Clause 11

Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:15 am ar 20 Tachwedd 2007.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Restriction on imposing community sentences

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I beg to move amendment No. 20, in clause 11, page 8, line 24, leave out second ‘community’ and insert ‘rehabilitation’.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Llafur, Stockton North

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment No. 57.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

Before speaking to the Government amendments, may I tell Committee members that, in the spirit of co-operation, during the course of our proceedings I will reflect on other amendments and consider them further? I hope that that reassures the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome and the official Opposition that I am willing to look at the issues that they raised. Indeed, that may become clear during our discussions later today.

Government amendment No. 20 corrects a minor drafting error in clause 11, which makes reference to the old-style youth community orders rather than the new youth rehabilitation order. The effect of the amendment is simple and will make it clearer to sentencers that the court is not required to make a youth rehabilitation order, even when it is open to the court to do so.

Photo of David Burrowes David Burrowes Shadow Minister (Justice)

I do not take issue with the technical amendment, but perhaps I could take the opportunity to make a comment in more of a stand part mode. The Magistrates Association’s is concerned that clause 11 is repetitious and unnecessary. That theme developed in our debate on clause 10. Clause 11 makes the point that sentencers do not need to impose a community sentence when the community threshold has been reached, but magistrates and the judiciary are already aware of that, day in, day out, in the courts. If they wanted a reminder, they could look at the “Adult Court Bench Book”, or they could refer to the Sentencing Guidelines Council, which states:

“Sentencers must consider all of the disposals available at the time of sentence...before reaching the provisional decision to make a community sentence, so that, even where the threshold for a community sentence has been passed, a financial penalty or discharge may still be an appropriate penalty. Where an offender has a low risk of re-offending, particular care needs to be taken in the light of evidence that indicates that there are circumstances where inappropriate intervention will increase the risk of re-offending rather than decrease it.”

In addition, the point is made that enforcement of financial penalties make them a more viable sentence in a wider range of cases. Guidance and discretion are already available for the magistrates not to impose a community sentence, even if the threshold is reached, when there are particular mitigating circumstances, so why is it necessary for the Government to seek to spell matters out in additional legislation?

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I am happy, if you give your consent, Mr. Cook, to speak to address the points that have been raised, or I can cover them in the clause stand part debate.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Llafur, Stockton North

Discussing a stand part issue now means that we will not discuss it later. I am aware of the fact that we are discussing Government amendment No. 20, but stand part is included.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I am grateful, Mr. Cook, for that clarification. I do not wish to widen the debate too much beyond Government amendment Nos. 20 and 57, which I hope are accepted as simple matters.

Once again, this is a matter of judgment. I accept that there is an element of common practice, as the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate mentioned. We are keen to examine how we can put new energy into the issuing of fines, which we want to use as an alternative to some forms of community sentence. The purpose of clause 11 is to revitalise the fine, making it central to the process of redirecting probation resources where they are most needed, in particular using those resources to deal with more serious offenders. Many offenders can be adequately punished by a fine; in fact, for some offenders a fine is more of a punishment than a community sentence or another sentence.

The payment of fines now is significantly higher than it was before. Performance in the collection of fines has improved—it is more than 90 per cent—so sentencers can be confident that a fine is an effective punishment. It will be collected, and, in certain circumstances, it will be more effective than other types of punishment. We must face the reality that resources are scarce. I want probation resources to be used effectively, and if we can encourage the greater use of fines, that will help us to achieve our twin objectives. It will reduce the demands on probation resources and, at the same time, the magistrate’s ability to impose a fine will result in a more effective punishment for many individuals.

I accept that the greater use of fines is already evident. We are restating the principle, encouraging it and trying to give greater drive to it in clause 11. I commend clause 11 and Government amendments Nos. 20 and 57 to the Committee.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 11, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.