Police Bill Report Stage Days 2&3

The last week before the Festive break had two days of Report Stage of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. The Lords have tabled hundreds of amendments to the original bill and Jenny spoke to amendments on the confiscation of mobile devices, child abuse sentences, road death sentences, mandatory minimum sentences, IPP sentences and Friday releases. The Report Stage of this bill will continue in the New Year.

Either they hand their telephone over voluntarily or they have it confiscated

“I very much hope the Minister can listen to this, because it is obvious that there is a general concern. I will keep my remarks brief because I agree with everything that has been said so far, particularly on the Hobson’s choice that victims are often given: either they hand their telephone over voluntarily or they have it confiscated. That really is an abuse of procedure.

I would like the Minister to answer a question for me: if there is that threat inherent in what the police tell a victim, would any evidence gathered under Clause 36 be inadmissible in court? I rather think it should be. We should remember that government Ministers have been very reluctant to have their electronic devices pored over by the police, and have dropped them or broken them or things like that. This is an intrusive and invasive procedure. It should be done as best as it can be, and at the moment it really is not.”

Read the whole debate on Hansard

Road deaths

“It is good that the Government have realised that our road traffic laws are a mess, because the cost—the human cost, the social cost—of the crimes and offences we are talking about is extremely high. When we think of the cost of the deaths and injuries to the NHS, to social services, to the emergency services, we are talking about billions of pounds and we really ought to understand that a lot of the causes are avoidable.

When I first got on to the Met Police authority, I went out a lot with the traffic teams—I have told this story before—and one sergeant said to me, “If I wanted to murder somebody, I would run them over with a car, because nobody could ever prove it was not an accident”. This brings me to the word “accident”, which we really should not use when we are talking about road collisions, road incidents and so on. It offends me and the whole road safety community deeply, because the minute you use the word “accident”, you are judging the cause of whatever happened and that is obviously unfair. You have to look into what really happened.

The most dangerous idea is people who should be disqualified from driving being able to plead exceptional hardship. We have heard a lot about “exceptional hardship”: what a misnomer. People are often allowed to keep on driving and quite honestly, they should feel lucky that they have not gone to prison because a lot of the time, it is complete nonsense. I have read about a lot of cases where the judge or the magistrate allowed someone to get away with—well, not murder, but certainly manslaughter at times. It is obviously a crime against society, not to mention the families themselves.

Any driver who is no longer allowed to drive will experience hardship—that is obvious, but the solution is not to accumulate so many points on your licence that you are a danger to society. Amendment 63 in the name of Lord Berkeley, helps to close the loophole that lets dangerous drivers stay on the roads. I am not sure whether he will push to a vote. I would vote on every amendment in this group because I think they are extremely important, but, if the Government are going to do a review, it will be worth waiting for that provided that it does not take too long and covers the issues that need sorting.

Amendment 64 will help to ensure that people report road traffic collisions to the police, especially when injuries have been caused. Importantly, it also begins to fix the false assumption in the legislation that people are not necessarily responsible. Again, when you use the word “accident”, you suggest that no one is responsible. We have to change our language; it is incredibly important. We talk all the time about road safety. Road safety is the solution to the problem we have—which is road danger. I am afraid that I completely forgot to say that I am the esteemed president of the Road Danger Reduction Forum, which does an incredible job.

We should be aiming for zero road deaths. They just should not happen. The roads and pavement should be safe spaces. We achieve that by making sure that drivers—and pedestrians as well, of course—obey the law. Legislation must comprehend just how damaging bad and careless driving are.

Finally, Amendments 65 and 66A would require a total review of road traffic offences and penalties. That really is the only sensible way forward, and the only way for society to properly address the damage caused by car culture and start the journey towards zero road deaths. I look forward very much to hearing the details of the review and hope that it happens soon.”

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Child abuse sentences

“It is a pleasure to rise to support government amendments. There are cases of child abuse and neglect that cannot be adequately punished under the current maximum sentences. It is rare for me to urge more punishment; I always try to focus on rehabilitation, deterrence and restitution, but here I see more punishment as appropriate, simply because protecting a child is our natural human response.

A few years ago, a grave was found in Italy containing a 10,000 year-old skeleton of a tiny baby girl, just a few weeks old. She was buried with what would have been quite precious things: an eagle owl talon, shell pendants and some precious stones. This showed us that, first, 10,000 years ago people cared about their children even when they were of a very young age, and we did not necessarily know that—burials from the Mesolithic period are quite rare—and, secondly, the fact that she was a girl showed that it was an egalitarian society and they did not have our western attitude of women being rather less than men.

There is, however, no deterrent effect required from criminal law because if the only thing stopping someone hurting a child is that it is illegal then there is something deeply wrong with that person. We have an innate reaction to child abusers—a natural hatred towards anyone who would do something so vile. However, that is not to say that every single case of child abuse or neglect is the same, so I am pleased that this is an increase in the maximum sentences and that the Government are not messing around with mandatory minimum sentences.”

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Clause 102 will lead to gross injustice

“I do not want to re-enter an old argument but, in Committee, I was almost embarrassed when the Minister pointed out that I was completely wrong about mandatory minimum sentences. Not being a lawyer, I thought that I had made some sort of legal error, but apparently not. Clause 102 will lead to gross injustice for anyone who is convicted of these offences, except in exceptional circumstances. That is revealed by the very clever wording of the amendments tabled by the Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, which contrasts those exceptional circumstances with a much preferable “contrary to the interests of justice”.

These amendments bring justice into play rather than pure, unmetered punishment. I and my noble friend will be supporting the amendments.

The deterrent effect of these minimum sentences would still be in play, but there would also be the freedom that, when justice requires, a person is not given one of these mandatory sentences—so the Government can still hold their “tough on crime” stance and even call this “crime fortnight” while justice is still served—although it would be good if they could admit their own crimes sometimes.”

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IPP Sentences

“There is an IPP fact sheet on the Ministry of Justice website that describes IPP sentences as “unclear and inconsistent” and says that they are not working because they

“have been used far more widely than intended, with some … issued to offenders who have committed low level crimes with tariffs as short as two years.”

I do not understand why the Government would continue to leave people to rot in prison when they have scrapped the system. Perhaps the Minister could explain that particular conundrum. I have no legal training but I think I have an awful lot of common sense; to me, this is a clear injustice.

On rotting in prison, I have had a letter from the mother of an IPP prisoner. She said that two of his fellow IPP prisoners committed suicide because they felt that there was nothing left in their lives. Clearly, this is an injustice. Are the Government going to do something?”

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Friday releases are not fair

“When I was a child and my parents stopped me doing something I would say “That’s not fair” and they would say “Well, life isn’t fair.” I would argue that this House is where we can make life fairer and obviously Friday releases are not fair. I congratulate Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, on persisting because this is an injustice, and it is a relatively small fix—I would hope.

I understand the point about consultation, but we all know that it is not fair. This amendment is a simple practical solution to the problem. Lord Hodgson, said “What’s not to like?” There is something not to like: it gives Ministers discretion, whereas I think that they must implement these schemes, so I am less giving than the amendment.

If you want to be tough on crime and want that to be your legacy, you have to break the endless reoffending cycle and give people the best opportunity you possibly can to reintegrate with society. Friday releases are the polar opposite of that. They make life much harder for released prisoners before they have even got on their feet. It is obvious that this has to change.”

Read the whole debate in Hansard