Clause 13

Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 12:00 pm ar 20 Tachwedd 2007.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Consecutive terms of mprisonment

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

I beg to move amendment No. 175, in clause 13, page 9, leave out lines 39 to 41 and insert—

“(1A) Subsection (1) applies to a court sentencing a person to—

(a) a term of imprisonment for an offence committed before 4 April 2005, or

(b) a term of imprisonment of less than 12 months for an offence committed on or after that date, as it applies to the imposition of any other term of imprisonment.’.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Llafur, Stockton North

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 176 and 179 to 181.

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

The amendments are minor. They close a minor loophole in the provisions on consecutive sentences. The clause was intended to clarify the position on imposing consecutive sentences on different occasions. However, on closer inspection, and bearing in mind the fact that the provisions on sentences of under 12 months in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 have not yet commenced, it is clear that clause 13 does not yet cover the restriction on consecutive sentences in cases where the new sentence is one of less than 12 months imposed for an offence committed on or after 4 April 2005. The amendments will close that minor loophole and I commend them to the Committee.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 176, in clause 13, page 9, line 46, at end insert—

‘(5) Any saving by virtue of which section 84 of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 (c. 6) (restrictions on consecutive sentences for released prisoners) continues to apply in certain cases (despite the repeal of that section by the Criminal Justice Act 2003) shall cease to have effect.’.—[Mr. Hanson.]

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Llafur, Stockton North

With this it will be convenient to consider new clause 5—Consecutive terms of imprisonment—

‘(1) Section 181 (prison sentences of less than 12 months) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (c. 44) is amended as follows.

(2) For subsection (7) substitute—

“(6A) Where a court imposes two or more terms of imprisonment in accordance with this section to be served consecutively, the court shall have complete discretion to set the aggregate length of the terms of imprisonment subject to a maximum of 65 weeks and may suspend all or part of the total period of imprisonment.”.’.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Justice)

The Minister mentioned that the under-12-month provisions in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 are not yet in force. Clause 13(4)(b) refers to intermittent custody orders. As I understand it, such orders—for “weekend prison” in colloquial parlance—have been introduced and used with some success in certain parts of the country. Under pilot schemes, certain Crown court jurisdictions—and possibly magistrates courts as well—have the power to sentence appropriate defendants to a certain number of weeks in prison, breaking up the custodial period into separate periods of non-consecutive days or weeks.

Most obviously, for example, a single father who has committed a sufficiently serious offence to warrant custody could, to ensure that his family is not broken up and that he can continue with his job, be sentenced to serve a term of imprisonment at weekends and carry on Monday to Friday being employed, paying his rent and mortgage and looking after his children. At weekends, care arrangements could be made for his children—they could live with their grandparents, an uncle or aunt or some other suitable person.

As I understand it, weekend prison has been used in Manchester and Luton. It has been used not only for single fathers but for single mothers who have difficulties with employment and child care and whose children might have joined the 150,000 children in this country who have a parent in prison. We know that families break up and that mothers and fathers lose  touch with their children; we know that reoffending rates rise when that happens. When contact between the offender and the family is broken, the chances of reoffending increase. Only one visit a year to an offender by a family member correlates noticeably with a reduction in reoffending. Intermittent custody, although it might still be in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, is no longer in use. Unless I have got it wrong and the pilot is being continued in other, discrete areas of the jurisdiction, we need clarification whether intermittent custody is still available for the courts.

New clause 5 deals with the imposition of consecutive sentences up to a maximum of 65 weeks. The English in clause 13 is marginally better, but not much better, than that in clause 12. Clause 13 seeks to limit the total length of consecutive sentences to 65 weeks. New clause 5 would provide greater certainty of discretion. I abide by the Government’s maximum of 65 weeks, but within that I give the court clear discretion, and clearly expressed discretion, to set the appropriate length of sentence. It gives the court the power to suspend all or part of the total period in prison, which goes back to our debate on clause 10.

Often courts give sentences for two or three offences that have to be served at the same time—concurrent sentences. Sometimes if the offences are different in time, for example if they took place in January, March and July the court might think it appropriate for the sentences to follow one after the other, which is called a consecutive sentence. Under this provision, in the limited circumstances of clause 13, the total length of a sentence is 65 weeks, but the court should not be hamstrung by the wording of clause 13 in such a way that it cannot suspend or adjust the length of the total consecutive sentences as it sees fit, having taken account, in essence but not precisely, the factors to which I referred in new clause 4. I hope that is a relatively simple point to grasp, that I have explained it in an understandable way and persuaded the Committee that it is better than the provision in the Bill.

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

Again, I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for his amendment. The clause is a technical amendment to correct some anomalies relating to the position on consecutive sentences in the Criminal Justice Act 2003. It amends the 2003 Act in respect of consecutive custody plus and intermittent custody sentences and general restrictions on imposing consecutive sentences for release prisoners.

The policy intention is to underpin custody plus: there need to be two or more sentences imposed consecutively, the resulting total sentence should not be more than 65 weeks and of that 65 weeks a maximum of 26 weeks custodial time should be imposed. The hon. and learned Gentleman is correct in the sense that the Criminal Justice Act 2003 indicated the direction of travel on these matters. We have had the pilots and as he will know custody plus has been deferred. I am not yet able to examine when we can bring the full potential of custody plus on stream but it is still on the statute book and has not been removed; it remains an option for us to consider. However, we must consider the current priorities in respect of Government expenditure and proposals generally.

The deferment of custody plus was announced as part of the White Paper on rebalancing the criminal justice system in July 2006. That is not to say that it will not be introduced at a later date; we are content to consider it and I will continue to keep it under review. However, clause 13 is about consolidating the position based on the anomalies that have occurred as a result of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

The hon. and learned Gentleman would have us delete clause 13 and replace it with new clause 5 and he has explained the reasons and thinking behind it. I simply say to him that the new clause removes the current restriction on the amount of aggravated sentence that can be delegated to custody, namely, 26 weeks. I am not entirely clear whether that is the hon. and learned Gentleman’s intention, because in real terms it will mean that custody could be applied up to the present 65-week threshold, which could mean a sentence of 65 weeks in prison if sufficient offences were being sentenced together.

The purpose of custody plus and the 2003 legislation is to strike a balance between custody and licence, to allow intermittent sentences and the general restrictions that we have already discussed and to give courts the discretion, which the hon. and learned Gentleman welcomed, and the potential to help people to manage a sentence and life outside prison at the same time. We are continually keeping that under review. We need to examine it in light of our resource pressures and, as he will know, the pressures on the Prison Service are intense at the moment.

The purpose of clause 13 is to bring the 2003 Act into line with the changes under the Bill. I urge the hon. and learned Gentleman to reflect on what I said and to consider whether he intends his new clause to be such as to extend the potential for custody up to the maximum of 65 weeks. I do not think that, on reflection, he would be seeking that so I commend the original clause to the Committee and ask him not to press the new clause to a Division.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Justice)

I always reflect on what the Minister says and, sometimes, I reflect it back at him. Today is not one of those occasions, but I was interested in his saying that the purpose of clause 13 is to bring the balance inherent within custody plus into play. Well, custody plus is not in play, so there is no balance to be struck. Intermittent custody—a different concept—has been put in abeyance. We all understand the resource difficulties, but I urge the Government not only when dealing with the Bill, but when looking at the history of criminal justice legislation since 1997 not to rush for headline solutions, but to think more carefully about the implications of what flows from that legislation.

Let us consider schedule 23. It contains pages and pages of amendments to legislation that is barely two or three years old and some of it obviously deals with much older legislation. The amount of legislation that the Government have amended before it has even come into force, let alone after it has come into force, and the amount of legislation that the Government have not brought into force—custody plus being one example—is enormous. It is an incompetent, inefficient and confusing way in which to run a criminal justice system.

I shall not press the new clause to a Division nor shall I resist clause 13 stand part. I urge the Government not to get themselves into such muddles because it spreads confusion elsewhere.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 13, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.