Clause 13

Part of Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 12:15 pm ar 20 Tachwedd 2007.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 12:15, 20 Tachwedd 2007

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.