Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill

Memorandum submitted by the Mayor of London (LA 49)

  Introduction

1. The Mayor of London welcomes the opportunity to present written evidence on the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill and fully supports the Bill’s objectives to reduce offending and repeat offending and increase the benefits which will flow to victims.  

2. The Mayor recognises the need to balance a range of interests to ensure the safety and security of law-abiding citizens. He has made clear his determination to reduce youth offending and prevent reoffending by those convicted of crime. In addition the Mayor is taking action to tackle and reduce violence against women and girls.

3. The Mayor fully supports the proposals to improve transparency, remove centralised targets and enable local areas to establish effective local partnerships which cover both criminal justice agencies and other statutory and voluntary agencies to deliver effective solutions.

4. He does however, have some concerns about the Bill which are given below.

Summary

5. The Mayor is in general supportive of the proposals within the Bill and the principles set out including:

- Intervening early in the lives of children at risk and their families;

- Developing parenting skills;

- Avoiding needless escalation of young offenders within the criminal justice system;

- Providing local agencies greater powers to respond to offending to avoid needless escalation within the criminal justice system;

- Reducing the use of remands;

- Payment by results and providing local agencies greater incentives to reduce the demand on the criminal justice system;

- The greater focus on victims needs is welcome along with proposals to increase funding to victims services from prisoners’ earnings.

6. The Mayor would however, wish to see additional provisions within the Bill:

- Tougher punishments for using a dangerous dog as a weapon, in line with the sentences on knife crime.

- Tougher penalties for those who are convicted for kerb-crawling offences such as higher monetary fines and amendments to legislation to facilitate prosecution.

- The introduction of a court power to enforce sobriety for an offender who has been convicted of alcohol-related crime and violence.

- The Mayor considers that all forms of hate crime are extremely serious and have a divisive effect on communities. He would welcome further consideration of measures to ensure that hate crime and incitement to hatred is treated with appropriate seriousness. In particular, that protection is afforded to homophobic crime; especially due to the recent fly-posting incidents in Tower Hamlets.

Legal Aid

7. The Mayor is concerned that despite recognition in the Bill of the need to ensure that victims of domestic violence are eligible for legal aid in private family law matters, the majority of women who have experienced domestic violence will be ineligible due to the restrictive evidence that they will be required to present.

8. Research tells us that as with all forms of violence against women, there is significant under-reporting of domestic violence by victims, therefore, the requirements for ongoing criminal proceedings or evidence of a referral to a Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference as criteria for eligibility will make it impossible for the majority of women experiencing domestic violence to access legal aid. [1] To ensure that all victims of domestic violence are eligible for legal aid, the evidential criteria should be widened to include evidence from specialist domestic violence services, health, housing and social services.

Sentencing and Punishment

9. The Mayor has concerns over the proposed extension of the use of out of court disposals especially the conditional caution. This is only suitable for the police to use for low-level offences. In addition the Mayor is concerned to ensure that the potential reductions to court cases does not lead to further red tape for the police. If a conditional caution requires a return to court, the police will be responsible for establishing the necessary evidence. There is no reduction of the burden on the police - in fact there will almost certainly be an increase in the burden on police resources under this proposal, with little benefit.

10. The Mayor welcomes the government’s proposals to amend the legislation so that Penalty Notices for Disorder can be alternatively used to pay for an educational course such as alcohol brief interventions.

Sentencing and Punishment of Young Offenders

11. Restorative justice has shown it can have a powerful reforming effect on young offenders, but evidence shows this is particularly the case where victims are involved in the restorative process. Given the need for consistency in the justice system and the understandably inconsistent nature of victims of crime, the Mayor envisages fundamental problems in increasing the use of restorative justice without further explanation of what this means in practice. Currently most victims do not want to be involved at all. The Mayor understands that victim attendance at Referral Order Panels (that were created with victim involvement in mind) is staggeringly under 10%. He would welcome further detail on the government’s proposals to increase restorative justice, especially in relation to referral orders.

12. The Mayor welcomes the introduction of a more rigorous test before under 18 year olds can be remanded to youth detention accommodation. It is important that the new arrangements make sure the option of remand for young people who are unlikely to receive a custodial sentence is only used in exceptional circumstances.

13. The Mayor also welcomes the intention to simplify out of court disposals and to prevent the needless escalation of young people in the criminal justice system. However, if there is greater discretion provided to front line staff to deal with youth crime, then that needs to be matched by the right support and knowledge to confidently make those decisions. This is especially relevant for conditional cautioning which has a low level of current use in London.

Recommendations for improved outcomes for young people

14. Education for young offenders should be prioritised as an effective intervention in its own right. Better, formalised partnership working between local authorities, the courts, education providers and the secure estate will ensure the attendance and educational attainment of young offenders is central to all sentences.

15. Commitment should be made to continue and improve resettlement support for all young people leaving custody. The Chief Inspector of Prisons reported recently that only one in three young offenders were given suitable accommodation, training or employment placement on their release thereby reducing their chances of successful rehabilitation.

16. The Mayor recommends a more developed process for feedback to sentencers from Youth Offending Teams on what happened to the young offender, as this in turn is likely to provide them with greater confidence –especially in giving out more intensive community sentences in place of custody.

17. In order to ensure that young people in custody get the best chances of successful rehabilitation, the Mayor strongly believes that more must be done to separate those who are motivated to change from more entrenched young offenders (as in Project Daedalus, which provides a separate unit at Feltham Young Offenders Institute).

18. For the same reasons, he also wants to see 15-year-olds placed on different wings to older boys in custody and those remanded in custody placed elsewhere to those serving custodial sentences.

Mayoral Priorities

Tackling serious youth violence

19. The Mayor has made tackling serious youth violence the number one priority of his administration. In November 2008 he launched "Time for Action", which aims to address the complex long-term root causes of teenage violence by improving the opportunities available for young Londoners.

20. Time for Action is now well established and includes a number of targeted projects such as Project Daedalus (a separate specialist unit at Feltham YOI with enhanced resettlement for boys identified willing to change and resettlement support available to all young offenders ), Project Titan (increasing the number of volunteers and community involvement in tackling serious youth crime), and Project Oracle (providing the tools for practitioners and commissioners to identify and understand what really works).

21. The Mayor sees the advent of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime as an opportunity to build on the success of Time for Action, as this office, together with the London Crime Reduction Board, offers an even more effective and joined up approach to Youth Justice within London than ever before.

Violence Against Women

22. The Mayor has developed an integrated approach to tackling violence against women and girls (VAWG). He launched his VAWG strategy "The Way Forward" in March 2010 with the over-arching focus being to reduce and prevent violence.

23. The Mayor believes that getting tougher with perpetrators will not only offer the necessary protection and support to victims, but will also stop violence from occurring in the first place. Tough action with perpetrators sends a clear message that there is no place for such heinous crimes in our society and will deter perpetrators from re-offending

Clamping down on those who pay for sexual services with exploited persons

24. Research suggests that interventions and penalties that are more punitive are most likely to deter men from paying for sex. The Mayor would recommend tougher penalties for those who are convicted for kerb-crawling offences such as higher monetary fines which could then go towards support and exiting programmes for women involved in prostitution; Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (or the proposed new measures such as criminal behaviour orders and crime prevention injunctions) and; publication of names upon conviction. Currently, in some areas, those convicted for kerb-crawling offences are given the option of paying to participate in an educational programme as an alternative to court. However, research shows that educative approaches to kerb-crawling have demonstrated attitude change but not changed behaviour. Research also shows that educational programmes do not serve to deter men from paying for sex/kerb-crawling. Whilst the Mayor recognises that there may be some value in educational programmes, these should not be used instead of, but in conjunction with other, more punitive sanctions.

25. On 1 April 2010, section 14 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009 came into force. Section 14 introduces section 53A of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 creating a new strict liability offence of paying for sexual services with a woman in prostitution who is subject to exploitative conduct. Since its inception, there have been no prosecutions and few arrests. One of the difficulties in enforcing the legislation is that it relies on gathering adequate evidence to prove that there has been exploitation, force or coercion of the person selling sex. It can take longer than 6 months to gather this evidence, particularly where it may rely upon the prosecution of offenders first for other more serious offences relating to trafficking or the control of prostitution for gain. However, as the offence of paying for sex is a summary offence only, the case must be taken to court within 6 months. This makes it extremely difficult for the appropriate evidence to be gathered in time. The Mayor would urge amendments to this legislation to facilitate enforcement. For instance, it would help to extend the deadline for the case to be taken to court from 6 months to one year or to increase the severity of the offence so that it is not a summary offence.

Dangerous dogs legislation

26. Addressing the proliferation of weapon dogs in London is a key priority for the Mayor as part of his pledge to reduce crime and make London safer for all. 

27. Tougher punishment is needed for: using a dog as a weapon; having a dog that is out of control; or owning a banned breed. The use of a dog as a weapon should bear the same sentence as a knife and be covered by the new provisions in the Bill.

28. Penalties should relate to owning an illegal breed and the circumstances of the incident. Where the dog is not illegal but is considered dangerously out of control, the penalty should relate to the extent of the incident.

29. The provisions in the government’s Gang Injunctions policy which were introduced in the Policing and Crime Act 2009 and launched in England and Wales in January 2011 is not a bigger enough deterrent for using dogs as weapons, particularly in a gang setting.

Compulsory Alcohol Sobriety Scheme

30. London has the highest rate of alcohol-related crime in England. The Mayor believes that more needs to be done to tackle alcohol related violent crime and anti-social behaviour using interventions which influence behaviour change and reduce the culture of binge–drinking.

31. The Mayor wishes to introduce a compulsory alcohol sobriety scheme to tackle the culture of binge-drinking and other crimes that have strong links to alcohol such as domestic violence. The scheme would be provided as an option for the courts in the form of suspended sentences, community sentences or part of a release license. Compliance would be achieved through daily testing and non-compliance could lead to a swift arrest, return to court and imposition of sanctions.

July 2011


[1] T he 2008/09 British Crime Survey, 42 per cent of victims of all violent offences reported the incident to police, compared with 16 per cent of domestic violence victims. [Home Office Crime in England and Wales 2008/09, Table 2.09; Homicides, Firearm Offences and Intimate Violence 2008/09 , Table 3.18]

[1]

Prepared 7th September 2011