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Public Disorder (Courts)

Volume 532: debated on Tuesday 13 September 2011

15. What recent assessment he has made of the operation of the courts during the public disorder of August 2011. (71321)

The courts responded swiftly, fairly and properly during the recent public disorder and continue to process cases as soon as they are brought by the prosecution. Although it is too early to make a final assessment of the courts response to the disorder, my Department is reviewing all aspects of the response to find out whether opportunities for continued improvement in public service can be identified.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that answer. One of the lessons of the riots was that those who were responsible were arrested, held on remand and processed through the courts and, if found guilty, began their sentences almost immediately, thus protecting the public and acting as a significant deterrent to others. Surely, that should be the norm, rather than the exception.

First, I have already praised the staff of all the services involved for the service that they delivered, and I think that we have all noticed that it was possible to handle certainly the straightforward cases much more quickly than we have become too used to regarding as the norm elsewhere. Obviously, we realise that we cannot expect such extraordinary efforts to be made all the time and in all normal circumstances, but efficiency can be improved. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice is taking a particular interest in improving the efficiency of the system and learning the best lessons that we can from our welcome experience of the riots.

It seems that in the immediate aftermath of the riots, in many cases, courts completely dispensed with asking for pre-sentence reports. One of the consequences was that parents of young children received custodial sentences, and no regard at all was paid to what would happen to those children. Does the Secretary of State agree that when parents are sentenced to custody, there ought to be automatic checks on what happens to the children?

My colleagues and I have just been checking with each other, and we all think—well, we all know—that pre-sentence reports were provided. One cannot proceed to swift justice without getting the necessary information about the circumstances of the client and their family. I am sure that pre-sentence reports were, in fact, required by courts, and they can certainly be obtained at adequate length in the time available if one is moving briskly. Of course, all the sentences are open to appeal, and the situation and the consequences can all be looked at in the normal way that always follows a sentence involving someone with family responsibilities.