Clause 22

Part of Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 5:15 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 5:15, 20 Tachwedd 2007

The clause attempts to set the minimum number of hours that may be imposed as a penalty when an offender breaches a community order. At the moment, the minimum figure is 40 hours. The Bill would set a minimum of 20 hours, while the amendments range from 20 to 50, which is above the above the current minimum.

The minimum of 40 hours that can be imposed as a penalty is, in some cases, too severe a response. I have attempted to take the approach that a minimum of 20 hours will be examined by the courts in the event of a breach. There is a precedent for 20 hours. Section 300 and schedule 31 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 allow unpaid work of at least 20 hours to be imposed for fine default as an alternative to committal to prison. We have tried to establish that baseline, linked to the 2003 Act.

The amendments would replace the proposed 20 hours with a larger figure. In some cases, they would increase the current minimum of 40 hours and, in others, they would decrease it. I believe that 20 hours is a fair minimum. It could obviously be increased at the discretion of the sentencers. The new minimum will be a far better figure in terms of the fairness of the penalty than the current minimum of 40 hours.

We are attempting to examine this in detail and the current minimum applies only to those community orders that do not already have an unpaid work requirement. Where there is such a requirement, there is no minimum to the amount of unpaid work that may be added for the breach. The danger is that, where a court feels that adding 40 hours is too much, it may instead resentence the offender, possibly even to a short period of custody. My intention is reduce the minimum to 20 hours. I ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect on whether he wants to have a different minimum and whether in reality he wants to increase the minimum from 40 hours to 50 hours. Having got to know him over the last few weeks, I suspect that he would not wish to do that. I urge him to accept our minimum of 20 hours and withdraw his amendment accordingly.