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 Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Justice) 12:15, 20 Tachwedd 2007

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.