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Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I have two questions for my noble and learned friend, which arise from his comments. The first point concerns delays. The White Paper says that the Government, or whoever the relevant body is, will deal decisively with delays. Can I take it that the prosecution will also be dealt with when it delays? I have not had an opportunity to read the White Paper any more than my noble friendI mean the noble Lord, who is also a friend. How decisively will they deal with delays that are caused by the prosecution?
My second point involves the fact that disclosure of relevant previous convictions will be admissible where the judge believes that that would be helpful to the jury. Does my noble and learned friend agree that different judges behave differently and have different
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I shall deal first with the point about delays. Delays would have to be dealt with from whichever side in a case they come, whether the prosecution or the defence. An important element in dealing with delay will be the proposal set out in the White Paper for much more proactive judicial case management. Judges will ensure by the orders that they make and the steps that they take that both sides in a criminal trial meet sensible but pressing timetables.
On relevant previous convictions, we say in the White Paper that previous convictions should go in when they are relevant and when the judge, exercising his discretion, considers that the prejudicial value does not exceed the probity value. I do not believe that it is possible to indicate precisely which previous convictions will go in and which will not. The examples given in the White Paper are of help in that regard. My noble friend suggests that perhaps there should be guidelines in that regard. We should develop the arrangement as time goes on through the judiciary.
Lord Waddington: My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord completely satisfied that a single administrative structure supporting the Crown Court and magistrates' courts will lead to greater efficiency? Who currently says that Crown Courts are better run than magistrates' courts? I have never heard that said. Is it really suggested that local project managers will be more responsive to local needs than the magistrates' courts committees? If one looks at chapter 7 of the Auld report, does one not find that Sir Robin himself was forced to the conclusion that there had to be a single administrative structure because that would be an inevitable result of there being a third tier? If we are no longer going to have a third tier, is it not very much better to stay where we currently are so far as administration is concerned?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, on administration, a unified system means that very many anomalies that presently exist can be ironed out. For example, it means that a Crown Court judge in the Crown Court can deal with the indictable offence before him and with that which is triable only summarily; he does not have to refer that back to a magistrates' court. That arrangement is inconvenient and wearisome for defendant, victim and witnesses. Equally, it means that the geographical place at which a trial can be heard can be set more easily so far as victims and witnesses are concerned. We are very keen to ensure that any changes bring administrative savings and preserve the arrangement concerning the importance of local justice, which the noble Lord discussed. In developing those ideas, we will ensure that there is extensive consultation with the magistracy to ensure that both those principles are preserved.
Lord Mishcon: My Lords, I venture to think that the House will have noted with considerable pleasure that those who spoke from the Front Benches opposite were broadly in agreement with the White Paper. I say that because, if ever there was a matter that should be taken out of the political arena, it is the fight against crime.
The other point I want to raise is that the fight against crime must be a fight against recidivism as well. I did not notice very much in the White Paper or in the comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, about rehabilitation. Rehabilitation is very much a weapon in our armoury which we dare not forget. Will more money be spent on rehabilitation by education in the prisons? Are more people to be enlisted? Is there to be a means by which those who leave prison are helped to find a job?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I endorse what my noble friend said about the welcome nature of the cross-party support for these proposals. The proposals are explicitly described in the White Paper as both radical reform and root and branch reform of the criminal justice system. I welcome the support for the radical measures that we propose.
So far as concerns recidivism, the White Paper explicitly acknowledges the importance of fighting the reconviction rate. Whether one is referring to those coming out of prison or talking of community sentences, more than 50 per cent of people are reconvicted within two years. A concerted effort is required to attack that. The White Paper deals with the specific points to which my noble friend referred. In particular, it deals with the importance of equipping people who come out of prison with a skill. It also refers to the need to ensure that housing, alcohol or drug problems do not overwhelm people when they come out and cause them to offend again.
We need to address those issues in a long-term programme for fighting recidivism. The White Paper is a programme for the next five to 10 years fundamentally to transform the criminal justice system not only in relation to the court process but also in relation to sentencing, which is the important point raised by my noble friend.
Lord Carlisle of Bucklow: My Lords, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, I have no current interest to declare, having retired. However, like him, I believe that I can claim to have had a similar experience of working in the criminal courts. I welcome much of the contents of what the Minister said and, in particular, the tone of the Statement.
Nevertheless, does he agree that we shall have to be very careful to ensure that, in drafting the changes in criminal procedure which he has recommended, we do so without undermining the fundamental principles of the rules of justice to which the Statement refers.
Secondly, perhaps I may ask the noble and learned Lord a question about sentencing. Does he agree that the answer to overcrowding in prisons is not only to give to the courts more alternatives to imprisonment as
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I agree with the first part of the noble Lord's question. We must be careful at all times to ensure that the changes that we make are consistent with our fundamental notions of justice and, in particular, with the fundamental notion that a person is presumed innocent and should be convicted of a criminal offence only when evidence shows that beyond reasonable doubt. However, ensuring that the changes are consistent with that fundamental principle is not the same as saying that we should do nothing. Everyone agrees that fundamental and radical change is required.
As to the second proposition raised by the noble Lord, again I agree with the two sub-points made. First, there need to be more alternatives to prison, and, secondly, sentencers need to be encouraged to consider those where appropriate. I make it clear that all too many short sentences are now passed where an alternative to custody would be better.
Viscount Tenby: My Lords, of course I have no authority to speak for these Benches but, on my own behalf, I echo the welcome accorded the Minister's Statement. I want to raise one small point. As one of the very few noble Lords in this House who supported the ill-fated Bills in respect of election of choice in each-way cases on which, sadly, the Government appear to have thrown in the towel this afternoon, perhaps I may ask the noble and learned Lord whether there are any plans to bring some kind of logic into the list of offences which carry automatic right to choice and those which do not.
While the proposed raising of magistrates' powers in the matter of sentencing is a welcome step in reducing the pressures on Crown Courts, the fact remains that the anomalies which exist at present and which are jealously guarded in some legal circles should have no place in a modern legal system. As part of these welcome measures, will the Government look at those anachronisms?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, there are no current plans to look again to see which are either-way offences, which are summary only and which are indictable only. But, by increasing the sentencing power of magistrates to 12 months and by taking away the power to commit to sentence, we are seeking in the White Paper to ensure that cases which should properly be dealt with by magistrates' courts stay there far more in the normal course of events. That is the way in which we seek to address the problem of the anomalies where cases which should stay in magistrates' courts are heard in the Crown Court.
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