Clause 98

Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 6:45 pm ar 27 Tachwedd 2007.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn


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

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Justice)

Subsection (6) sets out the penalties for offences in relation to notification. Will the Minister explain whether he seriously believes that it is appropriate that someone should be given up to five years’ imprisonment for failing to notify their national insurance number or home address on the date on which the notification should have been given?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

The only point that I want to make is that if the offence were as trivial as that, the court would not be expected to impose a five-year sentence. The hon. and learned Gentleman knows the courts better than I do, and that the relevant words are “up to”.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Justice)

I do not mind being rebuked by the Minister or anyone else, but he has put in the Bill a potential five-year term of imprisonment for failing to comply with a notification requirement. Presumably the assumption is that there will be circumstances in which it is appropriate for the courts to give a five-year term to someone who has failed to notify the material under clause 91, or the provision would not be in the Bill. Will he explain in what circumstances he would hope to find the courts dishing out a five-year sentence?

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

I did not mean to rebuke the hon. and learned Gentleman—far be it from me to attempt to do that. I cannot possible imagine every circumstance that might come before the court. I repeat the point that I made earlier. If the offence was as trivial as that which the hon. and learned Gentleman has just described, we would not expect the court to impose a five-year sentence. I am sure that he would not do that in the courts in which he acts as a recorder, even if the power were available to him. I cannot envisage all the circumstances, but I repeat that the period is of up to five years.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Justice)

I think that I have made my point. The measure looks rather heavy-handed. Will the Minister consider what will allow a sentence of imprisonment, let alone a five-year sentence, for the offences described in clause 98? We are told, although I find it difficult to believe, that this is essentially a civil process. However, it is a civil process whereby people get banged up for five years if they do not notify the authorities of some relevant information. We need to keep some balance. It is either a civil process or it is not. It is either a serious crime or it is not. A five-year maximum is a heavy maximum. People can commit serious muggings, burglaries and drug offences and still not get five years.

If five years is to be the maximum sentence for simply not notifying people, that brings me back to the data protection issue that I did not talk about under clause 75. If we are to see fiascos such as the HMRC disaster, we need to be clear about the circumstances in which people will potentially be given quite heavy jail sentences.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

The hon. and learned Gentleman makes a point, but I say again that if he reads the whole of clause 98 and other parts of the Bill, as I know that he has, he will see that the penalty will match the severity of the offence. As clause 98 makes it clear:

“If a person fails, without reasonable excuse, to comply with any prohibition restriction or condition contained in...a violent offender order, interim violent offender order...the person commits an offence”,

one would expect some of the provisions, prohibitions, restrictions or conditions that are breached to be more serious than the examples given by the hon. and learned Gentleman. I remind the Committee that other civil orders have that level of punishment if they are breached. As we know, the breach of the order is the criminal offence.

In reply to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, VOOs are applicable only in England and Wales. People would have to come to England and Wales to comply with the notification requirements.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 98 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 99 to 103 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Sitting suspended.

On resuming—