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Lord Ackner: Does the noble Baroness accept that now that the Secretary of State's role has been removed the procedure in relation to murder will be exactly the same as the procedure in relation to the discretionary sentences? At the hearing and after the pronouncement of the verdict, or the plea, in the discretionary case the judge is expected to say what is the length of time that the person should be in prison in order that the penal sidethat is, the punishment and deterrent sideof the sentence should be satisfied. The judge will say what that period is; 20 years, 15 years, whatever it may be. Of course, at the conclusion of that period, the Parole Board will consider the issue of risk in relation to whether the person can be safely released.
Exactly the same situation will apply in a murder case. In both manslaughter and murder cases, the judge can say, "I do not specify the penal side of this sentence because I do not think there is one that I should specify", thereby indicating that it is a whole-life sentence. The same will apply to a murder case, where it is appropriate.
Therefore, the public do not see any difference at all. The removal of the Secretary of State's final discretion has made the procedure virtually identical. In those circumstances, it is difficult to see that the reaction of the public can in any way be different. In each case, whether it is discretionary or whether it remains mandatory but without the interference of the Secretary of State, the judge will lay down the penal side of the sentence if he considers it appropriate to do so. If he does not consider it appropriate, in both those cases he will say the same. Therefore, does the noble Baroness agree that the concern about the public is a little difficult to follow?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The noble and learned Lord will not be surprised if I say that I am unable to agree. The situation may be similar but it is not the same. The noble and learned Lord will know that in Schedule 17 and the clauses in this part of the Bill we are seeking to set a framework within which the courts will be able to exercise their discretion. Therefore, we are setting the bench-marks.
The maintenance of the mandatory life sentence will continue. Of course, the court will determine the length of the determinate part of any given sentence. But if one looks at the starting points that we have indicatedthe 15 years, the 30 years and the basis upon which a whole-life tariff should be consideredthere is the voice of Parliament. Parliament is setting down the parameters, although not through the exercise of the Home Secretary's discretion on a case-by-case basis. But, in terms of setting the structure within which these offences will be judged, Parliament's voice will be clear.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: There is a weakness in the argument put forward by the noble Baroness. When a mandatory life sentence is passed following a murder conviction, the public know perfectly well that it does not mean life. They know perfectly well that there will be a release at some point in the future and that the whole thing is up in the air.
To suggest that murder is unique because there is a death is wrong because there is a death in manslaughter cases. The family is just as distressed by what happens in a manslaughter case with the loss of a relative, and so on. I recall that I prosecuted a case in which a woman received an absolute discharge for killing her husband and living with the body for 20 years. She suffered from severe provocation and that was the final decision of the court. On the other hand, in other manslaughter cases in which I have been involved, life sentences have been passed. I should have thought it impossible to envisage a situation where a judge would not pass a life sentence, meaning a life sentence, in a case where there had been a depraved killing involving not only an intention to kill but also a desire to kill. It is impossible to consider that a judge would not pass a life sentence in a case where there had been a desire to cause grievous bodily harm, resulting in a killing.
The point is that every case is different. It is for the judge, who hears the facts, sees the witnesses, sees the photographs and understands the whole case, to determine what is just for the individual defendant in the particular case, bearing in mind all the issues, including how the family feel and the fact that a life has been lost, and so on. Therefore, I do not believe that the unique quality of a murder case is anything like a sufficient justification for the mandatory life sentence.
Lord Lloyd of Berwick: I am grateful to those who have spoken in favour of the amendment. I listened with great care to what the Minister said by way of reply. I shall of course read it, but I hope that she will forgive me if I say that, for the moment, I do not find her reply completely satisfying. However, I bear in mind the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, which was supported by other noble Lords. This is a very important issue and perhaps tonight is
Lord Ackner: Before the Committee adjourns, I made reference to a report that deals with a particular type of sentence. I have found the command paper. It is the report of the Committee on Mentally Abnormal Offenders, Command Paper 6244.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Perhaps it would be helpful at this stage if the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, could write to my noble friend. She could then reply to him and place a copy in the Library.
Lord Ackner: That is much more convenient. All I am doing is indicating to the Committee the details of a report to which I referred. I shall not talk about its merits; I merely give the information. The nature of the sentence to which I made reference is to be found on pages 71, 72 and 73. As I suggested to noble Lords, they are cases of reviewable sentences. That is all I wish to add.
The Order in Council is designed to assist in resolving employment disputes and to improve the operation of the tribunal system in Northern Ireland. It introduces a set of statutory minimum procedures that parties will be obliged to follow before a dispute is dealt with by either an industrial tribunal or the Fair Employment Tribunal (Article 15 and Schedule 1). The procedures comprise a straightforward series of steps; namely, a written statement or grounds for disciplinary action, a meeting to discuss the issue and an appeal process.
The new dispute resolution procedures are aimed at encouraging early dialogue between employer and employee in the workplace, with a view to resolution without resorting to the tribunal system. However, where the procedures fail to resolve the matters at
The order also provides for the use of questionnaires in equal pay cases (Article 30) and sets out statutory rights to paid time off for trade union learning representatives (Article 31). All of those provisions correspond to measures introduced in Great Britain by the Employment Act 2002. They have been the subject of extensive public consultation in Northern Ireland, which elicited a very positive response. Members of the Northern Ireland Grand Committee warmly welcomed the draft order when they debated it in July this year.
In conclusion, the employment order is a balanced package aimed at improving employment relations. It aims to ensure that tribunals are better placed to handle cases which cannot be resolved in the workplace and to give them an expeditious and fair hearing. I commend the order to the House.