and (6) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to overseas community orders), after “(5)” insert “, (5A), (5B)”.
(5) In Part 1 of Schedule 5 to that Act (breach, revocation and amendment of service community orders), in paragraph 1(2) (provisions of Schedule 8 to the Criminal Justice Act 2003 that do not apply to such orders), after “18(4),” insert “19A(5),”.
(6) In Part 2 of Schedule 5 to that Act (breach, revocation and amendment of overseas community orders), in paragraph 10(2) (provisions of Schedule 8 to the Criminal Justice Act 2003 that do not apply to such orders), after “19,” insert “19A(5),”.
(7) In Schedule 6 to that Act (overseas community orders imposed on young offenders), in paragraph 5 (modification of drug rehabilitation requirement in relation to such offenders), omit sub-paragraph (4) (which disapplies section 209(3) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003).’.—(Mr Blunt.)
The amendments are consequential to the provisions of the Armed Forces Act 2006 relating to service and overseas community orders, which can be made by service courts. The amendments reflect the changes made to the Criminal Justice Act 2003 by clause 55, which deals with the duration of community orders made by civilian courts.
The new clause also ensures that the foreign travel prohibition requirement introduced under clause 61 is not available for inclusion in an overseas community order. As with other Government amendments made to armed forces legislation, the new clause is designed to ensure that the sentencing law and practice of the service courts is, where practical, aligned with the law and practice of the civilian courts of England and Wales.
‘(1) The Road Traffic Act 1988 is amended as follows.
(2) After section 1 insert—
“1A Causing serious injury by dangerous driving
(1) A person who causes serious injury to another person by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle dangerously on a road or other public place is guilty of an offence.
(2) In this section “serious injury” means—
(a) in England and Wales, physical harm which amounts to grievous bodily harm for the purposes of the Offences against the Person Act 1861, and
(b) in Scotland, severe physical injury.”
(3) In section 2A (meaning of dangerous driving) in subsections (1) and (2) after “sections 1” insert “, 1A”.
(4) Section 1A inserted by subsection (2) has effect only in relation to driving occurring after that subsection comes into force.
(5) In Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (prosecution and punishment of offences under the Traffic Acts) in the appropriate place insert—
(6) In the entry inserted by subsection (5), in relation to an offence committed before the commencement of section 154(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 “12 months” is to be read as “6 months (in England and Wales) or 12 months (in Scotland)”.
(7) Schedule [Causing serious injury by dangerous driving] (causing serious injury by dangerous driving) has effect.’.— (Mr Blunt.)
Mr Blunt: I hope that the new clause and its associated new schedule and amendments will be welcomed by the Committee, not least by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East, who has been among a number of hon. Members who for some time have been alerting Parliament to this issue. It certainly goes back as far as 2006 when my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) proposed similar amendments, and representations were made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield, now the Secretary of State for International Development, and the hon. Member for Bolton North East (Mr Crausby). What we are proposing today addresses the concerns that colleagues have raised with us.
The Government believe that it is vital to ensure that the criminal law is fully effective in addressing dangerous driving and its all too often appalling consequences. New clause 15 fills a long recognised gap by introducing a new offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving. Causing death by dangerous driving is rightly considered a very serious crime, and that is reflected in the maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment. Our law has always regarded cases where death results from criminality to be uniquely serious. That is why death by dangerous driving carries such a high maximum penalty.
For the vast majority of other dangerous driving cases, the maximum penalty of two years imprisonment provides the court with sufficient and proportionate powers to punish offenders. The Government do not agree with those who consider that the maximum penalty for dangerous driving should be raised at large. However, we are aware of the strong feelings about sentencing for dangerous driving cases that cause very severe injuries. We have considered the issue very carefully, not least in the debate on the ten-minute rule Bill that was recently introduced by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East. We have listened to the victims and their families and the judges and hon. Members who have firm views about sentencing for cases of dangerous driving with appalling consequences.
The issue is emotive. Campaigners have long suggested that the gap between the current maximum penalty of two years for dangerous driving and 14 years for death by dangerous driving is too wide. They believe that the current two-year maximum for dangerous driving does not adequately reflect or address the serious injuries that can result from such driving. A victim can receive very serious life-changing injuries, but the maximum penalty remains at two years. We have therefore decided to target directly the offences where there is a clear and obvious gap in the law. We believe the new offence will enable the courts to deal appropriately with people convicted in these more serious cases. It will enable them to sentence more severely at the most serious and damaging end of the spectrum of dangerous driving incidents.
Some people maintain that the courts should focus on the standard of the driving rather than the consequences. They say that whether death or serious injuries result from a piece of bad driving is a matter of chance, however serious the result. I appreciate that argument,
In short, I believe that it is right for the courts to have the ability to impose a stiffer custodial sentence to reflect the serious consequences of a driver’s actions, where it is appropriate to do so. As I say, we have listened to those who have suffered and those who have spoken on their behalf, and we are now able to help address their concerns through the creation of this new offence. Government new schedule 1 simply introduces a number of consequential amendments, which ensure that the provisions relating to the trial and consequences on conviction for the new offence will be similar to those relating to existing dangerous driving offences under the Road Traffic Act 1988.
Karl Turner: May I start by saying what a pleasure it has been to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone? If my memory serves me, the last time I addressed hon. Members about dangerous driving was in a Westminster Hall debate which you chaired. I welcome Government new clause 15. I am bound to say that I welcome what the Minister has said, but it would probably be disingenuous of me to say that it reflects entirely what I had initially suggested. I thank the Minister for listening to what I said when I met him, his officials and the Justice Secretary.
The proposals put victims of dangerous driving at the heart of the justice system, which was the main principle of my argument and indeed of my ten-minute rule Bill. Many Members of Parliament have constituents who have been the victims of such horrendous offences. Since I became a Member of Parliament I have represented Katie Harper, who suffered serious injury at the hands of a dangerous driver. One of the most famous cases that I am aware of is the tragic case of Cerys Edwards, who was a toddler when she was involved in a road traffic incident. It was a tragic case indeed. In recent days, the York newspaper The Press reported the case of Graham Bell, who was the victim of dangerous driving. In that situation, the defendant James Ramsden drove his vehicle at about 100 mph down the A64, and hit the victim head-on. The victim did not suffer serious injury, but he was admitted to hospital and was kept in the high-dependency unit for some time.
If I am to criticise the Government, I need to highlight the concern that that case raises. There will be an issue where serious injury has not occurred—in some cases, injury might occur but not serious injury—and that might be a stumbling block. I am sure that many lawyers will be tasked with the legal arguments over whether serious injury has occurred. The issue for me is whether it is always easy to prove that grievous bodily harm has occurred in such situations. The case that I have mentioned is effectively grievous bodily harm—a section 20 offence for dangerous driving.
My argument, if you like, is that dangerous driving is really bad whether or not serious injury occurs. In my opinion, someone who drives a weapon at another person on the road without any regard for their own
Anna Soubry: It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East. I add my congratulations on his successful campaign and reiterate his generous comments about other campaigners, notably the victims’ families. I support much of what he says and suggest a way forward: instead of creating a new offence, the mischief we all seek to cure is better addressed with an extension of the existing sentencing powers from two to five years. There are two reasons why that should be done. I will, of course, support the Government, as I welcome the fact that we are taking this step forward in recognising that serious injury occurs and judges do not have sufficient powers to ensure that the punishment fits the crime.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about the definition of serious harm. We are all conscious of the need to consider the cost. I fear that we will increase the cost of many prosecutions, as has been identified, while lawyers disagree, argue and seek more medical advice and so on, to ensure that they have the evidence to support a definition of serious harm, as opposed to very serious harm, which is more a definition of sections 20 and 18.
There are many instances of people driving outrageously badly, when some injury may or may not have occurred. Nevertheless, the current two-year maximum sentence is not sufficient. I prosecuted a case of a driver, who, during the prolonged course of a police chase, which I believe started in Leicestershire and ended in Nottinghamshire, actually changed seats with the passenger at high speed of up to 100 miles per hour. It was a miracle that the child being carried in the rear of the car was not involved in an accident and injured, never mind anybody else in other cars. There are many instances of such appalling driving, where it is a miracle that nobody was injured. We can all think of examples where red lights were jumped, corners taken at great speed and so on. My fear is that we will not cure those mischiefs by simply recognising, quite properly, that the existing powers of sentence do not cover those examples where serious injury has taken place.
I put that forward because there are other instances of people driving appallingly over a long period that have ended in a collision. Those might involve chasing police vehicles, or other completely innocent drivers. The resulting collision could cause extensive damage to vehicles but mercifully, the injury might be whiplash and not serious. However, when all those factors are put together, clearly two years is not sufficient.
The other factor that we also forget is that the current two-year maximum sentence ties a judge’s hands when considering a case of very bad driving, since they cannot reflect that there may be other offences. The person in question might never have taken a driving test in 20 years, and it could be their second or third offence. None of
Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): I rise not only to support the Government’s position but the work done by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East, with whom I have discussed this matter on many occasions. The thrust of his argument, which we have now heard and has been elucidated by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe, is an important one that we must not forget.
Mr Buckland: I should have said that it is a pleasure to welcome you back to the Chair, Mr Sheridan, and to have served under your chairmanship in this Public Bill Committee, of which this is the last sitting, so my thanks to you.
I was echoing some of the comments made by hon. Members about the problems faced by the courts when encountering the two-year maximum sentence for the offence of dangerous driving. Those problems are particularly aggravated when a defendant with multiple previous convictions for like offences comes before the courts, having built up over a number of years a very poor record of bad driving, aggravated by being disqualified. On disqualified driving, the courts can impose short consecutive sentences on top of dangerous driving, but they are of course limited by the maximum sentence available for disqualified driving of six months. With that addition, one can in effect impose a sentence in excess of two years, but there is still a significant ceiling that causes a problem for judges regarding the discretion available in sentencing repeat offenders for serious offences of dangerous driving. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe was right to remind the Government of that problem and to urge reconsideration of the issue by allowing a maximum sentence to be raised at some future point.
The proposal in new clause 15 and new schedule 1 allows the courts to reflect one of the serious consequences of dangerous driving: serious injury where that occurs. The Minister was right to say that one of the factors paramount in the minds of the legislation’s authors was the course of driving itself, and that there was for a long period a school of thought that the consequences were of secondary importance. We have moved away from that approach. I have noticed in the past 15 or 20 years a move by the Court of Appeal away from just focusing on the driving, and an increasing emphasis on the consequences. That is why I welcome this provision—because it deals with consequences.
English criminal law has traditionally focused on consequences. The law of offences against the person does not specify the type of assault that may be inflicted; it deals with the consequences, namely grievous bodily harm or actual bodily harm. Here, we are in a more modern way defining grievous bodily harm as serious injury. I welcome that on two grounds. The first is the welcome acknowledgement that the consequences of dangerous driving—or driving that falls far below the standard of a reasonable and competent driver, which is the definition of dangerous driving—should be properly reflected in the law and in sentencing powers.
The second ground is the introduction of the modern phrase “serious injury” to allow the Government to give serious consideration to ongoing work by the Law Commission, which is in the process of reviewing the law of offences against the person and which will produce—in a year or so or perhaps slightly longer—a report on modernising the law of offences against the person. I am pretty sure that that review can deal with the archaic phrases “grievous bodily harm” and “actual bodily harm”, and the difficulties occasioned by interpreting the meaning of “inflicting” in section 20, as opposed to “causing” in section 18. Perhaps unintentionally, the Government have opened the door to, and assisted the work of, the Law Commission, which I hope will yield fruit in modernising the law of violence against the person. I warmly welcome the new clause for those reasons.
Helen Goodman: I want to put on record Her Majesty’s Opposition’s support for the new clause, which is sensible. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East on his successful campaign. He has achieved something that Members on the Opposition Front Bench have failed to do: he has persuaded the Government to make a change to the Bill, which indicates that he has a great career ahead of him. He is a very effective Member of the House.
Mr Blunt: The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East deserves credit for the way in which he has run his campaign in this Parliament, but other hon. Members deserve credit, too. This was the position of the then Opposition in 2006, so the measure has some history. The hon. Gentleman referred not only to the case of his constituent, Katie Harper, but to that of Cerys Edwards. A number of colleagues, including the hon. Member for Bolton North East and my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield, have been associated with the cause, so it concerns Members from both sides of the House. I welcome the support that has come from all quarters for the measure.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon for explaining how that definition relates to the work being done by Law Commission. He and my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe invited us to consider raising the overall maximum penalty to five years. We have done so, but there is no evidence to suggest that the maximum penalty is too low in the vast majority of dangerous driving cases. In addition, an increase in the overall maximum would almost certainly
The Government are much more convinced by the argument that we should focus on consequences. I was therefore convinced by that part of the argument made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon. That is the direction that the law and the Court of Appeal have taken, and we endorse it, which is why the new clause delivers a more targeted approach to addressing the consequences of bad driving.
‘(1) When sentencing a person to serve a sentence of imprisonment for a determinate term the court shall state the maximum time that shall be served.
(2) When sentencing a person to serve a sentence of imprisonment for a determinate term the court shall state the minimum time that shall be served.
(3) When sentencing a person to serve a sentence of imprisonment for a determinate term the court shall state the minimum term must be less than half the maximum sentence but no less than one-third of that sentence.
(4) In determining the maximum and minimum sentence the court shall have regard to the seriousness of the offence.
(5) When sentencing a person to serve a sentence of imprisonment for a determinate term the court may request a pre-sentence report from a suitably qualified employee of the relevant Probation Trust.
(6) In this Act “a sentence of imprisonment for a determinate term” covers the types of sentence listed under section 237(1)(a) and (b) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.’.—(Mr Llwyd.)
It is nice to see you back in the Chair this afternoon, Mr Sheridan. I shall not delay the Committee unduly, because the new clause is self-explanatory. It would place a duty on courts to state the maximum, as well as the minimum, time that shall be served when someone is sentenced for a determinate term. Such a measure would give courts greater freedom to impose the sentences they deem fit and to have regard to the individual circumstances of each case. The stated minimum term would have to be less than half, but no less than one third of the maximum sentence. It will undoubtedly incentivise individuals, and I think it will become clear to the public as well. I concede, however, that if this system were introduced, on average, sentences would be 10% longer. That would add about 6,000 to the daily prison population over a parliamentary term. Surely, in this case, public protection should and must trump cost or political point scoring. I do not want to press the new clause to a vote, because I do not need to do so. I say that, because I am utterly convinced that the Government will accept it, because when they were in opposition it was one of their central policies. In their election manifesto, it had a prominent position. I am sure that the Minister will accept the amendment with open arms.
Mr Blunt: The principle and the idea underlined by the right hon. Gentleman is as attractive as it was when the general principle found its way into the Conservative manifesto. I am happy to concede that point. We have had to wrestle with the realities of the position that we found ourselves in once in office as part of a coalition Government. He has already alluded to the inflationary aspects of the prisoner population that could be estimated as a result of these measures. He and I have discussed this in private and in office meetings, and I listened to the debate on the ten-minute Bill that he introduced on this issue.
I am not sure whether the new clause as drafted is even what a Conservative Government would do on their own, without the assistance of our coalition partners, without the appalling economic inheritance that we have to manage, which is a problem with issues like this. [ Interruption. ] It is obviously not my fault. Resources are a serious issue, and they have not been more serious for any Government for a long time, so those arguments are important.
The new clause is flawed. It fails to provide all the provisions that would be required to create such a system or to specify how this new min-max sentencing system for determinant sentences is set to interact with the existing sentencing provisions. For example, it does not set out the criteria for release before the maximum period or the provisions on any licence supervision or for recall of offenders. Nor does it make consequential amendments to incorporate existing provisions into the new min–max sentencing system, which is but one of the reasons why I cannot welcome the new clause with open arms.
As I have said, I have discussed this with the right hon. Gentleman. We reviewed these ideas when we came into office and he has explained the background. We are interested to see whether such a system would increase honesty and transparency in sentencing and whether it might be the way to develop the notion of earned release, rather than automatic release.
After careful consideration we decided that we are not in a position to pursue such a system in the sentencing reforms. Creating a min-max system would require a complex legislative framework involving a complete reworking of the legislation and many rather involved clauses. Our focus is on the immediate challenge that we face.
More serious, however, is the question of whether the system would provide for more honesty or, more accurately, greater transparency in sentencing. It is true that setting an unalterable minimum sentence may be seen as more honest than setting a sentence which appears to be halved. However, such a system would also mean that every determinate offender was subject to a period of indeterminacy. It would not be clear when an offender would actually be released. It would not be clear to the court when setting the sentence when the offender would be released, if the decision was made in the discretionary release period by the prison governor.
There is also a particular set of problems with the criteria for release. It perhaps depends on the offender carrying out specific activities or programmes. If so, could these be completed within the minimum period to allow the offender to demonstrate that they could be released at the minimum point? Would there then
There are many more thorny issues to contend with. That is why, although we remain interested in these ideas, we have not pursued min-max sentencing in the Bill. We have retained the current determinate sentencing system and we are taking other measures to try to make sentencing more transparent by providing more and better information and working with the Sentencing Council and others to promote public awareness of sentencing. I hope that this brief explanation of some of the difficulties of such an approach will be sufficient to convince the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw his new clause.
Mr Llwyd: I rise with less enthusiasm than when I sat down. The Minister has discussed this with me before. I thought that this was a vehicle to bring about a discussion. No doubt at some point in the not too distant future there will be further discussion. I understand what he says. I understand that the new clause may be deficient in some ways, so it would be rather foolish to press it to a Division. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.
‘(1) The Criminal Justice Act 2003 is amended as follows.
(2) After section 227 (2)(b) insert—
“(c) In determining whether to impose extended supervision a court shall have regard to the seriousness of the original offence, any psychological or psychiatric assessment that is carried out following the commission of the original offence and any subsequent psychological or psychiatric assessments and the likelihood of the person being involved in further similar serious offending.”.’.—(Mr Llwyd.)
I will have another go and see how I get on. I am ever the optimist—one has to be in a small party. I am very optimistic for our rugby team on Saturday morning. That team will carry the hopes of the whole of the UK. Let us get back to business.
The new clause seeks to amend the Criminal Justice Act 2003 by inserting a new subsection dealing with a matter that one would think was already covered in the current law. It is not. Under section 227 of that Act, persons of 18 years or older who commit certain violent or sexual offences are given an extended sentence. However, in cases where someone has committed a serious crime and is subsequently diagnosed with psychological or psychiatric problems, it is the feeling of many sentencers that an extended period of licence would be more appropriate, for both the individual involved and the protection of the public. In many cases, the disposal of a hospital order would be preferable, but that disposal is not currently available to sentencers.
A few minutes ago, the Minister prayed in aid the Court of Appeal. The conundrum of this sentence not being available to sentencers was precisely the finding of Mr Justice Saunders who presided over a case of a defendant who stabbed and killed a man while she was suffering from a debilitating mental illness. In his sentencing remarks he said that this
but that that disposal was “not open” to him. He wished to pass a sentence that would provide an appropriate level of protection for the public, although not designed to over-punish as the defendant’s culpability was relatively low, owing to the mental illness. He expressed great frustration that Parliament does not allow sentencers to order an extended period of licence, which he calls “an unfortunate omission” in their powers.
“In determining whether to impose extended supervision a court shall have regard to…any psychological or psychiatric assessment that is carried out following the commission of the…offence...and the likelihood of the person being involved in further similar serious offending.”
Effectively, that is an attempt to respond to the plea by the High Court judge, who is a highly regarded and highly experienced judge on the bench. I have previously introduced that matter as a ten-minute rule Bill, and it is very serious—High Court judges do not make spurious points in appealing to Parliament. Therefore, if the Minister is not able to discuss the details of that very important matter today, I will be content if he takes it away and reconsiders it.
Mr Blunt: The new clause, which relates to the imposition of extended sentences for certain violent and sexual offences for adults, is designed to require the court to consider three additional factors—having regard to the seriousness of the original offence; considering psychological or psychiatric assessments carried out after the offence and any subsequent assessments; and considering the likelihood of the person becoming involved in further similar serious offending.
Let me say at the outset that I understand the thinking behind the new clause. Those are clearly important considerations for a court in imposing a sentence, but I suggest that such additional statutory requirements are not necessary, and I shall explain why. First, on the requirement to have regard to the seriousness of the immediate offence, there is a general provision in section 143 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 that a court, in considering any sentence, must consider the seriousness of the offence. In doing so, the court must consider the culpability of the offender and the harm caused. That is a fundamental part of the process of deciding any sentence for any offence, so it is not necessary to repeat that established principle in relation to the imposition of one type of sentence.
The second element of the new clause relates to the consideration of psychological or psychiatric assessments carried out after the offence and subsequent assessments. Of course, such considerations are important, but several existing statutory provisions allow or require a court to consider such reports. For example, section 156 of the 2003 Act, which deals with pre-sentence reports, allows the court to take into account any information before it that relates to the offender.
I therefore suggest that there is sufficient provision under the current law for the court to commission psychological or psychiatric assessments, or to consider any reports put before it, whether they are submitted in a pre-sentence report or by defence representatives.
Finally, on the duty to consider the likelihood of further offending, there is already such a requirement in the section dealing with the imposition of an extended sentence. An extended sentence can be imposed if an offender is over 18, has been convicted of a specified offence and, under section 227(1)(b) of the 2003 Act,
The right hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of hospital orders, which is a different matter. My understanding is that, under section 37 of the Mental Health Act 1983, mental health issues should be considered in relation to a hospital order at the point of sentence. If such issues arise after sentencing, there could be different options.
Mr Llwyd: That is exactly the point, and the gist of the case. It is about a situation in which a sentence was imposed and where it subsequently came to light that there were psychiatric problems, and a hospital order would have been preferable. That is why the learned judge made the plea. In such circumstances, what disposal is there to protect the public?
Mr Blunt: We are getting into the area of transfer between prison and mental health custody. I need to take advice on this point and write to the right hon. Gentleman, because I am not equipped as a lawyer.
Mr Llwyd: As I said at the outset, I am more than content for the Minister to take this matter away and look into it. He may well come back and explain that I am wrong—I do not know. I am a lawyer, and although I am not trying to wrongfoot him, I believe that High Court judges do not make pleas to Parliament lightly. After further careful deliberation, we might well both conclude that there is a case for change. If so, that is all well and good, and if not, there we are, but given the seriousness of this point, it might be better to take it away. That would not be a bad reflection on the Minister in any shape or form.
Mr Blunt: After witnessing 13 years of amendments to the law, and having started from the position of not being a lawyer, I have seen how magnificently complicated the criminal law framework has become. The last thing I am going to say is that I understand every scintilla of it, so I am happy to take away the right hon. Gentleman’s comments and get my officials to look at them carefully. We will also look at the High Court judge’s submission, to which the right hon. Gentleman drew attention, and I will write to him with the result of our considerations.
‘(1) The Criminal Justice Act 2003 is amended as follows.
(2) After section 227 (2)(b) insert—
“(e) Before releasing a person sentenced to a period of imprisonment of four years or more the Parole Board must be satisfied that the individual is considered low risk of harm to the public and low risk of reoffending.”.’.—(Mr Llwyd.)
“(e) Before releasing a person sentenced to a period of imprisonment of four years or more the Parole Board must be satisfied that the individual is considered low risk of harm to the public and low risk of reoffending.”.’
As the Committee may know, under section 244 of the 2003 Act, when a fixed-term prisoner has served the requisite custodial sentence, the Secretary of State must release them on licence. Since 2005, those serving four years or more have come out after serving 50% of their sentence, regardless of the progress that they have made in prison.
The new clause would add a further paragraph to the section to ensure that, before releasing a person sentenced to four years or more in prison, the Parole Board must be satisfied that the individual is at a low risk of harm to the public, and also has a low risk of reoffending. The amendment effectively puts in place an incentive for rehabilitation, and for prisoners who are serving determinate sentences, the Parole Board must be satisfied that they are a low risk to the public before they are granted early release.
What I am saying is fairly obvious. One would assume that people released at the halfway stage are always vetted, have always done the various courses and are always proven to be of no risk to the public, but I am afraid that that is not the case. The Minister will say
I have discussed the matter with the Minister previously, and I would be grateful for his response. I am not minded to press the amendment to a vote, but, none the less, I would be grateful for a detailed response.
Mr Blunt: I hope that the right hon. Gentleman understands the dramatic impact that the new clause would have. There is a hideous operational issue with prisoners who have received indeterminate sentences for public protection. The amendment would, to a degree, add to that problem because there would be a huge increase in the number of prisoners caught by release arrangements that would effectively be the same as those for indeterminate or life sentences.
The right hon. Gentleman will have read the reports from several serious authorities—prison governors, the Prison Reform Trust and so on—on the indeterminate sentence regime and the problems that have already arisen. The Parole Board’s capacity had to be doubled in very short order because the consequences of the policy were not predicted when it was included in legislation in 2000 and 2003. The truth is that we are managing a serious operational problem to ensure that prisoners sentenced to indeterminate sentences with a tariff for public protection are able to go to the Parole Board at the end of their tariff and can satisfy its release test. As things are set up at the moment, it would not be possible to extend that policy to every prisoner who receives a sentence of four years, and who serves more than two years in custody. Frankly, I am uncertain about whether such a proposal is desirable. I much prefer the determinate sentence regime, under which the tariffs and sentences are clear, so people know how long they can expect to serve. It is then the Prison Service’s responsibility to ensure that people attend the programmes, and everything else, to address the causes of their offending behaviour.
On the new clause, my overall fear is that we already have a substantial operational problem, quite apart from the associated justice issues that would be magnified many times. On those grounds alone, I ask the Committee to resist the new clause.
I regard the determinate prison sentences in the 2003 Act to be the right approach. It is is simple and straightforward. It is clear that prisoners are entitled to automatic release at the halfway point of their sentence—regardless of its length—and those sentenced to more than 12 months will then serve the whole of the second half of their sentence on licence. That model should continue to apply to the majority of determinate sentences. We do not believe there is a case for returning to a system, as under the Criminal Justice Act 1991, whereby the Parole Board has to consider the release of all prisoners serving four years or more. Not least, it is important that the Parole Board’s resources are focused on the most serious or high-risk offenders only, where a period of discretionary release and the board’s expertise in assessing risk is most needed.
As the Committee knows, the Government have been looking at how best to deal with serious offenders who commit violent or sexual offences. In that regard, we
The release test proposed by the new clause could not operate on its own. It would have to be accompanied by broader changes to the release framework to provide that prisoners serving four years or more are no longer released automatically—indeed, as I understand it, it would be prisoners serving two years in custody—but instead were subject to a period of discretionary release by the Parole Board.
As I said, the Government do not believe that there should be a blanket requirement for all determinate or extended sentence prisoners serving four years or more to be referred to the Parole Board. Discretionary release by the board must be reserved for those cases in which it is needed to control the release of the most serious or high-risk offenders.
Mr Llwyd: I thank the Minister for that response. I do not know whether there is slight confusion, because I am no fan of indeterminate sentences for public protection anyway, as new clause 12, which I tabled but which was not selected, shows.
I understand what the Minister says, and I said that I knew that there would be considerable financial consequences. However, I must also say that people who are sentenced to four years’ imprisonment can often be pretty dangerous individuals, and my point was that they should have been more closely assessed if they were going to be released at the halfway point.
We have had the debate and I have listened to the Minister. My only intention, frankly, was to have the debate. I did not intend to divide the Committee on the issue, but it is an important point. One of the highest duties that we as individuals in Parliament have to shoulder is public protection. The new clause was purely designed for that. It was not meant to extend anyone’s period of imprisonment, but rather to make absolutely sure that those who are released at the halfway point of a four-year sentence are ready for civvy street and will not pose a risk to their neighbours and other individuals.
Mr Blunt: We should remember that prisoners with sentences of that length are, of course, not released without proper supervision. Some of the licensing conditions that can be applied to them in the community are extremely robust in order to deliver that level of public protection. There are approved premises that the kind of offenders about which the right hon. Gentleman is concerned will go to, and they will get the most careful oversight by both the probation service and the police in the community. If they breach their licence conditions, they will be recalled to custody. We are not therefore operating in a way that creates absence of supervision of prisoners once they have completed the first custodial half of their sentence. The number of recalls to prison makes that clear.
Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52)
1 In section 13A(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (disapplication of sections 1 to 3 for authorised motoring events) after “sections 1,” insert “1A,”.
Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (c. 53)
2 The Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 is amended as follows.
3 In section 23(1A) (alternative verdicts in Scotland) after paragraph (a) insert—
“(aa) an offence under section 1A of that Act (causing serious injury by dangerous driving),”.
4 (1) Section 24 (alternative verdicts: general) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (A2) after paragraph (a) insert—
“(aa) an offence under section 1A of that Act (causing serious injury by dangerous driving),”.
(3) In the table in subsection (1) in the appropriate place insert—
5 In section 34(4) (disqualification for certain offences) after paragraph (a)(ii) and the “or” after it insert—
(iia) an offence under section 1A of that Act (causing serious injury by dangerous driving), or”.
6 In section 36(2)(b) (disqualification until test is passed) after “(causing death by dangerous driving)” insert “, section 1A (causing serious injury by dangerous driving)”.
7 In section 45(6) (effect of endorsement of counterparts) (until its repeal by the Road Safety Act 2006 comes into force)—
(a) after “section 1” insert “, 1A”;
(b) after “causing death by dangerous driving” insert “, causing serious injury by dangerous driving”.
8 In section 45A(4) (effect of endorsement of driving records) as substituted by the Road Safety Act 2006—
(a) after “section 1” insert “, 1A”;
(b) after “causing death by dangerous driving” insert “, causing serious injury by dangerous driving”.
9 In the table in Schedule 1 (application of provisions including sections 11 and 12(1): evidence as to driver and proof of identity) in the appropriate place insert—
Crime (International Co-operation) Act 2003 (c. 32)
10 In paragraph 3 of Schedule 3 to the Crime (International Co-operation) Act 2003 (application of duty to give notice to foreign authorities of driving disqualification of a non-UK resident) after sub-paragraph (a) insert—
(aa) section 1A (causing serious injury by dangerous driving)”.
Armed Forces Act 2006 (c. 52)
11 In paragraph 12(aj) of Schedule 2 to the Armed Forces Act 2006 (“Schedule 2 offences”)—
(a) after “section 1,” insert “1A,”;
(b) after “causing death by dangerous driving,” insert “causing serious injury by dangerous driving,”.’.—(Mr Blunt.)
1 The Armed Forces Act 2006 is amended as follows.
2 In section 246 (crediting of time in service custody: terms of imprisonment and detention), for subsections (2) to (5) substitute—
“(2) The number of days for which the offender was kept in service custody in connection with the offence in question or any related offence since being so charged is to count as time served by the offender as part of the sentence.
But this is subject to subsections (2A) to (2C).
(2A) If, on any day on which the offender was kept in service custody, the offender was also detained in connection with any other matter, that day is not to count as time served.
(2B) A day counts as time served—
(a) in relation to only one sentence, and
(b) only once in relation to that sentence.
(2C) A day is not to count as time served as part of any period of 28 days served by the offender before automatic release (see section 255B(1) of the 2003 Act).”
3 (1) Section 247 (crediting of time in service custody: supplementary) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (2)—
(a) after “in connection with other offences” insert “(but see section 246(2B))”, and
(b) omit “, or has also been detained in connection with other matters”.
(3) After subsection (2) insert—
“(2A) The reference in section 246(2A) to detention in connection with any other matter does not include remand in custody in connection with another offence but includes—
(a) detention pursuant to any custodial sentence;
(b) committal in default of payment of any sum of money;
(c) committal for want of sufficient distress to satisfy any sum of money;
(d) committal for failure to do or abstain from doing anything required to be done or left undone.”
(4) In subsection (4) for “the reference in section 246(2)” substitute “the references in section 246(2) and (2B)”.
4 In section 373(3) (orders, regulations and rules)—
(a) after paragraph (e) insert “or”, and
(b) omit paragraph (g) and the “or” preceding it.
5 In Schedule 16 (minor and consequential amendments), omit paragraph 228.’.—(Mr Blunt.)
‘(1A) Section [Causing serious injury by dangerous driving] extends to England and Wales and Scotland.’.—(Mr Blunt.)
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Jonathan Djanogly): On a point of order, Mr Sheridan. To mark the conclusion of proceedings, I want to thank you, Mr Sheridan, and indeed Mr Hollobone, for your balanced and professional chairmanship of the Committee. I thank all members of the Committee for their participation. It has been a productive Committee with many excellent contributions by hon. and right hon. Members, many of whom have brought to bear a wealth of experience from their respective professions. Serious and very complex issues have been discussed and the atmosphere has generally been very good.
I am pleased to note that the Committee has covered all 119 clauses and 16 schedules in the Bill through robust, informed and thorough debate. We have even managed to end early on the last day, which I must admit is quite an achievement. The Committee has given the Bill the scrutiny and the consideration that it fully deserves.
The usual channels must also be congratulated. Our proper allocation of time has meant that we have not had to guillotine debate at any point, which is how I wanted to proceed from the outset, and I am pleased that we got there. I am also grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate, who, of course, made a valuable contribution in leading the debates on parts 3 and 4.
Mr Slaughter: I echo all the thanks that the Minister has given, but I begin by thanking you, Mr Sheridan. We had the opportunity before Mr Hollobone left this afternoon to thank him. We have appreciated the authority that you have both shown, the good order in which you have kept the Committee, and the good humour that you have displayed, even when we have been sitting up—as we did on at least one occasion—until midnight. I take no responsibility for late sitting or verbosity; that was caused simply by the Government’s bad timetabling.
I echo the Minister’s thanks to Miss Emms and her colleagues in the Clerks’ office. In the first five years that I was here, I managed to do a lot of Bill dodging, so I came to the Committee with little experience. As a result, I suspect that I and those working with me have pestered Miss Emms unduly with our requests outside the Committee. We appreciate not only the firm procedural guidance but all the assistance that she has given, particularly to the Opposition, outside the Committee.
The Minister has thanked the civil servants, and we should perhaps thank them for writing short speeches for the Ministers. I do not know whether it is traditional, but I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland will join me in thanking our researchers—
Mr Slaughter: I would like to thank our researchers for what they have done with somewhat fewer resources. As my researcher is here, he can attest to that, and to the doorstep briefings that he has handed round on many occasions. With rather fewer resources than the Government, I hope that we have acquitted ourselves well.
I would like to thank Hansard, and I apologise to the Hansard Reporters for the fact that my handwriting is often as incoherent as my thoughts. Of course, I also thank the Doorkeepers, the police and everyone else who has assisted us. I would like to mention the Whips. It really is a case of the iron fist in the velvet glove, because they have seamlessly taken us through without our even noticing their presence. What better example could we have? My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde has been rewarded for that by being sucked into the epicentre of power already—as far as the Opposition are concerned—and it can be only matter of time before the same happens for the hon. Member for Kenilworth and Southam.
I did not have many dealings with the prisons Minister before this so I have had to get used to his style of debate, which is to be charming and emollient and to have a sting in the tail of everything that he does. I do not want to make any invidious comparisons, but if he were a confidence trickster, he could take someone’s wallet not only without their noticing but without their minding. I am slightly more used to the debating style of the legal aid Minister and I think that he is a Geoff Boycott, because however penetrating our questions—all our questions are penetrating—he can dead-bat them away in a style that leaves us none the wiser and floundering to make a different point.
I wish that we had heard from the hon. Members for East Hampshire and for Edinburgh West. No doubt they are saving their best for Report, and I am sure that that is why we have three days of it. As far as the other Government Members are concerned, we have been privileged to have such experts, and it would be invidious to make distinctions between them. In relation to the points that they have made and articles they have written, perhaps their voting behaviour does not demonstrate their full intent and support of the Government’s position. That is all credit to them. We have been privileged to have people who bring a great deal of expertise; it was not a matter of simply packing the Committee with
I thank the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd and apologise for mangling or shortening the name of his constituency, though he must be used to that by now. He has brought a different, expert and useful perspective to our deliberations. I am also grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for St Helens North and for Stockton North for their interventions and personal insights. I pay particular thanks to my hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull East, for Makerfield and for Stretford and Urmston, who have shared the burden in a hugely professional way. I end by thanking, last and the opposite of least, my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland, who again is being rewarded and, sadly, moving on to higher things. It has been a pleasure to share the brief—and particularly these proceedings—with her over the past year.
It is usual to say that we have had wonderful debates and have all been terribly erudite. I think that is for others to judge. We will see with the three days on Report what the Government wanted to do in Committee but failed to bring before it. We look forward to next week with interest to see what they put before us. I hope we have done the best we can to scrutinise the Bill; the Government will no doubt think they have done their best in defending it. We can end today on that reasonable note of harmony. Thank you, Mr Sheridan, for your eloquent chairing of the Committee.
The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Huntingdon said that we have arrived early and that the whole process ran well. It has been different for me. I missed the first sitting through recuperating from pneumonia, and yesterday I was run over by an idiot on a bike in Camberwell. Fortunately, he broke his nose before I did. It is hardly a happy way to finish the Committee.
In any event, it has been a pleasure to serve on the Committee. It has been an interesting process, and Ministers have engaged beyond their briefs, which has been most welcome. I shall remember this Committee for a long while.
The Chair: I am sure I speak on behalf of Mr Hollobone as well when I thank you for your tolerance. For both of us, it was a virgin Bill, as we were chairing for the first time. We stumbled through. Quite rightly, we thank the Clerk who kept us in check and up to speed. That is epitomised by one comment she made after explaining a procedure to me five times. She said, “I do not know why I bother.”