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The main criminal justice order before us is one of the most important pieces of Northern Ireland criminal justice legislation to be brought before Parliament in many years. It provides a significant shift in the sentencing framework available to Northern Irelands courts. We know from the extensive consultations that we have undertaken in preparing this order that it has widespread support across Northern Ireland.
The order changes the fundamental nature of imprisonment in Northern Ireland. It creates a new form of risk-based sentencing and release for those sentenced to prison. It creates tougher sentences; allows dangerous offenders to be locked up longersome can be held indefinitely; and permits release only when it is safe to do so. It removes the automatic 50 per cent remission which has so long been a feature of imprisonment in Northern Ireland and replaces it with a custody and supervision regime. Prisoners will henceforth spend all the custodial time announced in court in prison followed by a period of statutory post-release supervision. The entire sentence is served. The order ensures that custody is reserved for those who most merit it and provides a balanced set of powers to the courts through new community-based options. Increased post-release supervision provides added protections and helps prisoners resettle, reintegrate into their communities, and, one hopes, move away from offending.
The second half of this order is also significant. There are a range of new powers around road traffic law, alcohol, and knife crime, and a range of procedural aspects to make Northern Irelands criminal justice system more efficient.
The order has its origins in a number of policy consultations and proposals carried out over a number of years. Building on a recommendation from the criminal justice review, a policy consultation was carried out in 2005 and a need for additional powers to deal with and manage dangerous violent and sexual offenders identified. A proposed draft Criminal Justice (Northern
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The Northern Ireland Assemblyand I think this may be the first time I have been able to say this on an Order in Councilestablished an ad hoc committee to consider the draft, gave it detailed consideration and was in support of what the order is set out to achieve. The ad hoc committee was made up of all the main Northern Ireland parties, and all supported the sentencing package. A number of Ministers from the Northern Ireland Executive, including the First and Deputy First Ministers, also expressed support. The Probation Service supported the sentencing powers, as did the chief constable. The public, too, have supported our proposals. A major campaign resulted in a petition of some 35,000-plus signatures calling for the ending of automatic 50 per cent remission.
Events themselves have also been a factor. There have been some very difficult cases in Northern Ireland in the past few years. The horrendous murder of Attracta Harron by an offender out on remission, now serving a life sentence with a whole life tariff, brought into sharp relief the need for a new form of prison sentence. Attractas widower is present to listen to our proceedings, as he was during the Commons consideration of the order.
There have been a number of sex offender cases where post-release supervision and monitoring has been difficult. The gaps in our laws were made abundantly clear. A sentence was needed for serious violent or sexual offences whereby release would not be automatic, dangerousness would have to be assessed, release would be controlled and post-release supervision enhanced. This draft order delivers such sentences and 50 per cent remission will disappear as a result of the order.
The order has three major themes: public protection; community safety; and improving the criminal justice system. On public protection, the order creates two new sentences to deal with dangerous sexual and violent offenders. One is indeterminatethe indeterminate custodial sentence, or the ICS. The offender would not get out of prison until it is safe for him to be released and could be on licence for the rest of his life. The other is an extended custodial sentence, or the ECS, whereby the offender serves his custodial part and is then subject to an extended licence period, not for life but for up to a potential maximum of eight years. Once convicted, a full risk assessment is completed and, if the offender is found dangerous, one or other of these sentences must be imposed. Release will involve the newly created parole commissioners for Northern Ireland. They will assess prisoners and have safety and public protection as the focus of their work. They will be fully independent of government. Through the public protection sentences and the changes to standard imprisonment, automatic 50 per cent remission for sentenced prisoners will disappear.
On community safety, prisoners will be subject to statutory supervision in the community and to recall if they fail to comply with conditions. The powers to
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The order tackles areas of specific and current concern to communities. It deals with knife crime; improves alcohol laws and under-age drinking, so often causes of anti-social behaviour, and improves road traffic law. Knife crime powers deal with both possession and supply of knives and offensive weapons, creating a strong package of sentences of up to four years imprisonment across the board. On alcohol, there are powers to deal with public drinking and the sale of alcohol to minors. Councils will be able to designate areas in consultation with police whereby drinking in public will be better regulated, and age restrictions on off-sales will be policed through a test purchase power. My honourable friend in the other place, Paul Goggins, has published guidance on how this will operate.
During a period when I was a direct rule Minister in Northern Ireland and responsible in part for a policy on children and young people, I met with a group of young people who were on a weeks community involvement. I do not need to say where, as it is not important, but they were from both of the communities. They had a week together in which to discuss art projects, sport and so on. I faced them for about an hour. It took me 10 minutes or so to get them going asking questions, but then I could not get out of the room, after the hour. I asked them what the message should be and what the key things were. They raised two issues with me, both of which I have referred to. One of them is highly relevant to what I have just said about alcohol. They argued about how they were described in the press and told me that they wanted to get rid of the blue plastic bags. That was the first time I had heard that phrase used about the off-licence unmarked plastic bags, which are almost there to encourage underage drinking. The only way in which to deal with this is to have test purposes to ensure that licensing rules are being followed. So off-licences and off-sales are on notice. As I say, the youngsters that I met demanded some action on that because it gave them a bad name and saw their compatriots led into bad ways.
On road traffic, additional police powers to tackle drink driving, speeding and seizure of vehicles, such as quad bikes or motorised scooters which can be a plague in some estates or communities, are created in the order. Sentences have been increased for driving while disqualified or without insurance, two offences which frequently see multiple offences coming before the courts.
On the criminal justice system, one of the orders aims is to ensure that the system works effectively and well. The right services and punishments need to be targeted at the right type of offender. We are expanding the polices powers to attach conditions to bail, and prison law is modernised in a number of areas. For example, 17 year-old girls will be able to go to the juvenile justice centre rather than be held in an adult prison. We are expanding the use of live video links between prisons and courts, improving flexibility around the execution of arrest warrants, and creating more efficient systems to deal with breach proceedings.
Perhaps one of the most significant improvements will be the power of the court to impose a form of community sentence on those who default on a fine. For too long we have seen numerous fine defaulters end up in prisonsomething that I and some Members of another place have always considered a ludicrous proposition. You can get the money back other ways; imprisoning those people is a complete waste of resources and does not assist at all. So this is a very helpful change. Prisons should be for the more serious offenders and the supervised activity order, managed in the community by the Probation Service, will be constructive, restorative and more effective in dealing with the problem of fine default.
Two further points about resources and choices are important. In the consultation exercise many people sought assurances that the system could cope with this very substantial package. I assure your Lordships' House that the package of proposals can and will be properly resourced. Almost £14 million has been allocated for implementation. That includes £5 million for prisons, probation and tagging. The Probation Service alone will be appointing over 50 additional probation officers.
A dedicated implementation team will take forward the proposals. Public protection sentences and the appointment of parole commissioners will be our first and most urgent priority. They will be in place in a matter of weeks with other powers being rolled out over the next year or so.
Public protection is one of the key aims that the order sets out to achieve but we also need to maintain perspective about what legislation can do. Offenders make choicesfor better or worse. The system can help them with their choices, help them resettle, supervise them and, where appropriate, manage the risk they present. We can put the powers in place, require compliance and supervision and do all that we can to reduce the risk, but what we cannot do is guarantee an end to crime, nor, sad to say, can we guarantee an end to serious sexual or violent crime. However, we are confident that this package will succeed. It fills many of the gaps identified in the current law.
The focus of my speech this evening has been on the main order. The consequential amendments order also before the House is by and large a short technical piece to allow the main provisions to work in a UK context. It adds reference to the parole commissioners into House of Commons disqualification law and includes them in freedom of information legislation requirements. It also allows the new licensing regimes
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In conclusion, I am pleased to be bringing before your Lordships' House today this package of sentencing powers to deal with dangerous violent and sexual offenders; to strengthen post-release supervision across the board; and to remove 50 per cent remission. As I said, it has been widely consulted on, and has the support of Assembly Members in Northern Ireland. I hope the day is not too far away when they will deal with these issues themselves. The legislation is ready and has been consulted on and the people of Northern Ireland do not deserve to have it delayed. I commend this order and the subsequent order, which I will move at the appropriate time. I beg to move.
Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I again thank the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for presenting the order, which in some ways is particularly complex and difficult. It is virtually a Bill waiting to be enacted. I understand that even more clearly now than previously. Generally, we support it. It is a positive revision of the criminal justice process in Northern Ireland.
When I was first faced with the order and its extremely comprehensive supporting documents, I thought, Oh, God, we are back to the old days of trying to debate a Bill as an order in the dinner hour. However, as the noble Lord said, this is the first major instrument, whether a Bill or a statutory instrument, that has come here after being debatedI hope in detailanalysed and supported by the Northern Ireland Assembly.
This is a very special moment, certainly for me after enduring 10 years of these wretched statutory instruments on which we have to try to make decisions on behalf of other people. From that point of view, this is a superb moment. I hope that this measure will bring us more into line with the UKs 2003 Act and that it will contain improvements because that Act has operated here for four years. I am sure that the officials who kindly briefed me this evening before we came into your Lordships House will have made significant improvements to this statutory instrument.
I strongly support almost all the major provisions, particularly the removal of the automatic 50 per cent remission. That will make a big difference to criminals who think that they will get 10 years imprisonment but will be out in five years or perhaps fewer. I suspect that, in those circumstances, they tend to take life very much less seriously, not that I have any first-hand examples or even experience of that.
The success of the statutory instrument will all depend on what resources not only the Government but the Northern Ireland Assembly make available. Undoubtedly, the prison population will increase as a result of the changes in the sentencing laws. I hope that the Minister will give the Governments estimate in that regard. I imagine that somebody has done some work on this. I heard the noble Lord mention two figures, £14 million and £5 million, but what is the total anticipated increase in the cost of these
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Where will the increased prison population be housed and how will it be housed? I believe there are plans to knock down and redevelop Maghaberry prison, which would remove quite a number of bed spacesI do not know the numberin one fell swoop. The inhabitants of those bed spaces would have to be put up somewhere else. I want to be reassuredthis is not criticism, as I do not want to criticise anything herethat the Government understand what resources will be required under this excellent piece of legislation that we shall pass tonight, that they know where they will come from and who will be responsible for delivering them. I support the order, which is a terrific piece of legislation.
Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for introducing the orders. Once again it falls to these Benches to be a little more robust in questioning him. We have only about 40 minutes to discuss this major piece of legislation. It is disappointing that such measures are not being introduced in primary legislation, although I accept that the Minister has engaged in long and detailed consultation on the issues in Northern Ireland. However, some of them are controversial. Prisoners also have rights and we must all recognise that, as it is the measure of a civilised and democratic society. Introducing indeterminate sentencing has proved to be highly problematic in England and Wales. Imprisonment for public protectionIPPcan be applied to 153 serious offences. That is a huge number when you compare it with the 11 offences that bring an automatic life sentence into effect.
These provisions are being tested all the time. The Court of Appeal has said that courts should presume that anyone convicted of one of the offences, and who has previous convictions, is dangerous unless the conclusion reached would be unreasonable. At least a little sense has prevailed in the Northern Ireland legislation, for which I am grateful, in that there will be a minimum tariff of at least 12 months for an extended custodial sentence, an ECS, and a two-year minimum tariff for an indeterminate custodial sentence, an ICS.
Will Northern Ireland be able to resource the IPPs better than appeared to be the case in England and Wales? That follows the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, about resourcing. An IPP can be compared with a life sentence in that it involves a minimum prison term, after which a prisoner has to undergo some behaviour management courses. Only then can he or she be released at the discretion of the Parole Board. The release is on licence for 10 years at least, it is under supervision and it takes place only if the Parole Board considers that it is safe to release that person.
Can the Minister assure me that the courses offered in behaviour management will be sufficient in number and robust enough for people to demonstrate that they are fit for release? My noble friend Lady Linklater of Butterstone told us last year of a case in which she had been involved, which entailed a prisoner with a 28-day tariff being denied the courses that he needed to enable him to have a review by the Parole Board, because the courses simply were not available. What provisions have been put in place to ensure that this sort of thing will not happen in Northern Ireland? I understand that problems have also arisen in HMP Maghaberry and HMP Magilligan, because there have not been sufficient offending behaviour programmes or places available on courses there to meet the needs of prisoners. Has that situation changed?
The Minister will know of the High Court decision in July last year that it was unlawful to hold prisoners when they could not access courses that were designed to address their offending behaviour and prove that they were fit for release. I understand that £40 million has been made available for the implementation of the new sentencing provisions. What will the breakdown of that money look like?
On these Benches, we have always maintained that it is of primary importance to ensure that those in need of therapeutic care do not end up in prison. Will the Northern Ireland Prison Service be able to deal with the provisions of the order in terms of meeting the many and varied needs of those prisoners in custody for an indeterminate period who have physical and mental problems? Will it have the skills to enable it to prove that prisoners are safe to be released? Can the Minister say what work has been done in this area? Will the new sentencing and licensing arrangements be subject to review, as recommended by the Assemblys ad hoc committee that looked at these matters?
I, too, welcome the supervised activity orders set out in Article 45. This is a good idea and is a good alternative to custody for fine defaulters. As the Minister said, the previous situation was always ridiculous. When I was a magistrate, I found the notion that one had to put people in prison because they defaulted on payment of a fine iniquitous. In Northern Ireland, between September 2005 and February 2007, 44 per cent of women who were sent to prison were there because they were fine defaulters. That cannot possibly be right.
I hope that access to the provisions in these orders is uniformly administered. It would be iniquitous for them to be available in some places and not others. Is the probation service in Northern Ireland satisfied that it is being given sufficient resources to enable it to use these provisions equitably? The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, made that point. The Assembly committee also recommended that sentencers be given adequate training in how to deal with indeterminate sentencing. Can the Minister assure us that that training is being given?
Finally, I quote what the Northern Ireland Assemblys report on the draft Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order said on youth justice, which is dealt with under Articles 94 to 98. The report states:
In relation to the juvenile justice provisions in Article 95, the Committee received evidence from Criminal Justice Inspection and NIACRO who thought that the Article as drafted put the emphasis the wrong way round as children would be referred to Hydebank Wood Young Offenders Centre where Inspectors regard the regime on offer as gravely inadequate. CJI believed that, on the contrary, the presumption should be that 17-year-old males should be sent to the Juvenile Justice Centre unless either there is no room for them there or they are so difficult to manage that the JJC cannot cope with them. Females under 18 should not, in any circumstances that CJI could envisage, be sent to Ash House.
Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, I am perhaps less euphoric about this Order in Council than some other noble Lords. I believe that, while criminal justice continues to be the responsibility of the Westminster Parliament, whether that is for a long or a short period, primary legislation should be the vehicle used. For someone such as me who takes an interest in law and order matters but is not a lawyer, to be faced with a few moments to discuss a 95-page document is not heartening. It is not possible to deal with it adequately. I know that this order reflects the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. There is no acceptable reason why the public in Northern Ireland have had to wait five years for the protection of a sentencing regime designed to tackle dangerous offenders.
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