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Lord Lloyd of Berwick: I thank the Minister for giving way. Unless I have misunderstood it, Schedule 17 goes much further than setting out the process through which judges already go. Surely it sets out the starting points for particular types of murderwhole life, 15 or 20 years, whatever it may be. Subsection (6) enables the Secretary of Stateat the stroke of a pen virtuallyto change those starting points. I find that astonishing.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Let me make plain that at this moment it is not thought that it will be necessary to utilise this power. However, that is only because we cannot foresee every circumstance that might merit such a change. We know from the past five or 10 years that things do change. It must be right to allow the Home Secretary to bring an appropriate order before both Houses of Parliament and for Parliament to debate the issue and determine whether the proposals put forward by the Home Secretary are sound and acceptable.
Your Lordships will know, too, that I have said very clearly in dealing with the amendments spoken to before we adjourned that the Government feel very strongly that they should be entitled to express the will of the people and Parliament by setting the framework. The framework is what is included in
Let me turn to the amendments in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. I come first to Amendment No. 212, which proposes to exclude juveniles from the conditions to which the setting of the minimum term is subject. In fact, because the Bill also repeals the provisions in Section 82 of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000, which provides for juveniles to be given tariffs by the trial court, the amendment, as it stands, would leave juveniles without any right to receive judicially determined tariffs. I do not believe that that is what the noble Baroness intends.
I understand that the intention behind the amendment is to exclude juveniles from the application of the new principle. We think it is desirable and necessary to include juveniles in these provisions. It is very rare for murders to be committed by very young juveniles. Since 1998, figures have been kept for juvenile murders, divided into categories of 10 to 11 year-olds, 12 to 14 year-olds and 15 to 17 year-olds. The most recently available statistics show no murders since then by 10 to 11 year-olds, three murders since then by 12 to 14 year-olds and 15 to 17 year-olds committed 78 murders. Those figures show where the balance comes. It is mostly the 15 to 17 year-old age group that we are considering.
Cases such as the James Bulger killing are, thankfully, very rare. In the case of older juveniles, we do not think it right that there should be a very substantial disconnection around the age of majority. We would be worried, for instance, if the new principles were seen to apply to an 18 year-old, perhaps immature for his age, but not to a 17 year-old, perhaps mature for his age, where they have committed similar crimes.
We undertook, in another place, to review the principles in relation to juveniles. I am very grateful for all the views that have been expressed today about these matters, and we will be considering them very carefully. Our current thinking is that it is unlikely that we will want to remove juveniles from the framework altogether for the reasons that I have given. We believe that suitable provision can be made for the special needs of this group while including them within the scope of the scheme.
I was very much looking forward to the meeting which we were all due to have on these matters. I know that we will address these matters again later. I hope that under the circumstances the noble Baroness and noble Lords will feel able to withdraw this amendment. We are looking at this and will listen to what noble Lords have to say before we come to a final view. It would not be right to indicate that we have come to a final view yet because that would not accurately reflect the position.
I do not want to pre-empt a wider debate on the new scheme, as we shall come to that later. The Government remain fully committed to the continuation of a strong element of democratic accountability in the arrangements of the sentencing of murderers. Parliament is asserting, on behalf of the public, a legitimate role in relation to extremely serious crimes. It has been our concern in framing the principles to ensure that the element of democratic accountability remains.
I listened with great care to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. It sounded very much as if he was suggesting that these matters are for lawyers alone, that no one else need worry their heads about them and that, basically, they could be left safely in their hands. He seemed to be saying that, if one has the advantage of having a Home Secretary not burdened with a legal education, he in particular should not interest himself too keenly in these matters. I will say very gently to the noble Lord that his viewpoint is not shared by the general public. They believe that they have a view, and that their views have a right to be listened to and respected.
The amendment would not meet the need for Parliament to set the framework dealing with murder. An order made under Clause 254(6) is subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. The amendment would give rise to an odd situation: the principles are in primary legislation, and we would not accept that Parliament would need the authorisation of the Sentencing Guidelines Council before setting in legislation other sentencing issues such as maximum penalties and legislation. Parliament is the paramount authority; it would be very unusual for a specialist body such as the Sentencing Guidelines Council to have the final say in the use of Parliament's powers. That is the situation that the amendment would create, but I do not believe that it is what the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, wants. She wants a discussion, but that is what her amendment would bring about, and I must resist it strenuously.
I move on to Amendments Nos. 212B, 212C, 212D and 212E, in relation to Schedule 17, to which I believe the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, referred. The first three amendments would add to the category of murders with the starting point of a whole life tariff. The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, and the noble Baroness would add the categories of,
We considered those points carefully, and it is a difficult task to weigh the factors that should affect the seriousness of the crime. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her comments, but we do not believe that the amendments would strike the right balance.
The Government also regard with complete condemnation and repulsion murders that might be described as committed in cold blood to further a criminal career, and we recognise the need to protect. However, our conclusion was that the very heaviest penalties must bear on those who have committed multiple murders with features of special gravity; who have shown that they are capable of killing children to gratify their instincts; who consider themselves justified in taking others lives to further their ideological beliefs; and who, having previously been in prison for murder, have killed again. We believe that those must be considered the most dangerous and incorrigible offenders. For that reason, we attach the whole life tariff in relation to that category.
The murders to which the amendments refer will attract a 30-year starting point. That will produce substantially longer tariffs than have often been the case. Leon Brittan, in his 1983 statement on murder tariffs, said that murderers of police officers should serve at least 20 years. In practice, as the noble Baroness and noble Lords will know, that has tended to receive a tariff of between 20 and 25 years. Therefore, setting the starting point at 30 years enables the court to increase that tariff, if it deems that the nature of the offence is so grave. If for some special reason the court believes that the starting point is not appropriate, the court can adjust it as it deems necessary.
We have provided a very significant increase. I understand what the noble Baroness said about trying to balance putting one offence in one category and another somewhat differently. I hear what my noble friend Lord Borrie said about the making of those decisions being almost invidious. However, we think that it is important to make those decisions because of the need for clarity. I am sure that the Committee will have heard what I have heard on many occasions, particularly since entering my present post in June. I have heard people say that they do not understand how the system operates, what the judge takes into account, how judges make up their minds and why they reach certain decisions which treat the public so poorly. That is what the public appear to be saying. We need to provide clarity. The Government have sought to do that.
This measure constitutes a framework and a starting point. It is not, as so many have described it, a mandatory imposition of a sentence on a group of offenders who have committed a species of offence. It enables the court to tailor the particular sentence to the particular facts but it gives the court a bracket within which to work.
Amendment No. 212E would strike out the lowest starting point of 15 years, which will apply to the majority of murders. We believe that there is a clear need to set a lower starting point. For one thing
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