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Sentencing (Robbery)

Volume 560: debated on Tuesday 19 March 2013

14. How many people convicted of robbery were not sent to prison in each of the last three years. (148589)

In 2009, 3,509 people were not given an immediate custodial sentence for robbery. In 2010, that figure was 3,568 and, in 2011, 3,710. The majority of those were young offenders. However, in the same period, nearly 16,000 offenders were sent to custody for robbery. Robbery is a serious crime carrying a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Armed robbery is on the list of offences which can attract a “two strikes” mandatory life sentence.

Recently, John Calvert was convicted of mugging a woman student in Bradford city centre. At the time of his offence, he was on a 12-month intensive community order for robbing a 13-year-old girl of her mobile phone. Is the Minister proud of presiding over a criminal justice system that allows dangerous offenders committing those kinds of street robberies to walk free from prison and to go out and commit other crimes across the Bradford district?

My hon. Friend would not expect me to comment on individual cases. I am happy to reassure him that the sentencing guideline on robbery states that the offence will usually merit a custodial sentence but that exceptional circumstances may justify a non-custodial penalty for an adult or, more frequently, for a young offender. However, sentencing in individual cases is a matter for the courts. I hope that he will join me in welcoming the fact that it is a matter for the courts, rather than for politicians.

May I press the Minister on this matter? We know that serial burglars are not locked up but is it right that Vicky Pryce and Chris Huhne should be imprisoned when it would have been much better if they had been given a community sentence and were working in the community?

The hon. Gentleman is slightly suggesting that politicians should set sentences. I am happy to reassure him that the average sentence for burglary is going up—if he wishes that to happen, I can assure him that it is happening. The adult custodial rate for robbery in 2011, the last year for which figures are available, was 84.3%, so the vast majority of people who commit robbery do end up in jail.

According to the figures that the Minister has just given, 100 more people in each of the last three years were not sentenced to prison as a result of a conviction for robbery. What steps is he taking to reassure people throughout the UK that that figure will be reduced in the next three years?

As I say, the average sentence is going up. One of the things that has been discussed a lot in Question Time today is how more effective rehabilitation is dealing with some of the most prolific offenders. As has been said, a lot of robberies are committed by reoffenders, so getting rehabilitation right earlier in the system, so fewer people commit such crimes, is the best defence we have against more of these prolific offenders being out on the streets committing offences.