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Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill

Volume 523: debated on Wednesday 16 February 2011

Motion for leave to introduce a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision requiring certain prisoners due to be considered for early release to complete a relevant offender management programme, where available; to require courts to take regard of mental health problems in sentencing; to make provision regarding minimum and maximum sentences; and for connected purposes.

There are currently too many anomalies in sentencing. People are given sentences that are not always appropriate to the crime they have committed, and sentences do not subsequently have regard to the progress that people make during their time in prison. The Bill would introduce new clauses to the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to address some of those anomalies, to ensure that courts have greater freedom to impose the sentence that they deem necessary, and to ensure that there is greater incentive for prisoners to partake of rehabilitation programmes so as to be considered for early release.

I therefore propose to add three new measures to the aforementioned Act. First, I would add new clauses to warrant that early release from both indeterminate public protection sentences and determinate sentences is incentive-based, not automatic. Secondly, I would add new clauses on maximum and minimum sentences. Thirdly, I would ensure that courts are given the right to have regard to mental health problems when sentencing convicted persons.

I shall speak first on the new conditions to be imposed on granting early release. Indeterminate public protection sentences have been a controversial measure since their inception. Under section 225 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, where a person aged 18 or over is imprisoned for public protection but the court does not consider life imprisonment necessary, the convicted person may be imprisoned for a period of at least two years but less than life. The court sets a minimum period or tariff to be served before a prisoner can apply for parole. The measure was intended to be used sparingly but, presumably due to the inflexible requirements laid down by the Government, IPP sentences are being used more frequently than expected.

I believe that not enough thought is put into determining a prisoner’s tariff and that because little focus is placed on putting these prisoners into rehabilitation programmes, there are thousands of prisoners on IPP sentences in our prisons who in many cases will be released without regard being given to the remorse shown or even to a prisoner’s rehabilitation. Because of amendments made to the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 by schedule 8 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, a person serving a sentence of imprisonment or detention for a term can be considered for early release after serving one half of that sentence. I believe that that needs to be put right.

My Bill will add a new clause to section 255 of the 2003 Act to the effect that a person serving an IPP sentence shall have that sentence reviewed by the Parole Board at least every two years. Furthermore, all persons serving IPP sentences must have access made available to relevant offender management programmes. When determining whether to recommend a person for release on licence, the Parole Board should have regard to the availability and completion of these programmes. It is cost-effective to do this.

On a daily basis, 5,659 people are serving an IPP sentence, of which 2,229 are beyond their tariff. On average, these prisoners are serving 244 days beyond their tariff. It costs roughly £30,000 to keep someone incarcerated for 244 days. If we multiply this sum by 2,229, we get a figure of £68 million. By comparison, the cost of putting a prisoner through a rehabilitation programme would be £5,000 at most, which, multiplied by 2,229, comes to £11 million as opposed to the currently spent £68 million. Introducing this measure would thus be cost-effective and, I believe, beneficial to the protection of the public.

Equally, for prisoners serving determinate sentences, the Parole Board must be satisfied that they are of low risk to the public before they are granted early release. Under section 244 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, when a fixed-term prisoner has served the requisite custodial period the Secretary of State shall release him on licence. Since 2005, those serving four years or more have come out after serving 50% of their sentence—regardless of the progress they have made while in prison.

My Bill would add a further subsection to this section, which would ensure that before releasing a person sentenced to four or more years in prison, the Parole Board must be satisfied that the individual is at low risk of harm to the public and low risk of reoffending. These amending provisions would ensure that incentives for rehabilitation are rewarded, but it is just as important that the courts be given greater freedom to impose the sentences they deem fit and have regard to the individual circumstances of each case.

To satisfy this requirement, I would add an additional new clause to the Act on maximum and minimum sentences. This would mean that when sentencing a person to a determinate prison sentence, the court shall state the maximum time that should be served and also the minimum term. The stated minimum term must be less than half the maximum sentence but no less than one third of that sentence. In passing sentence, the court should, of course, have regard to the seriousness of the offence and it may request a pre-sentence report from a suitably qualified employee of the relevant probation trust. The notion of introducing maximum and minimum sentences was included in the last Conservative manifesto.

I referred earlier to the importance of courts being able when passing a sentence to pay greater regard to the individual circumstances surrounding a case. The final new clause of my Bill, added to the Criminal Justice Act 2003, would mean that the courts could pay greater regard to psychological or psychiatric problems diagnosed in a person who has committed a violent or sexual offence. Under section 277, persons of 18 years or older who commit certain violent or sexual offences are given an extended sentence. However, in cases where a person has committed a serious crime and has subsequently been diagnosed—I stress subsequently diagnosed—with psychological or psychiatric problems, it is the feeling of many sentencers that an extended period of licence would be more appropriate both for the individual concerned and for the protection of the public. In many such cases, the disposal of a hospital order would be preferable, but that disposal is not currently available to sentencers.

In the Eriksson case decided on 26 November 2009, that was precisely the finding of Mr Justice Saunders, who presided over the prosecution of a person who stabbed and killed a man while she was suffering from a debilitating mental illness. In his sentencing remarks, Mr Justice Saunders said that this

“would clearly have been a case for a hospital order”,

but that “that disposal” was “not open” to him. He wished to pass a sentence that would provide an appropriate level of protection for the public, although not one designed to over-punish because the defendant’s culpability was low, owing to her mental illness. He expressed great frustration that Parliament does not allow sentencers to order an extended period of licence, which he called “an unfortunate omission” in sentencers’ powers.

In that regard, I would add a new clause to section 277 to the effect that in determining whether to impose extended supervision, a court shall have regard to any psychological or psychiatric assessment that is carried out following the commission of the offence as well as the likelihood of the person being involved in further similar serious offending. I believe that these new clauses would make vital revisions to sentencing, would grant greater autonomy to courts to review the circumstances of each case and would reward the progress made in prison. I accordingly commend them to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That Mr Elfyn Llwyd, Mrs Linda Riordan, Claire Perry, Chris Evans, Hywel Williams, Jonathan Edwards and Mr Robert Buckland present the Bill.

Mr Elfyn Llwyd accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 15 May, and to be printed. (Bill 150).