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A lot has been said in this debatein particular, abundant wisdom from the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, in his reflections on the new National Offender Management Service. I start by declaring an interest as chairman of Crime Concern, which I hope, ultimately, should the legislation reach the statute book, will be a beneficiary of partnerships between voluntary organisations and the Prison Service and the National Probation Service.
I see that my personal good friend the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, is on the Front Bench, and hope that she will give this legislation good speed, but will ensure that the nature of the legislation as it emerges will be pleasing in its intentions as well as its outcomes. I shall restrict my remarks to just my concern about the inputs to what the nature of the National Offender Management Service will be, as well as its possible outcomes.
I refer to the gracious Speech delivered by Her Majesty in which the Queen addressed the need for victims to be at the heart of the criminal justice system. I want to enter a perspective into this debate and the consideration of the legislation, which I imagine some may find squeamish and almost unacceptable. I suggest that some offendersI dare not say either a majority or a minorityare victims as
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There has been too much recent ping-pong, and somewhat silly debate about whether you can love and hug the hoodie. I refer to the comments of the Home Secretary in a Sunday newspaper this weekend, who says,
Nobody wishes to be as potentially naive as that, but to disregard that dimension of enforcing effective offender management and strengthening the opportunity of rehabilitating people back into society is also to be wide of the mark.
Over the past four years alone we have increased by nearly a third the resources we have put into probationboth in terms of finance and staffing. But still nearly 60 per cent of offenders commit further crimes within two years. We cannot regard this as acceptable. We need to improve performance and make absolutely sure we are getting the best value out of what we are investing in the system.
I suggest to the Minister and the Government that the investment cannot be entirely, or mainly, material. Investment must be significantly to do with the nature of the relationships that many offenders have not enjoyed and need to enjoy in order to be liberated from the endless pursuit of crime. A report on the BBCs Law in Action programme last week, entitled Breaking the reoffending cycle, talks about the techniques used to deliver effectiveness in this area and says that the technique that seems to work the most is the offenders,
Another recent BBC news programme referred to the Home Secretary saying that the focus of the new offender management service has to be on reducing reoffending rates and doing what actually works to ensure that the service is effective.
We can all point to many examples of effective delivery in this area. I refer to one, a project curiously not funded by the Home Office, but by the Department for Work and Pensions: the Pecan charity based in south-east London, with which I have a long association. I am immensely proud of the work it has done since it was established in 1988. I refer to the figures it provided last week: working on average with 20 offenders per month, over the course of one year, 94 per cent of those who have started courses with Pecan have gone into full-time
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What is distinctive about the Pecan charity, or another charity with which I have some association, Caring for Ex-Offenderswhich, since 1999, has had 604 ex-offenders on its books with a reoffending rate of 12 per cent? Such distinctions are certainly not what the head of the Probation Boards Association called the politics of the madhouse. They are about respecting the dignity, opportunity, rights, needs and relational priorities of offenders; about enabling people to find work, housing and security. Part of that security has to do with the nature of the experience offenders enjoy in the period before leaving prison and in the months immediately afterwards.
I understand exactly what that means in legal and legislative terms, but it has a sense of being passive and structural. I wish there was more sense of energy, ambition and passion. I wish the words read, imaginatively delivering the rehabilitation of offenders who are being held in prison, and asked the Home Office, the Home Secretary and Minister to take account of the need to deliver a little against the victim needs of the offender as well as the victims in wider society. We will not serve the interests of the public as a whole by disregarding the victim needs of the offender by structural administrative processes that disregard the power of relationships, of loving reformation and the determination to enable people who have been disempowered by vulnerability and circumstance, and by having purely a harsh, classically ineffective and clinical system that moves people through to try to keep them out as long as possible.
NOMS is supposed to be a moment for a revolution in the care of offenders and the working of our prison system. I hope that, as well as a deep concern for the victims in wider society, the Government will have the human will to determine to humanise the system and dignify offenders towards engagement as citizens and effective contributors to a cohesive society.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, as part of the continuing legal education that the Bar Council requires me to undergo, last Saturday I went to a seminar at Mold Crown Court on the Sexual Offences Act 2003. That Act is very dear to my heart, because I led my noble friend Lady Walmsley in our deliberations on it, and now she leads me. I recall the Governments attempt to increase the conviction rate
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One issue that was hotly debatedindeed, negotiations took place with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellorrelated to presumptions of consent and whether there should be rebuttable or conclusive assumptions of consent. Judge Dutton, who deals with sexual offences in the Chester and north Wales area, told me that, in the two and a half years since the Act came into operation, those presumptions have featured only once, and that was in a case where an acquittal followed. Similarly, a counsel engaged in these cases told me that he had never come across the presumptions contained in the Act. That shows that measures that are brought in do not necessarily have any practical effect.
The other issue that interested me was the support given to the complainant. A practitioner told me that I should appreciate that when a person makes a complaint of rape, the police and Victim Support very properly support her and prosecuting counsel must discuss matters with her; special measures such as video links or screens can also be used. Cushioned by all that, she gives her evidence up to the point of cross-examination. At that point, the defendants case is put to her for the first time. She is questioned and finds great difficulty in coping with that. All sorts of consequences flow from that Act.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, asked whether video link cross-examination still exists. The judge to whom I referred told me that, when a complainant gives evidence by video link, he constantly has to remind the jury that this is reality and not a television soap; it is something that has happened or which the complainant says has happened. About the technology involved, he pointed to the equipment in the court, saying, You can find that in a skip at the rubbish dump at Chester. The equipment is entirely out of date. They do not properly fund it.
When I hear that victims are to be put at the heart of the criminal justice system, rather like my noble friend Lord Goodhart, who referred to this part of the Queens Speech, I find it offensive that the Government have put what is essentially a political slogan in the mouth of the Sovereign.
I have perfect credentials for showing my support for victims. I resigned from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board when it sought to reduce compensation. Over and again in your Lordships House, I have raised the fact that this Government have pegged compensation for victims since 1997 at under £200 million per year. For all the Government say about the victim being at the heart of the criminal justice system, they do not pay the money. So I find that offensive.
At the seminar I referred to, the CPS lawyer told us, When we have these complaints, we think victim, victim, victim. She had obviously taken on board her training. But the head of the medical centre for Manchester, a lady doctor with seven or eight years experienceover 11,000 cases had been through the centresaid, I do not call them victims; I call them complainants. I think that that is the proper word to
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I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Goodhart, who said that the legislation suggests that retribution is the principle behind the criminal justice system and that that leads to a brutal and vindictive society. A moment ago, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, referred to lynch law.
The fourth matter that emerged from the seminar was relevant earlier sexual contact, evidence of which cannot be given except with the leave of the judge. The House of Lords on the very first test of thisin the case of Robertsdecided that the overriding principle must be the need for a fair trial. This Government, much to their credit, introduced the European convention Article 6 fair-trial concept into our jurisprudence. Any Act of Parliament must be read in that context. Nevertheless, every new Home Secretaryand there have been a succession of themtries to puts his stamp on the programme; he has to be tougher than thou.
Terrorism, I note, has been pushed to next year, possibly rather nearer to a potential campaign for the leadership of the Labour Party. We will then presumably revisit the 90-day rule, which the Attorney-General has now advised against.
In the Queens Speech, we have the new Criminal Justice Bill. Remarks have already been made about how the previous Criminal Justice Act has not been fully implemented and yet parts of it have been repealedtwo clauses were never brought into effect and were repealed, and three other clauses were brought into effect but were immediately repealed.
I will refer to only one aspectthat there should be no statutory deduction for a plea of guilty. That provision was contained in the 2003 Act; it is now to be repealed. Judges are suddenly to be given discretionnot, as I understand it, to consider sentences as a whole, but to put the sentence above the norm, not below. We will examine those provisions when they come before us in due course.
We on these Benches seek from a criminal justice Bill honesty in sentencing. Life imprisonment should mean life imprisonment. If it is necessary to have an indeterminate sentence, it could be described in its proper form as a public safety sentencesomething that everyone would appreciate need not necessarily last for life but should last for as long as the publics safety must be maintained. Words are important. The community sentence has, perhaps, become a rather cosy idea but, as the Lord Chief Justice discovered, it can mean hard community work. We think that hard public punishment orders should be made so that people understand what they are all about. Honesty in sentencing is what we seek from any new criminal justice Bill.
We also understand that there is to be a serious and organised crime Bill containing new ASBOs for serious offences, to freeze assets in serious crime. Why do the Government like ASBOs? There are two reasons. The first is that an ASBO is a civil order and therefore requires the offending conduct to be proved not beyond reasonable doubt, but only on the balance of probabilities. Furthermore, an ASBO does not require direct evidence; hearsay evidence is enough to get you an ASBO. Listening to the interesting speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ashcroft, I got the impression that he would like to hand out a few ASBOs to members of the Government for some matters that are now being investigatedthere may not be enough proof beyond reasonable doubt, but it would be a good warning to freeze the assets of some of those involved.
Solutions devised for young tearawaysASBOsare now to be employed and applied to serious criminals. If there is serious crime, we should get the evidence and prosecute. We should not rest on that lazy way of trying to control serious crime. In the Bill, we are also promised a sin bin: an area where parents and children must live under strict rules and curfews.
I was much impressed by the inspiring maiden speech of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, who warned us against spinning a legal spider's web that communities will have difficulty escaping. He also said that strong, secure communities are not to be engineered. One surprising thing this afternoon was that the noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, approved of something not said by the Front-Bench spokesman of his party. The Archbishop reminded us that we reject values of trust, decency, good faith, compassion, liberty and justice at our peril. That should be writ large above the entrance to the Home Office. If I may say so, that is an inspiring approach to our criminal justice system.
I cannot begin to match the criticism by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, of the proposed Offender Management Bill. The issue seems to me quite simple. Overcrowded prisons make it impossible to carry out effective rehabilitation. The prisoner is released to the Probation Service. The Probation Service is dealing with someone who has not had the training that he should have had in prison to get a trade or even to be able to read and write, and it struggles. So what does the Home Secretary do? He attacks the Probation Service, the people who are having the greatest difficulty in coping with the inadequacies earlier on in that system. Not only does he attack it, but he does so in front of the very prisoners who are supposed to be benefiting from it when they are released. Can you imagine anything more likely to weaken their confidence in the treatment that they will get once they have left prison?
The Fraud (Trials without a Jury) Bill is another amendment to the Criminal Justice Act 2003. It is a purely mechanical device to get around the provisions in that Act that required the consent of both Houses for trials to be conducted without a jury. What do the
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I come finally to the House of Lords, which has occupied many of your Lordships this afternoon. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, had in his pocket a Labour Party postcard showing support for the Liberal Partys attempts to abolish the House of Lords in 1910. There it is. I entirely endorse it. I remind the noble Lordhe has probably heard it beforethat in 1964, when I fought my first election, there were three planks to my policy. One was a parliament for Wales. The second was proportional representation. The third was the abolition of the House of Lords. I will campaign along with himI have amended my viewsfor a fully elected second Chamber.
There is much to discuss in this disappointing programme at the end of a disappointing Government. I mean that, because I know that many noble Lords on the Government Benches are as disappointed with their Government as we have been.
I shall dwell for a moment on two matters upon which the most reverend Primate spoke in his illuminating speech. That should in no way diminish the value of the other matters to which he drew our attention. The first point is one to which the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, has already referred: the most reverend Primates observation that strong civil communities cannot be engineered by statute. They are the product of human values and standards that determine our conduct in communities towards each other as human beings. The most reverend Primate might have added that the church has a significant role to play in this.
The most reverend Primates second observation was about the development of the common law in this country. He referred to the law being moulded by judges brought up in the Christian faith. We sometimes forget how important Christianity has been to the development of our free institutions. We are all equal in the eyes of God; and equality is the foundation for both the rule of law and the principle of democracy. These two principles have run through our constitutional crises throughout the ages and have remained triumphant. So, if from time to time the church gets depressed about certain matters, it can be reassured about its central contribution to freedom in this country.
The noble Lord, Lord Luce, is returning, in a different form, to an old occupation. He has been in incubation for six years but has now emerged, to our great benefit. We are all absolutely delighted to see him and look forward to hearing from him often.
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The noble Lord, Lord Luce, drew our attention to two important changes. The first is the question of a statutory appointments commission that is devoid of political influence. I think that that will garner widespread support throughout your Lordships House. The second is the question of the size of the House. If we go on as we have in recent years, every time there is a change of government we will have a raft of new Peers. Before we know where we are, we will be an appointed House of approaching 1,000, and that is plainly unacceptable. So, if we are going to continue with an appointed Housein other words, if there is no consensuswe will nevertheless have to grapple with the problem of size. That will not be a simple thing to do because we have got to let a certain amount of new blood flow in while reducing its present scale. For noble Lords who are keen on retaining the present arrangements, that matter needs some urgent attention.
The noble Lord, Lord Dear, talked about the maintenance of law and order and a range of matters connected with his experience of policing, but, if I may say so, he was tantalisingly circumspect about the central issue, which is the tension between freedom and security. He had to be because he was making his maiden speech. He provided us with two eloquent bookends of complete freedom, which is anarchy, and complete order, which is tyranny; but he did not trespass on the point on the spectrum that he thought would produce the right balance.
The noble Lord can be completely forgiven for doing so, not only because he was making his maiden speech but because it appears that the Home Secretary himself has not made up his mind. He has established an inquiry, and he tells us that, when the results are known, we will get the benefit of his views. Until then, we shall have to wait. I do not know whether the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, will be able to enlighten us on the timing of the conclusion of the inquiry; but we really cannot take the matter any further until we know the Governments views.
We were lucky to hear the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General say the other day that he had seen no evidence to justify the increase of 28 days between arrest and charge; and we are also aware that the Attorney-General has been convinced by the eloquence of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, on the question of intercept evidence. So, there is perhaps more to hope for than to fear from the investigation taking place in the Home Office. I think your Lordships will agree that a rich tapestry was woven by our three maiden speakers.
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