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Criminal Justice System

Volume 458: debated on Monday 19 March 2007

1. What progress is being made on the review of the criminal justice system; and if he will make a statement. (127789)

The review was published in July last year and set out a clear timetable for delivery. The majority of the things that we said we would do by December were completed on time, and we are making good progress towards meeting our April commitments. We will publish a further update shortly.

I appreciate the Minister’s response. For the purposes of the review, will he look at the effective work being undertaken against crime and antisocial behaviour in Blaen-y-Maes in my constituency and incorporate that good practice into the review? That represents good progress, not the “hug a hoodie” culture that the Opposition are talking about.

I fully understand what my hon. Friend is saying. I am pleased about the work that goes on in Wales and in her constituency, where she recently made a visit to see it. The work that is going on between the Welsh Assembly, local government and local communities in support of the police is to be commended. We are looking into what can be done in terms of antisocial behaviour orders and community sentencing to ensure that our communities feel a lot safer.

When the Minister reviews the criminal justice system, will he be very chary about coming forward with any more substantive Bills? The Criminal Justice Act 2003 has proved singularly indigestible. Might I suggest that he spends more time in the Home Office in implementation and enforcement instead of on the process of legislation?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is well known for his involvement in these issues, so we take into consideration what he says to us. He will know, however, that the 2003 Act was important in ensuring that protecting the public is our first priority. The Home Secretary has been reviewing all the actions that were taking place in the Home Office. We look at legislation in the context of how appropriate it is not only in defeating crime but in ensuring that the public are protected.

May I urge my hon. Friend not to listen to the views recently expressed by Lord Woolf on sentencing for people convicted of murder? Most people in my constituency tell me that sentences are not long enough, and they do not find credible the idea that people should be let out even earlier. If we want the public to co-operate with the police and to play their part in tackling crime, they must feel that once people are convicted, they are properly punished.

I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend, who is clear, as I am, that the public must be protected from people who need to serve the sentences for the crimes for which they are responsible and that the public would expect them to serve. This is a robust debate. It is important that we consider these issues in the context of ensuring that the public have confidence in the criminal justice system. They will not understand if they are not protected from people who commit heinous crimes and are not in prison for the period that they should be.

The Minister referred to the importance of the public having confidence in the criminal justice system. The Lord Chancellor said this weekend that for that to happen, clarity in sentencing is required. I entirely agree. Does the Minister believe that there is a problem in trying to maintain public confidence in the criminal justice system given that, for instance, life sentences now average about 11 years in custody and that 53 so-called lifers who were sentenced in 2000 have already been released? Does not he think that it is time to review all this, to abandon some of the doublespeak that surrounds sentencing, and to apply life sentences only in cases where the courts believe that they should be applied and that is to the most serious offenders who should remain in prison for the rest of their lives?

It is important that the courts decide on sentences; that is why we have the Sentencing Guidelines Council, which is made up of the judiciary with Home Office representatives as observers. In the 2003 Act, we ensured that dangerous criminals—people who were a danger to society—had indeterminate sentences. We must ensure that that continues. I hope that the hon. Gentleman would share my view that it is important that the public can have confidence in knowing that dangerous criminals will be in prison. That was not the case before the 2003 Act.

Under the Government’s vision of simple, speedy summary justice, the police issued 146,000 penalty notices for disorder last year, including to serial shoplifters. The offenders do not receive a criminal record, the tickets involve no admission of guilt and only about half are paid before court action. How many of those so-called “offences brought to justice” are enforced? How can they possibly count as sanction detections when there is no real sanction?

The hon. Gentleman wants it both ways. He wants the police to have the flexibility to deal with situations on the ground in our communities but then argues about bureaucracy in the police service. He cannot have it both ways. We are pleased with the simple, speedy, fast and fair system that we are putting in place. Fixed penalties play their part in that.