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Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I sympathise with the noble and learned Lord who has lost his voice. I speak as a non-lawyer, and I appreciate the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor's encouraging discussion on this Bill. Like other noble Lords, I congratulate him and the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, on their new positions.
I want to ask the Minister, as have the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, to consider and comment on the implication of the Bill for children and young people, which is sometimes overlooked. The All-Party Children GroupI declare an interest as co-chairrecently met with several organisations concerned with child welfare to discuss the Bill, and I want to reflect on some of their concerns. The group meets again next week, and I hope that subsequently we shall be able to meet the Minister to discuss possible ways forward. I know that she is interested in children and young people and I know that she listens. I hope that she will listen to us.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has expressed serious concerns about the UK's treatment of children in trouble with the law, and in particular our failure to establish a system of justice for juveniles that integrates the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The organisations that met with the All-Party Children Group supported the general principle of ensuring that children in trouble with the law are treated first as children, with an explicitly separate system of justice for children and young people from that for adults. This is not about being soft on young offenders. It is about what works to protect individuals and communities. It is also about what works in rehabilitating young people who may have been damaged by a system beyond their control, such as inadequate parenting, care systems and educational underachievement.
There is concern about the proposed increase from 24 to 36 hours in the time limit for detaining suspects before any charge is made for any arrestable offences. Clause 5 would allow detention for a whole range of non-serious or minor offences. This could lead to increased detention periods for children, and that should be weighed against the known harm which can result from detention. The proposed measure seems disproportionate to the range of offences involved. The Home Affairs Committee has also expressed concern about these provisions.
The provisions relating to the sentencing of children and young people also needs consideration. Detention should be used only as a measure of last resort and for as short a time as possible, as required by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Part 12 of the Bill introduces new custodial sentences for children. We have had over the past 10 years a massive increase in the number of children being sentenced to detention, despite good intentions to limit the number of children being sentenced to custody and to the use of custody as a last resort. Again, I go back to my earlier concerns about adult provision being applied to children and about what works best for children and society.
Murders committed by under-18s are rare and their circumstances are varied. I am aware that at Third Reading in another place, an undertaking was given to review the setting of the minimum period of detention of children convicted of murder and of the means of sentencing, so I will say no more about this.
Clause 217 provides for indeterminate custodial sentences of detention for life and detention for public protection for children aged 10 to 17 for serious sexual and violent offences on the basis of an assessment of dangerousness or potential dangerousness. Such sentences would mean a tremendous leap in the restriction of liberty for children and would introduce a mandatory element which would result in more children being locked up for longer. Again, the provisions mirror adult provision and again, we should look at what works best for children and for society. Children should not have to suffer the anxiety of not knowing the length of a sentence.
Following the Howard League judgment which established the applicability of the Children Act to prisons, there is a need to set up a clear legal framework for the youth justice system, to be guided by child-centred principles which meet the UK's
The main purpose of the youth justice system, as phrased in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, is the prevention of reoffending. We need to clarify what is understood by child welfare and set clear principles for those who have to operate the youth justice system not only in the courts but throughout the system in order to tackle reoffending.
Apart from the criminal justice system, it is of course important that all agencies at a national and local level work together to ensure that child welfare is central to our systems. I welcome the creation of a Minister for children to oversee this, among other things. Preventing young people from getting into trouble with the law in the first place and rehabilitating them if they do is crucial to a civilised society. Not only will children and young people benefit, but so will society as a whole. I believe that we need to be imaginative and farsighted in approaching the issue of children and the law. Will the Minister take this into account?
Lord Chan: My Lords, I, too, join your Lordships in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, on her promotion. The two issues I will focus on are in Part 1, on amendments of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, and in Part 12 on sentencing.
First, while I have no objection to the taking of fingerprints and non-intimate samples of body fluids for DNA analysis without consent from persons following a recordable offence, these procedures should be reviewed regularly by an independent body separate from the police service. The review will help to assure members of ethnic minority groups that the procedures have been performed according to legal requirements and not for any other reason.
Next, sentencing arrangements should ensure punishment appropriate for the offender, protection of the public from dangerous offenders and that re-offending is reduced among adults and young people. All the proposed changes in the Bill will require an appropriate injection of resources both professional and financial. Without those resources the Bill is unlikely to achieve the improvements that the Government would expect.
In the debate mention has been made of the Sentencing Advisory Panel. Here, I declare my membership of the Sentencing Advisory Panel since it was launched in July 1999. I am one of three lay members on the panel. Other members are drawn from High Court judges, magistrates, the Prison Service, the community service, the police service and from academics specialising in sentencing. The panel, constituted under Sections 80 and 81 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, is an independent advisory and
The Sentencing Advisory Panel's overall objective is to promote consistency in sentencing. The panel does that by providing fully researched objective advice to the Court of Appeal to assist the court in framing or revising sentencing guidelines on particular offences or categories of offences.Before submitting a proposal to the Court of Appeal the panel is required by the Act to obtain and consider the views of individuals and bodies approved for that purpose by the Lord Chancellor, after consultation with the Home Secretary and the Lord Chief Justice. The panel must then formulate its own views and communicate them to the court, together with information on the sentencing profile for the relevant category of offences, the cost of different sentences and their relative effectiveness in preventing re-offending.
The first proposal of the Sentencing Advisory Panel was on environmental offences including pollution by oil tankers at sea and illegal tipping of toxic waste in landfill sites. That was followed in May 2000 by one on offensive weapons that had to wait until October 2002 when the Court of Appeal found an opportunity to use the panel's advice in a guideline judgment in Poulton and Celaire. Since 1999 the Court of Appeal has issued sentencing guidelines based on proposals from the panel on the following offences in chronological order: racially aggravated offences, the importation and possession of opium, handling stolen goods, the use of extended sentences for sexual and violent offences, minimum terms in murder casesas was put forward to us by the Lord Chief Justiceoffences involving offensive weapons, offences involving child pornography, rape, domestic burglary and causing death by dangerous driving. All have been used by the Court of Appeal in guideline judgements.
The Bill recommends the composition of a Sentencing Guidelines Council to replace the Court of Appeal. The council will frame and revise sentencing guidelines. It will notify the Sentencing Advisory Panel to consult on those guidelines as the panel has done for the past four years. Membership of the Sentencing Guidelines Council, though mainly comprising the judiciary, will also include members from the criminal justice system. I consider that arrangement a duplication of the Sentencing Advisory Panel that has, in addition, the benefit of lay members. In that I agree with the Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, that the Sentencing Guidelines Council should be made up of the judiciary.
Lord Ahmed: My Lords, I add my congratulations to my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and to my noble friend the Minister of State on their respective promotions. I should also like to congratulate the Government on their White Paper Justice for All, published last year, and on the introduction of this Criminal Justice Bill.
The Government's policy on reducing crime is obviously working as there has been a sustained overall decrease in crime since 1997. I believe that there are good intentions in reforming the criminal justice system to ensure that persistent offenders, serious violent criminals and sexual offenders are given longer sentences, with flexibility for the judges to be able to deal with individual cases according to their merit. I also welcome the Government's strategy in the Bill to move away from custody for offenders who are more likely to respond to community sentences. I therefore welcome paragraph 791 of the Explanatory Notes. However, there are a number of concerns and a few suggestions that I should like to share.
Many people within our communities welcome the idea of a criminal justice system that is balanced, fair and representative. That is why I welcome many of the proposed reforms to the criminal justice system, such as ensuring that juries are more representative. The criminal justice system must serve ethnic minority communities more effectively if it is to deliver justice fairly and promote confidence in its performance. It is well known that minority groups are disproportionately represented in all parts of the criminal justice systemas suspects, as defendants and offenders, as victims and employees.
Young black people are stopped and searched four times more often than young white people. There is a great disparity in the numbers. The proportion of black people in prison in England and Wales is five times greater than their proportion of the population as a whole. Black people found guilty of offences are sentenced to custody sooner and for longer than are white people. Young Muslim men in the Bradford riots received longer sentences than did those who participated in the Millwall and Birmingham City football riots and in disturbances in Northern Ireland. Young Muslim men with beards and in ethnic or religious clothes are continually stopped and harassed at airports and regularly searched in public places. Poverty and social deprivation among some minority ethnic groups makes them more vulnerable both to property offences and to offences of violence. Minority ethnic groups are also the target of racist offenders.
A few years ago, in his annual Labour Party conference speech, the Prime Minister said that he would like to see more judges, senior police officers, senior prison officers and civil servants who come from the ethnic minorities. I wholeheartedly support his intention. In reality, however, only a few individuals have reached such positions, such as Mr Tariq Ghaffur, the assistant commissioner of police.
The Government's proposed reforms to the criminal justice system do little to redress that appalling imbalance. The system is broken and it needs an overhaul. In that sense the call for reform is welcome. However, proposed changes to the criminal justice system will worsen an already intolerable situation and further undermine existing civil liberties. Reforms include proposals to disclose previous convictions in
I believe that there are many thousands of police officers who have a challenging job in very difficult circumstances. Many perform their duties in an excellent manner, but a few bring the whole police force into disrepute. One of the most controversial changes in the Bill for the black and Asian communities is the extension of police powers to stop and search. For many black and Asian men the experience has been not simply a matter of inconvenience and annoyance; such stops can lead and have led to physical abuse and emotional trauma and potentially to fatalities.
Both government and independent researchers have consistently demonstrated that stop and search is applied in inner-city areas with a high proportion of ethnic minority communities. Although the overall number of stop and searches by the police decreased by 17 per cent in 200001, the number of black people exposed to that police procedure increased by 4 per cent during that period. In London, where the overall instances of stops dropped from 40 per cent in 2000 to 6 per cent in 2001, the number of blacks and Asians stopped rose by 6 per cent and 3 per cent respectively, while for the white community they dropped by 14 per cent. In 199899 black people were six times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people.
Despite the 17 per cent drop, the total number of people stopped from all racial groups was staggering. In 1989, 202,000 stops occurred. Those figures grew to 690,000 in 1995, 857,000 in 1999 and a colossal 1.1 million in 1998. The numbers began to drop only after continuous complaints and the Stephen Lawrence inquiry report.
I understand that the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) did not bring many results. According to Home Office figures, 87 per cent of the total number of people stopped were found not to have violated any law but were still arrested. When arrests occur, whether under stop and search or otherwise, they continue apparent trends of racial discrimination. The rate of arrests broken down by race for whites is 26 per thousand; for Asians, 27 per thousand; and for blacks 113 per thousand.
The Bill also contains provisions to allow the police to impose bail restrictions on anyone they arrest, even before he or she is charged and brought before a court. That measure must be seen in the context of the recent rise in the use by the policespurred on by the Government's street crime initiativeof the controversial stop and search powers and even greater black over-representation among those subjected to such treatment.
Some organisations believe that stop and search has long been used in inner cities and in black communities as a form of general street-level surveillance. Current statistics by the Home Office show that an equal proportion of black and white people are charged following an arrest. However, a great proportion of black and Asian suspects were less likely to be granted
Consequently, I do not believe that it is necessary to increase detention limits from 24 to 36 hours as the power already exists when authorised by a superintendent. The existing ground that justifies further detention should be made out in any case where it is necessary to hold someone in custody for a long time.
I was a magistrate in Rotherham for eight years before coming to your Lordships House. My experience on the Bench was that it is one of the best systems in the world, where ordinary citizens, with personal experience and knowledge of their own communities, administer justice. While we all acknowledge that the local magistrates' Bench should reflect the local communityI congratulate the Magistrates' Association and the Government for encouraging black and Asian communities to volunteer and applythe ethnic minorities are still under-represented forming only 5 per cent of the total.
I am deeply concerned about Clauses 41, 42, 43 and 45 in relation to indictment trials which could take place in certain circumstances without a jury at the request of the defendant, the prosecutor or the judge. While the scope for indictments that would be covered by that proposal is limited to complex fraud cases and cases where there is a serious risk that the jury will be subjected to intimidation, the trend is dangerous and threatening for black and ethnic minority communities. Should this proposal catch on with prosecutors and judges, it will become a slippery slope of compromised justice, an excuse for expediency, convenience and cost.
Also, a study produced by researchers at the Legal Research Institute, University of Warwick, provides clear evidence that government plans to restrict the right of jury trial will serve to disadvantage ethnic minority defendants. It also contradicts arguments put forward by Home Office Ministers that defendants widely abuse the right to elect jury trial, showing that defendants who took their cases to jury trial were much more likely to be acquitted than those who elected to be tried before magistrates. Eleven of the 20 blacks tried before a jury were acquitted, compared with only one in 20 acquitted by magistrates following contested trials.
Although I have full confidence in the magistrates' court system, organisations such as the Black Londoners Forum have expressed their concern. In relation to extending the powers of the magistrates' courts, they argue that less than five percent of all magistrates are black and Asianhardly representative of those coming into the system. Virtually all the court cases in England and Wales end up on the magistrates' remit.
The prison population has increased dramatically, from 44,600 in 1993 to more than 73,000 today. The numbers continue to grow. The number of black and ethnic minorityparticularly Muslimprisoners is disproportionately high in the prison population. While I am on the subject, I will also mention that I was recently informed that the sister of an alleged companion of a Tel Aviv suicide bomber is being kept in a male prison. I would like my noble friend the Minister to tell the House whether this is correct, and if so, the reason for this disgraceful act.
Also, a study on race and sentencing found that ethnic minority offenders were sentenced more severely than comparable white offenders in some Crown Courts, though not in others. Additional research also shows that magistrates send a higher proportion of black defendants to prison than white persons. Magistrates also quite often send cases to Crown Courts which then sentence defendants to terms within magistrates' powers. This implies that magistrates may impose longer sentences.
In conclusion, the black and Asian communities have a sincere interest in a criminal justice system that operates fairly and judiciously. Our criminal justice system has yet to meet these criteria when it comes to delivering to these communities.
The Criminal Justice Bill does not address some of the very fundamental issues regarding crime and the application of justice in black and minority ethnic communities. It fails to address the immediate and the root causes of crime. It fails to address the dismal, disproportionate tides that scar the system. It fails to address the tidal wave of incarceration that will make Great Britain the great prison state of Europe. If the proposals advocated in the Bill are carried throughparticularly the calls to end the double jeopardy rule, eliminate trial by jury, and allow hearsay and previous conviction evidenceit will constitute a serious setback.
We are at a crossroads. We can continue along the path outlined in this Bill, heading towards a system that in the next 10 years could very much resemble the current criminal justice crisis in the United States: more prisons; less security; more lives ruined. Remarkably, the crisis in the United States has grown even as crime rates have dramatically fallen. This is due in large part to the rigid policies that are now in place and have taken on a life of their own.
Baroness Stern: My Lords, at this stage in this rich and well informed debate, I shall restrict myself in the main to some comments on the sentencing provisions in Part 12, but first I must mention some general matters. Most importantly, I should like to echo the pleasure on all sides of the House at the new position occupied by the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland. Her promotion has cheered up many very depressed Home Office watchers who feel better knowing that she is there.
Much in this Bill gives cause for grave anxiety to all those concerned not only with civil liberties, but also with justice. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, for her devastating exposition of that in relation to the disclosure of previous convictions. It calls into question our adherence to the international human rights norms and guidelines in many areas. This country is widely respected abroad for its fine legal traditions and its adherence to the highest standards of justice. Many other countries have modelled their legal systems on ours.
In my role as board member of Penal Reform InternationalI declare that as an interestI am very concerned about the effects of many of these proposed changes on the work being done to introduce fair justice systems, and respect for the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary in countries that do not currently have any of those things. We are setting a very bad example.
When the Soviet Union first fell apart and we started meeting people from there who wanted to reform their vast and cruel prison system, a reform group made a video called "Especially Dangerous Recidivists". When we saw the video, it turned out to be about about a prison full of elderly women, mostly toothless and bundled up against the cold, serving 10 years for theft. They had committed small thefts, but they kept doing itand under Soviet law, to keep committing a crime, however minor, was a crime in itself; and refusing, or being unable, to reform was also an offence.
I remember some 20 years ago how hard Home Office officials worked with others to remove from prison the large numbers of petty persistent offenders, no danger to anyone, serving disproportionate sentences because of their persistence. This so-called "modernising" Bill will take us right back there. It is the sort of measure that makes a country a high-imprisoning country.
A second area of great disquiet is the further erosion of the status of children as children in the criminal justice system. The noble Baronesses, Lady Linklater and Lady Massey, spoke eloquently on that. The introduction of new custodial sentences for children, and particularly the 15-year minimum term for children who are convicted of murder, move us even further away from meeting our obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
I should like to comment briefly on the main changes in sentencing against the background of the current crisis in the criminal justice system. It is not disputed by anyone that sentencing practice over the past decade has changed. The prison population has increased from around 40,000 10 years ago to 73,000 now. This is not because we are locking up more violent and sexual offenders. The proportion of those in the prison population convicted of those offences has actually fallen. It is because sentencing has moved towards greater harshness. The cases that used to get quite long sentences are getting even longer ones; the cases that used to get short prison sentences are getting longer prison sentences; the people who used to get probation or community service are getting short prison sentences; and the cases that used to get fines and warnings are getting probation and community service. The fines have almost disappeared.
The criminal justice system, court hearings, punishment and the imposition of a stigmatising criminal record are being applied more promiscuously. Examples may be dismissed as purely anecdotal but noble Lords may have read of the rather enterprising man who went out at night diving to the bottom of lakes for lost golf balls, which he subsequently sold. According to news reports, the Crown Court gave him six months' imprisonment for stealing those lost golf balls, noting that he did not show any remorse at his trial. The Court of Appeal regarded the sentence as disproportionate and reduced it to a conditional discharge. Prison is the most severe penalty that we have at our disposal and we have started to think that it is right to use it for those who appropriate other people's lost golf balls from the bottom of lakes.
We cannot fail to be aware, nor can we be surprised, at the crisis in the prisons and the stories that we read of goings on in the prison system. Many people will blame the Prison Service for incompetence. I do not. It is wethat is, Parliamentwho have failed to protect our prison staff from seeing their daily work become a constant struggle with crisis, their humane standards rendered impossible to deliver and their rehabilitative programmes cancelled. We give them the responsibility to inform families that their imprisoned relative has been moved 400 miles away and to explain to prisoners why education classes are not running that day and why they are being moved to a prison that is miles away at two hours' notice as part of what is called an overcrowding draft. They have to tell families when their relatives have committed suicide. We are here to discuss justice but these are all injustices that we should deplore and seek to remedy.
The prison population increases every month and we do not provide the resources to deal with it presumably because, quite reasonably, the Treasury thinks that £2.8 billion a year on prisons is enough. In considering the Bill, we should look not just at principle but also at the practicalities. Will these measures put even more pressure on services that are already stretched to capacity and will the Treasury provide the additional money?
It is difficult to find out exactly what the estimates are of the increase in the prison population and the probation population as a result of the proposed measures. The figure of an increase of 1,000 in the prison population has been produced. However, that must be part of the wishful thinking that characterises other parts of the thinking about the Bill. Most people of experience have no doubt that these measures will lead to a vastly increased prison population. The money will not be forthcoming and the crisis will continue and worsen. That is the background against which we should try to improve the Bill so that it reduces our unnecessary use of prison. I am glad to say that there are ways in which that could actually lead to a more sparing and proportionate use of prison and an opportunity for hard-pressed prison and probation staff to do a proper job.
First, in Clause 22, conditional cautions are proposed. That means that at the lower end of offending the possibility would be createdit is very common in a number of European countriesof defendants who admitted guilt being allowed by the prosecutor, with the agreement of the victim, to make recompense to the victim or to society and be diverted from prosecution. This would enable us to move more in the direction so well outlined by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn of sanctions that did not require punishment and suffering.
Secondly, suspended sentences are mentioned in Clause 181. Suspended sentences are used very widely in a number of other countries that manage to retain a much lower imprisonment rate than we do in this country. The return of the suspended sentence could help in that aim. But this House would need to look at changes to make the proposals in the Bill more flexible in the event of a breach, or it will just lead to more imprisonment.
Thirdly, the new generic community sentence could function well, provided that its presentation to the public is well-thought out, better-thought out, I hope, than the ill-fated legislation that was passed through this House that changed the names of all the community sentences into something that sounded tough, but had no effect whatever on public perception.
Since the introduction of that formulation in 1996, the prison population in Canada has gone down from 39,000 to 36,000. If we do not look at the sentencing provisions in this Bill in this way, we shall all be here debating another crisis in the prisons and another bad chief inspector's report for years and years to come.
Baroness Howells of St Davids: My Lords, I hope that the House will permit me to say publicly to the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, how proud the community from which she hails is of her, and to congratulate both her and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on taking up their new posts.
Like most other noble Lords, I welcome the Bill, and I commend much of what it pertains to achieve. All the points have been ably debated by others more qualified than me. However, two areas are of some concern to the community from which I come. I would like the Minister to reflect on my concerns before the Bill becomes enshrined in law.
The double jeopardy law, which has existed since the 14th century, could be seen as needing to be changed, as we are now in the 21st century. However, I should like to urge caution. The proposed changes would so alter the position of the accused as to expose the individual to the arbitrary exercise of state power.
As has been said, the rule as it stands serves several purposes, among them that it promotes effective investigation and prosecution. If this is failing, and we wish to rectify it, is there a need to change the system, or should we be giving better training to the constabulary to do a good job of investigating?
The Stephen Lawrence murder did not go unpunished because of bad law; it went unpunished because of bad detective work. The inquiry showed this very clearly. The law as it stands confirms the importance of finality in the criminal justice process. It serves both the defendant and the victim. The victim has a need for closure, as was said by my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. However advanced technology becomes, the state should not be forced to resort to the methods of a crime fiction writer who is able to harass an individual until he gets the results he wants.
The intuition of police officers should never be a licence to hound fellow human beings, as would be the case if an officer got a bee in his bonnet about someone whom he believed to be guilty. As the arguments have
I would not rehearse the arguments, even if I were capable of doing so, but I want to suggest and remind the House that juries represent the community. Race relations advisers have fought to secure the right that juries were multi-racial and multi-cultural. Nor will I try to rehearse the arguments of those who took part in the Report stage debate in the House of Commons. I believe that defendants already have the right to waive a jury trial.
In the case of the visible minority groups, judges continue to make prejudicial statements, some of which are hurtful and can be damaging to those standing before them. One such statements made by a Home Secretary recently was, "Black boys are all muggers". My Lords, my sons are not muggers. How would they fare if they were put before a judge who held such views?
This is perhaps one of the milder prejudicial statements that are often reported to be the utterances of learned gentlemen. I would submit that this is not the moment to change course. The Home Office is in the process of implementing the action plans prompted by the Macpherson report. Perhaps what we need at this time is to feel secure that the judiciary is free from prejudice before we move towards a change from the defence election for trial by jury.
The right to elect for trial by a judge alone may well have a negative effect on victims of crime, especially if the case is about racial abuse. The judge alone may be persuaded by a blond, blue-eyed defendant with whom he identifies rather than the black male, who in his mind conjures up strange pictures of evil and is uncivilised and brutal. Jury trial remains the cornerstone where justice is still seen to be done.
Lord Adebowale: My Lords, my interest in the Bill comes from a professional and personal position. I should first declare my interest as chief executive of Turning Point. We work with people who have drug, alcohol and mental health problems. I want first to focus on the areas of community sentencing, mental health and substance misuse.
The recent criminalisation of the treatment agenda has created opportunities to engage with new and difficult drug users and this has resulted in a major expansion of services responding to referrals. However, I am concerned that that must not be at the expense of services and social care outside the criminal justice system.
At Turning Point we are committed to rehabilitation as a genuine alternative to prison. Problems with substances are overwhelmingly a health problem and should be treated as such. But let us be clear: the criminal justice interventions need to be shown to work. This means helping people come off drugs and reducing drug-related crime. We must therefore focus on the quality of treatment and outcomes and not just on the number of orders and
Many who come into contact with the police have complex needs. I warmly welcome new court powers to enforce alcohol treatment requirements for offenders, but only if this is matched by new resources to deliver more alcohol treatment.
I am also pleased the Bill addresses mental health alongside drugs and alcohol use. These complex issues have always been difficult to treat outside the criminal justice system. I therefore seek assurances that mechanisms are put in place to facilitate better multi-disciplinary and cross-team working to address the needs of people with multiple challenges going through the criminal justice system.
Clause 12 of the Bill introduces for the first time police powers to test 14 to 17 year-olds for Class A drugs at the time they are charged with an offence while Clauses 154, 251 and 264 extend court powers to enforce drug treatment and testing orders as part of a drug rehabilitation requirement.
Moves to process young people through the criminal justice system into treatment will, I fear, put great strain on already stretched services and on youth offending teams. This may result in many young people being referred to adult services. I seek reassurances from the Government that testing and drug rehabilitation requirements for young people will not push young people into adult-based services.
For those with entrenched substance misuse problems, testing may be the only way of engaging with them but we must be sure to identify and engage with those who need help. The aim of testing at charge is to identify problem substance misusers and related crime and ultimately to provide suitable care. But I can see problems. Drug experimentation and occasional use are relatively common among adolescents. However, fewer than 1 per cent have ever used heroin or cocaine and even fewer are problem users. Therefore, testing for Class A drugs may be an ineffective way of identifying problem behaviours.
In addition, Class A drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, can be difficult to trace 24 hours after consumption while other problematic substances, such as benzodiazepines and alcohol, are not tested for at all under the Bill. Furthermore, not all Class A drugs are linked with dependence and crime, for example, LSD and ecstasy. I therefore seek safeguards that will ensure testing takes place only when a reasonable suspicion of dependency on a Class A drug and its relation to a crime exists.
We need to be clear that testing is carried out by trained staff and that it is appropriate to the crime and will benefit the arrestee. Above all, it must link in with other suitable services, such as Arrest Referral and specialist drug and alcohol services for young people.
Because of the specific needs of young people and concerns over testing, I urge assurance from the Government that they will develop pilots and timescales to improve the evidence and use this to inform guidelines.
As to drug rehabilitation requirements for all ages, I am concerned that the courts, as mentioned in Clause 201, will have discretion to include a mandatory court review hearing for those sentenced to less than 12 months. I strongly believe that the court review hearing should be mandatory for all requirements, especially among those on short sentences who may need more focused support. Experience shows that participants will respond positively to the involvement of the magistrate.
I move now to Clause 200 of the Bill. It suggests that either probation or the treatment provider should be responsible for determining treatment times.
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