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Lord Kingsland: My Lords, the Minister has replied in his characteristically open-handed and conciliatory manner, and of course I am very grateful to him for that. However, he has not gone as far as I would have wished him to go in relation to this amendment. People who receive a violent offender order have not committed a crime. They are entitled to know exactly what they face if their freedom is to be restricted; otherwise, too much discretion will be furnished to the authorities. The authorities can simply say that they are in a unique position to make a judgment about risk which cannot be questioned in the court.
I recall the Minister saying that he is concerned about inhibiting the risk management discretion of the court; but that means that the authorities can call on the magistrates to do anything they want to someone who has not committed a crime. That is simply not consonant with the traditions of justice in this country, whether defined by the civil or the criminal rules. In those circumstances, I should like to test the opinion of the House.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, in some respects, this amendment follows on from those that we have just discussed. In the debate on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, I indicated that one problem that we have with the concept of the violent offender orderquite apart from just being sceptical about the whole nature of itis its broad reach. The risk of serious violent harm which is intended to be addressed by the order could affect,
One of my concerns was that if you had a broad area of protection, the nature of the order that a magistrates court might impose could in itself be excessively broad to deal with that. In many respects that has been addressed by the amendment just passed by the House and, therefore, that kind of concern no longer exists, given the definitive restrictions and prohibitions which can now be attached to a violent offender order. I believe that it is important to narrow it down further because it is still very wide in its application, and if we are to create an order of this nature, it is important that we identify more specifically and more directly to whom the risk of violence is directed. We acknowledge that there may well be cases where a single person or a group of identifiable individuals could be considered to be at risk of serious harm from the person against whom this order would be directed. In those circumstances, it might be reasonable to provide them with additional legal protection.
As I understand the situation, the non-molestation order is limited in scope and reliant on the person, himself or herself, going to court to seek the protection of such an order, whereas the structure of the violent offender order is that the police would take the initiative if there had been a pattern of behaviour which had triggered that particular concern. Therefore, I commend the amendment to your Lordships' House. I believe that it further defines the nature of the violent offender order in general. I beg to move.
Lord Kingsland: My Lords, we are sympathetic with the desire to identify precisely what risk an individual poses; but we do not consider that a true risk must always have an identifiable potential victim. For example,
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Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 96 and 97 to 99 seek to narrow the scope of violent offender orders by requiring that they can be used only for the purpose of protecting a specific named person or persons from the risk of serious violent harm caused by an individual. The effect of this amendment would be that violent offender orders could not be used to protect the wider public from the risk of serious violent harm. As the House knows, the purpose of those orders is to provide a means of protecting the public at large from the risk of serious violent harm by a dangerous individual.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, is correct that this risk will sometimes be targeted at a specific individual or individuals within the public and therefore that the person in need of protection will be easily identifiable. However, as I have made clear before, there will be times when this is not the case. As the noble Lord mentioned, we have powers available to protect named individuals from harm in terms of non-molestation orders. He is correct to say that those have to be asked for by the person involved, or by members of his family, to put them into force.
Statistics show that in 2005-06, 46 per cent of victims of violenceabout halfdid not actually know their attacker. To my mind, this statistic is evidence enough that it will not always be possible to identify a specific individual who is at risk of serious violent harm, a point well made by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. Instead, there will be times when this risk is targeted at a wider group of individuals; for example, in a pub or in the case of hate-related crime, and times when it is simply not possible to predict any individual target. We must not close our eyes to the cruel reality of violence that exists on our streets and in our communities. Just because a risk does not exist against one specific named individual, it does not mean that such a risk does not exist at all.
I am certain that everyone in the Chamber will be able to think back to at least one violent unpremeditated attack on an innocent member of the public within the past year. There have sadly been a number of such attacks reported by the media. Worse still, following such attacks, the media have often reportedand it is subsequently found to be truethat the attackers were known to pose a risk of serious violence but that nothing could be done or was done to manage that risk. That understandably causes huge public concern. In many cases, the victims of the attacks were not targeted in advance by their attackers and it would therefore have been impossible to predict their specific risk of victimisation.
If my earlier statistic were not evidence enough, we must learn from these tragedies and finally accept that we must put measures in place to protect the wider
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Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply and for the offer, which I took up earlier this week, to meet him and his Bill team to discuss these issues more thoroughly. I hear what he says. I may wish to return, under a later amendment, to issues that he raised on the wider matter of assessing risk and protecting the public. As I indicated in my opening remarks, the amendment which has just been passed by your Lordships House reduces some of the concerns which motivated the terms of this amendment. It now will not be possible to have very wide-ranging conditions attached which could offend Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Therefore, with those considerations, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this large group of government amendments fulfils a commitment that I gave in Committee to bring forward a number of changes to what is now Part 7 of the Bill to address the concerns raised by noble Lords and by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. There are also further government amendments in subsequent groups which address particular points raised by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow.
I turn to the detail of Amendments Nos. 96A, 101B, 101C and 105B. Noble Lords will see that I no longer call them Bravos and CharliesI have learnt my lesson. The amendments introduce a maximum length of time for which a violent offender order can be imposed without renewal. The specified maximum duration is now five years, the effect of the amendments being that violent offender orders cannot be applied indefinitely.
Government Amendments Nos. 99D, 99E, 106A, 106D to 106F, 106L and 115K amend Part 7 to include a requirement that any person subject to a violent offender order must be 18 years or above, so an order could not be made in respect of a child or young person under 18. Other government amendments in this group are minor and technical. In particular, they amend the list of qualifying offences in Clause 96 to include corresponding service offences.
I have gone on at length and the House will by now be well aware that violent offender orders are intended to protect the public from the most dangerous violent
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We wish to apply this successful model to other forms of violence. The significance of violent offender orders must not be underestimated. They form an integral part of the package of measures that the Government have developed to protect the public from violence and reduce fear in our communities. There is real fear in some of our communities. The House is properly exercising its role as a revising Chamber by highlighting its concerns in relation to violent offender orders so that we can together develop the most robust system for tackling violence and protecting our public.
I hope that the House will agree that we have listened carefully to the points raised in Committee here and in the other place, and by experts in the field, including the Joint Committee on Human Rights. As a result, we have made considerable changes to the provisions in this part which will I trust meet with the approval of the House. I hope that as a result of these changes and the others that we shall come to shortly, the House will be ready to acknowledge the value of violent offender orders as a whole. We cannot leave the public exposed to any known risk of serious violent harm, and we must do everything in our power to protect our people and reduce serious violence. I beg to move.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I am grateful that the Government have listened to what I said. Whether they have listened enough is an arrogance that I shall assume anyway, as there are still provisions that should be improved further. The concept of a violent offender order should be tightened up even further than the Government have proposed.. However, there is something about sinners that repenteth, and a little goes a long way. I thank the Government for the concessions.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford, and I tabled amendments in Committee relating to the fact that a violent offender order should not be made in respect of someone under the age of 18. We proposed that such an order should only be in place for a maximum of 10 years unless renewed. I particularly welcome the fact that the Government have gone five years better and that renewal will be required after five years. I acknowledge the amendments that will ensure that a violent offender order cannot now be made in respect of someone under the age of 18. That is a particularly welcome move.
(5) Section 48 of the Armed Forces Act 2006 (c. 52) (attempts, conspiracy etc.) applies for the purposes of subsection (4)(b) as if the reference in subsection (3)(b) of that section to any of the following provisions of that Act were a reference to subsection (4)(b).
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of this amendment is to provide that after a period of 10 years after a sentence is served or the order, established under the clauses referring to a violent offender order, is rescinded or comes to an end, a person who has either served a sentence or been the subject of an order should no longer qualify to have a violent offender order imposed. I emphasise that I am proposing 10 years from the expiry of a sentence, not 10 years from conviction. The purpose is to establish a significant period in which the person has had an opportunity to re-establish good character and has not fallen foul of the criminal law. In other words, they should be treated like other citizens.
The fact that the Government have introduced the concept of an immediate and current risk helps matters. It cannot be done purely on a whim. Notwithstanding the fact that we are talking about current risk, I still believe that there is legitimate room for concern about people who, as I said, have established in the intervening years a lifestyle and pattern of behaviour which has not given rise to any further involvement in crime, or convictions for crime.
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