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Sentencing Regime for 17-year-olds

Volume 698: debated on Monday 5 July 2021

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Michael Tomlinson.)

I rise to outline in detail a quite tragic incident that took place in Ipswich—an incident that really shook the town and caused great upset and hurt. I hope it can spur some reform with regards to the criminal justice system.

Richard Day was a constituent of mine. I only had the opportunity to represent him for a short time. I did not know Richard Day—I had not met him—but having met his brother and a lot of people who did know him and were touched by him, it is very clear that Richard Day was an incredibly popular man who touched the lives of a huge number of Ipswich residents. He was a 45-year-old man with three brothers. He was an engineer with UK Power Networks. He had just completed four years of training. He was incredibly passionate about what he did. He was a season ticket holder at Ipswich Town football club. He was passionate about his town, he was passionate about his family and he was passionate about his friends. In the words of his brother Krissy, “He would give you the shirt off his back.” That was the kind of man he was. He would have done anything for anyone. He was the sort of man who deserved only good things to happen to him and only good things to happen to those who were closest to him.

On 22 February 2020, Richard went to see Ipswich play Oxford in a football game. Ipswich lost one-nil, which has happened a fair bit over the last few years, but I think he had probably got a bit used to it, so he was in good spirits, despite the fact that Ipswich lost that game. He went to the Cock & Pye pub. He met up with his brother Krissy and his younger brother. His younger brother was involved in a music band, and he went somewhere else in town to see his brother playing. For the first time in a long time, all four brothers were together on that night, Saturday 22 February.

Richard was the eldest brother, and not only did he provide invaluable support to each one of his three brothers, but he cared for his mother, who had health problems. He did everything he could to support her. After the gig, he walked home to watch, I believe, a boxing fight that was taking place that night. It was before midnight, and he walked up St Matthew’s Street, which is a pretty prominent street in Ipswich. It is a street that I myself have walked along when I have walked up to where I live after going to a bar or a restaurant.

Earlier that day, Andrea Cristea, who had a youth detention order and was awaiting sentencing for a violent crime, was going about his business, frankly, pretty determined for trouble—pretty determined to cause a lot of damage to someone and a lot of grief to someone. Unfortunately, that person was Richard Day. Richard Day was set upon by this individual. He was attacked violently. There was a punch thrown to the neck, which would end up being the lethal blow.

We could say, “Well, it got a bit out of hand; it was something that happened,” but far from offering assistance when Richard Day lay on the ground dying, Andrea Cristea went through his pockets, stole his wallet and was seen standing over my constituent—as he was dying—laughing. This happened in the town that I represent, it happened before midnight, and it happened in a prominent place. Clearly, this has caused immense upset to the family of Richard Day, all of his friends and everyone who knew him, but it also shook the town and, frankly, I do not really think that we have recovered from it.

I was very thankful to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for visiting Ipswich in March 2020. I spoke to her about this incident, which had caused great nervousness in the town. Frankly, there have been many antisocial behaviour problems in the town that I represent, and when something like this happens, it causes great unease. I was grateful to the Home Secretary for visiting Ipswich, talking to residents and talking to the local police force. That is the effect of what happened on the family and the town.

On 26 April 2021, a judge issued the sentence for Mr Cristea. He got four years in a youth offenders institute, but of course he will be let out automatically halfway through, so it is pointless calling it four years. It is not four years; it is two years. This individual had already served a significant amount of time on remand, so we are looking at him being released incredibly soon and presumably back on the streets of Ipswich. I have spoken to people with a wide range of views on law and order issues, but not a single person in the town I have spoken to about this particular sentence believes that it is appropriate or that it delivers justice. They believe it is far from that.

I wrote to the Attorney General to ask whether they could review the case in the Court of Appeal. I knew it was a long shot, and in some senses the family felt that the judge’s hands were tied because a lot of it was to do with the Sentencing Council guidelines, but we thought we would give it a try. We were unsuccessful, and I understand the reasons why we were unsuccessful. I am grateful for the letter I received from the Solicitor General, who sent me the letter and discussed it with me offline as well, to explain her immense sympathy with the family, but also why she felt she was in the position that she was in.

There are several consequences that I can think of now. There are the consequences for the family. Their belief is that no justice has been served. As the family of the victim, their confidence in the criminal justice system has been shaken as a result of this. They are so far away from feeling like justice has been served. They believe this pitiful sentence is almost an insult. What kind of deterrent does it provide to anybody else potentially involved in this kind of illicit behaviour, when somebody who behaves like this can get away with it?

There is also the consequence for public safety. As I said before, this particular individual, who had committed multiple crimes before he ended up in the offenders institution where he currently is, could well be back out on the streets of Ipswich again. How can we guarantee that he will not do something similar again? The judge said that he took public safety into account, but that an extended sentence would not help the situation. I find that hard to believe.

Why did I apply for this Adjournment debate, which is only my third Adjournment debate? First, I did so because I wanted to put on record the remarkable man I have learned about and the contribution that he made to his family and to his town, and the fact that he should never be forgotten. I also did it because of the sense of anger felt not just by his family but by pretty much everyone in the town, and hopefully to try to spur some of us to think about the consequences of this and about how unhealthy it is that so many people’s confidence in the criminal justice system is so shaken by a sentence such as this. It is a sentence that we can all look at and know it is wrong.

I simply do not think it is enough to abdicate responsibility and say, “Oh well, it’s the Sentencing Council, it is this and it is that.” Ultimately, people look to their elected representatives to put in place a law and order system that they can have confidence and faith in and that they believe delivers justice. So I believe that this House and this Government need to look at the system and take appropriate action to ensure that sentences such as this are not issued in the way that they are.

It was manslaughter that Mr Cristea was found guilty of, but for me it was an incredibly sinister kind of manslaughter. He has shown no contrition whatsoever for the damage he has done or for the life he took away that will never ever be forgotten by the family of Mr Day. He was 16 when the incident took place and 17 when he was sentenced. It seems wrong that, if he had been over 18, he probably would have got something like nine years and there is such a dramatic difference if you are a 17-year-old as opposed to if you are an 18-year-old—almost more, I believe, than the difference if you are a 12-year-old and if you are a 17-year-old. I understand that the Government are looking at a sliding scale in relation to murder, but not in relation to manslaughter, which is what we are talking about today, and which is what caused such immense destruction to the life of Richard Day.

I am very serious about the point about public safety. I do not know what the plan is for Mr Cristea when he comes out of where he is at the moment. My view is that I do not want him to step foot in the town that I represent ever again. I believe that he is an appalling man, and I believe he could do further damage. I would like an assurance that he will not be back in the town that I represent. I do not know what his nationality is. I understand he is not a British national, but I may be wrong. I do not know whether he has been able to apply for settled status while he has been in the criminal justice system. If he has done, I find this ludicrous, and I would think there is a very reasonable argument to be made for deportation. I see very few redeeming features in this individual. I think he has had nothing but a negative impact on our country and our town. At the very least, if we cannot look at his sentence, it would be some comfort to know that he is going to be deported.

May I commend the hon. Gentleman on bringing this matter to the House tonight? He has done his constituents proud. His dutiful attention is on record, and we thank him for it. Does he not agree that the automatic halving of sentences should not apply to cases involving manslaughter, and that we in this House have a duty to the families of victims to ensure that changes are made to legislation in every area of the UK? Legislation may enable his constituent’s killer to serve only 10 months after sentencing, and it is absolutely right that he should be getting more.

I absolutely agree with the hon. Member, who I am very honoured has made an intervention in the second out of three Adjournment debates. I do not think he has intervened in all of them.

The Government have made some very good moves. They have ended automatic release for those found guilty of some of the most serious offences. If someone gets sentenced to 25 years in prison, no longer are they let out automatically halfway through, so there have been some moves in the right direction, but I agree: I think we need to go further. I am perhaps quite old-fashioned, but I like things to be what they are called on the tin, so that if someone gets four years, they get four years; if they get two years, they get two years; if they get nine years, they get nine years. Unless there is exceptional behaviour and a very good reason for early release, they should not get early release. Do not call it four years if it is not four years.

There is a wider point here about the extent to which we as elected representatives can shape these issues, because I think the public should have input into our law and order. I do not think we should be scared of trying to have an influence. I will conclude now, because I would like the Minister to have time to reply. I guess I wanted to have this debate as I wanted to put on record Richard Day, the man that he is and how he will be remembered. He will always be remembered. I am not just saying this. He was loved—much loved—by a very large number of people in the town. He was a typical Ipswich man: good, honest, good values, and patient with his football team. He deserves for there to be a legacy. That involves us remembering him, but also being determined that other families do not have to go through the pain that his family have gone through. That is how I would like to leave this debate, and I would be very grateful if the Minister outlined to me what steps will be taken to strengthen our criminal justice system to ensure that people such as Mr Cristea pay a much, much higher price for the unbearable pain they have inflicted.

I start by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Tom Hunt) for securing this evening’s Adjournment debate. Let me thank him also for the very moving and powerful speech that he has just made, paying very eloquent tribute to his constituent, Richard Day, who was so tragically killed just over a year ago. It was clear from my hon. Friend’s description what a loved character Richard Day was around Ipswich. It is fitting, as my hon. Friend said, that he is recalled so fondly in this Chamber in Parliament.

The case that my hon. Friend has described to the House obviously raises a number of issues, particularly touching on how children or people under the age of 18 get sentenced, the unduly lenient sentence scheme and various other issues that he mentioned. As he said, the way that people are sentenced under the age of 18 is different from the way that adults are sentenced, reflecting the fact that they are less mature when the offence is committed.

Despite that, however, there are a number of options that judges have available to them to make sure that, where appropriate for serious offences, there are a full range of options available that they can use at their discretion. For example, a section 250 sentence can be given for serious or grave offences. There are special sentences of detention for terrorist offenders of particular concern. People under 18 can get extended determinate sentences for serious sexual, violent or terrorist offences where the court considers them to be dangerous. They serve a longer sentence and serve at least two thirds of that in prison, and more if the parole board thinks it is not safe to release them. They can be given a discretionary life sentence where the offender poses a significant risk. And, of course, for murder there is a mandatory life sentence. Judges, in sentencing someone even under the age of 18, have all those options available under current law if they choose to use them.

We have gone further to protect the public against offenders of all kinds in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which passed its Third Reading less than half an hour ago. That contains many measures to protect our constituents, for example ensuring that serious and dangerous offenders spend two thirds of their sentence in prison, not half—exactly as my hon. Friend called for in his speech. In fact, those provisions apply to offenders under the age of 18 as well, where they receive a standard determinate sentence of over seven years for a serious sexual violent offence, to make sure that they are kept off the streets for longer to protect the public and to make sure the sentence served in prison better reflects the sentence handed down by the court. I hope that my hon. Friend will welcome that. Of course, he voted for that just half an hour ago—at least I assume he voted for it half an hour ago.

My hon. Friend is nodding. He did vote for it.

We have those measures to ensure that serious and violent offenders will spend longer in prison, both adults and, in those circumstances, those under 18. We are also making changes, which my hon. Friend touched on, to the sentences handed down for those under 18 for cases of murder. I know the case was manslaughter, which I will come to in a minute, but for murder, rather than having a standard 12-year starting point for children, we are now going to introduce a sliding scale in the Bill that has just passed Third Reading in the Commons. It will reflect the seriousness of the underlying offence. It will use, as a starting point, the sentence that an adult would have got for the same offence. It will vary, depending on the seriousness of the offence, but it will also have a sliding scale based on age. Instead of someone who was 17 when the offence was committed getting a significant discount, as happens at the moment, it will be only a 10% discount, which addresses some of the issues that my hon. Friend raised. It goes down to 66% of the adult sentence when people are aged 14 to 16, and then to 50% for the lower age ranges. That will ensure that people who are just under the age of 18 will have a longer sentence than is the case at the moment, so that is a very important change.

We are also, in the Bill, reducing the opportunities for people who committed murder as a child to have their minimum term reviewed—it will be less frequently once they cross the age of 18. All the measures that we in this House supported just half an hour ago will serve to stiffen sentences for people under the age of 18 who commit very serious offences, including murder, compared with the situation today. That is moving in the direction that my hon. Friend mentioned because our constituents want to see such very serious offences properly punished with longer custodial sentences and more of those sentences served in prison. That will protect the public and build public confidence in the system.

My hon. Friend asked some specific questions about this case. Obviously there is a limit to what I can say about individual cases. He asked about licence conditions following release. That is a matter for the Probation Service. I can see that the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), is with us; he has ministerial responsibility for that area. I think we can ensure that this case is drawn to the attention of the Probation Service. The victim’s family will have the right to make representations to the Probation Service as it considers the conditions it might set. We can certainly ensure that the family have that opportunity in this case so that they can make their views known.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich asked about the possibility that the accused in this case—or, now, the person who has been convicted of this offence—may not have British nationality. He asked whether they might be subject to deportation proceedings if that is the case. Under section 32 of the UK Borders Act 2007, anyone who receives a custodial sentence of more than a year is considered for deportation. Therefore if the defendant or accused—the convicted, in this case—is not a British national, because the sentence here was more than one year, they will be eligible for mandatory consideration. That will happen automatically, as a matter of routine, not because I am standing here saying that it will happen. Obviously, we can ensure that that is not overlooked administratively, although I am sure that it will not be in any event.

My hon. Friend correctly observed that this new sliding scale, which we legislated for just half an hour ago, applies to murder but does not apply to manslaughter. He asked whether it is equitable that the sliding scale applies to one offence but not the other. It is an interesting point, although not one that I had considered prior to him raising it just now. I will therefore take that point away and consider whether the sliding scale that we have legislated for regarding murder should also apply to manslaughter. After having looked at it and thought about whether there are any legal or other considerations to take into account, I will get back to my hon. Friend. On the face of it, the point is worthy of proper thought, so I will take it away and look at it properly.

I again thank my hon. Friend for raising this extremely serious case. I extend my condolences to Richard Day’s family. He was taken from them so suddenly and so brutally, and it is fitting that he has received the tribute that he has tonight from his own constituency MP.

This Government are committed to ensuring that serious offenders spend longer in prison. We have been legislating today to ensure that more of the sentence is spent in prison. I have listened carefully to what my hon. Friend said and there are some points to take away. This Government stand on the side of victims. We stand on the side of those who have suffered as a result of crime. Our commitment is being enshrined in legislation this very day, but where we need to go further, we most certainly will.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.