Clause 24

Offender Management Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:00 am ar 23 Ionawr 2007.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Detention and training orders: early release

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I beg to move amendment No. 22, in clause 24, page 17, line 39, leave out subsection (2).

I shall be relatively brief in dealing with this amendment, which stands in my name and those of my hon. Friends. Subsection (2) reads:

“The amendments made by subsection (1) apply in relation to an offender detained under a detention and training order which comes into force before this section comes into force as they apply in relation to an offender detained under a detention and training order which comes into force after this section.”

I want to point out some of the complications and difficulties that arise under the current sentencing regime. I have here a Crown Court Bench Book, which is given by the Judicial Studies Board to full-time judges and also to recorders. I possess it. Whether or not it belongs to the Lord Chancellor, I do not know.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I do not think I can be accused of having nicked it, as Mr. Atkinson so kindly suggests.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Allegedly. It is a very valuable compendium of sentencing powers and the forms of words that judges are recommended to speak when sentencing an individual. I do not want to go through all of that. I simply want to point out to the Minister that the whole sentencing regime, as created by this Government over the past 10 years, is incredibly complicated. It does not make clear to the defendant the sentence they will get and it does not make it clear to the public, and more particularly the victim of the offence, what the defendant is about to receive.

Let us look at several headings which relate to sentences for defendants aged under 18 on conviction. For custodial sentences, we have detention and training orders. We have detention under section 91 of the Powers of the Criminal Court Sentencing Act 2000 for less than 12 months or for 12 months or more. We have a required minimum sentence of detention under the Firearms Act 1968. We have an extended sentence of detention under the Criminal Justice Act 2003. We have detention for public protection under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and we have detention for life under the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

Under non-custodial sentences, we have youth community orders of a general nature. There are curfew orders, exclusion orders, attendance centre orders, supervision orders, action plan orders, community rehabilitation orders, community punishment orders, community punishment and rehabilitation orders and drug treatment and testing orders. That is as of January 2006. No doubt it has changed several times since then. Do not worry—I am sure that I will be on a Judicial Studies Board course to correct any mistakes that I have made before very long.

The detention orders early release aspect of this is complicated. It is complicated even more by the context in which one has to understand it. The purpose of my amendment is to get the Minister publicly to explain precisely what is intended by clause 24 and how it fits into common sense and honesty in sentencing.

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. and Learned Gentleman makes a wider point again about sentencing policy and the advice that is given. He will be aware that the Home Secretary announced in July that we were looking at all of this and that there is a consultation process taking place at the moment about sentencing. We do want to see greater clarity in the sentencing provisions, but we also want the public to understand clearly what sentencing is about.

Clause 24 makes a minor technical adjustment to the arrangements for early release from a detention and training order. At present, a trainee who is granted early release must be released on a particular date. If for some reason that date is missed, the trainee must stay in custody for a further month. This can happen for a number of reasons. Problems with finding accommodation suitable for electronic tagging is a notable example. Clause 24 introduces greater flexibility by allowing the release to take place on any day after the early release point has passed.

The amendment will prevent trainees sentenced before the new arrangements come into force from being released in accordance with them. The Government see no reason for delaying the effective introduction of the more flexible arrangements in this way. We are not proposing any change in general practice. Trainees serving between eight and 18 months who qualify for early release will continue to be released one month before the mid-point of the order. Qualifying trainees serving 18 months or more will be released one or two months before the mid-point. If for some reason the early release date is missed—for example because of a delay in finding accommodation suitable for electronic tagging—it will be possible to  release a trainee later without having to keep him or her in custody for a full extra month. There is no point in keeping trainees who are qualified for and being granted early release in custody for an extra month unless there is a substantive reason for doing so.

The clause is highly appropriate and will give us flexibility. The amendment would not, and in our view it would make matters worse. I understand why the hon. and learned Gentleman raised the matter—he wanted to discuss the wider issue of sentencing guidelines. He is assiduous and I am impressed by his ability to deal with his roles as a judge and a Member of Parliament. He is clearly an exceptional person.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 11:15, 23 Ionawr 2007

I remember once advising the Prime Minister of a foreign country on a matter of defamation law. After I had advised him not to take action against a particular publication, he thanked me and gave me a set of first-day covers from his country. I was about to pocket them, hoping that a cheque for my fee would follow shortly thereafter, when my instructing solicitor took them away from me and said that he would have them on the basis that philately would get the Prime Minister everywhere.

I am afraid that the Minister is good at flattery—I expect first-day covers to head my way shortly—but the clause seems to be a means for the Government to get around the custody overcrowding problem. That is at the heart of the problems faced by the Prison Service and the custody system. Until the Government sort out the overcrowding problem and stop pretending that early releases are for criminal justice reasons rather than to make space for the queue of people coming into our prisons and young offender institutions, confidence in their ability to manage this aspect of public policy will be diminished.

Today is not the day for a prolonged debate on the matter. The Opposition will constantly return to it, but for present purposes, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 24 ordered to stand part of the Bill.