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Sentencing Reform

Volume 695: debated on Tuesday 18 May 2021

On 9 March we introduced the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which has been carried forward into the new Session. This legislation will deliver on our manifesto commitments to make punishments tougher for the most serious offenders and to introduce more effective community sentences, and work is also under way on the non-legislative reforms set out in my White Paper last year, which aim to tackle the underlying causes of criminal behaviour and improve the rehabilitation of offenders in the community.

It is essential that the public have confidence in the sentencing decisions reached in our courts. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that an important element in that confidence can come from judges and magistrates explaining clearly the aims their sentences are designed to achieve, recognising that they are about not just punishment but rehabilitation in order to reduce reoffending and then create far fewer victims of crime in the future?

My hon. Friend speaks from experience about these matters, and he will know that by law the court must explain the effect of a sentence and its reasons for deciding on it in clear, ordinary language. The pre-sentence report pilot that I announced in the sentencing White Paper also aims to increase sentencers’ confidence that their determinations will indeed improve outcomes for offenders and reduce reoffending.

Sedgley in my Dudley North constituency has recently seen gangs of youths coming together, throwing stones at passing cars and at people’s property and generally engaging in behaviour seen as very intimidating towards neighbours, so will my right hon. and learned Friend consider the following three things? First, please can we refrain from describing this type of activity as “low-level antisocial behaviour” because victims of these crimes certainly do not see it as such? Secondly, could we ask the police and the judiciary to look at prosecuting and indeed convicting so that sentencing is meaningful and therefore acts as a deterrent? Thirdly, can we please engage with colleagues across Departments to look at investment in schemes for young people that are tailored for them?

I understand, Mr Speaker, but my hon. Friend had to cover a lot there because the question of offending by young people and children raises complex issues. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to talk about the way in which we describe this behaviour, and indeed I made that very point in my maiden speech to the House. We should label that criminality as “criminality”, and it will sometimes be in the public interest to prosecute, because we have flexible community orders for children to address their offending behaviour, involving parents and carers in that process, too. But there are alternatives, and it is important to commend restorative action and early interventions to prevent children from getting into the criminal justice process in the first place.

The Government’s 2019 manifesto promised to do “right by victims” and

“to fight crime against women and girls”,

but I have to say to the Secretary of State that nothing seems further from the truth. Women do not need rhetoric; they need legislation, but he appears more interested in silencing protests than giving a voice to victims of sexual crimes—more interested in defending statues than women and girls. Will the Secretary of State show that he cares by working cross-party to implement Labour’s Bill on ending violence against women and girls?

That was not a question; it was a soundbite, which bears no reality to what this Government have been doing. We have passed landmark domestic abuse legislation, we work tirelessly in the fight against violence against women and girls, and we continue to do that in our new Bill, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which presents a golden opportunity for Labour to work together with us. But what did they do? They voted against it on Second Reading; they voted the whole thing down. I will not believe Labour until they truly match their rhetoric with their deeds; so far their record has been dismal and weak.

In 2019 Philip Leece viciously raped a woman on her way home from a night out; she was 26 and soon to be married. Adding insult to injury, he published the name of his victim online and ridiculed her as being too fat and disgusting to rape. For that, he received a pathetic fine of £120. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman will not commit to implementing Labour’s whole Bill on ending violence against women, will he at least agree to implement Labour’s proposals for tougher sentences for those who name and shame victims of sexual offences?

The right hon. Gentleman is right to raise that distressing case, and he can rest assured that over the years in which I have dealt with the unlawful and criminal naming of victims in that way I have not hesitated to take action as a Law Officer. Indeed we are already making preparations to see what can be done to improve and strengthen the law in this area, because, make no mistake, the naming of victims of sexual abuse—and other types of offending as well where anonymity is an essential part of the process—is not just wrong, it is criminal and we will do whatever it takes to help stamp it out.