Report (3rd Day) (Continued)
113GD: Schedule 16, page 251, line 33, at end insert “, and
(c) which gives an opportunity to a victim or victims to talk about, or by other means express experience of, the offending and its impact.”
My Lords, I have retabled my amendment following discussion in Committee with an amended wording that is possibly clearer and specific to the restorative process. This is all about giving the victim the opportunity to talk about the whole experience of the offence they have suffered or to express their feelings in some other way which is better or easier for them. It is nothing to do with compensation or financial need, but specifically the personal, human dimensions of the event. It could also involve others who have been directly or indirectly involved in the event or events or possibly in supporting the victim, which could involve family or other relevant people close to the victim.
This puts the victim at the centre of the process, always remembering, of course, that the purpose of RJ is for both victim and offender. The dialogue and engagement of both parties is at the heart of the restorative process—for each to hear the other articulating in whatever way they choose just what the experience was like for them, what they felt then and feel now, what it meant in order to make sense of the event, to come to terms with it all and to achieve some sort of closure. The chance to hear the offender apologise for what has occurred can mean a great deal to the victim, as can the opportunity to describe the impact of the event on his or her life. It can also be very helpful—not to say a revelation—to the perpetrator, as well as making him understand the results of his actions, of which he is often entirely oblivious.
What is really important is that the amendment makes it possible for RJ to be formally available in this country, and an integral part of the sentencing process and subsequent outcomes. It makes provision for the court to defer sentencing following a guilty plea for a conference to take place, or for some time to be given to the victim to decide if this is what they really want. There will also be provision for post-sentencing restorative conferences in due course, usually in more serious cases. This will also mean that there will be a need for the development of sentencing guidelines so that the courts feel comfortable with the new provisions. After all, it is in the courtroom that the whole process will start, with the sentencer making the crucial decision to allow for the possibility of a restorative conference. This is likely to require some considerable training so that all concerned really understand and appreciate the benefits to be gained by the whole process, and how to take account of the outcomes at the point of sentence. This will involve new skills and understanding, not just in court but on the part of many other facilitators, administrators and sentencers who will have to realise that the Government intend that the option to defer for RJ should be available in all types of case. This is likely to take time to develop and evolve and, as skill and confidence grows, it will become clear that this is a process that will certainly be applicable to more than just those on the cusp of custody. Above all, it is important that the courts can feel confident that the process is being delivered following best practice, with skill and quality. This means investment in the necessary capacity at a local level.
This is a very important time for restorative justice and all those likely to benefit from it. I look forward to hearing confirmation from the Government that they, too, are confident in their commitment to taking this new way of working forward. I beg to move.
My Lords, briefly, we await with interest the Government’s response. Certainly, the amendment would appear to fill in a gap in this part of the Bill, since one’s understanding of restorative justice was that it was at least as important, if not more important, for the victim as it was for the offender. Yet while the relevant clause provides for participating,
“in an activity … where the participants consist of … the offender and one or more of the victims”,
it then goes on to say,
“which aims to maximise the offender’s awareness of the impact of the offending concerned on the victims”.
It would appear as though the view in this part of the Bill is that the offender’s needs and awareness are regarded as rather more important than those of the victim or victims. I conclude by saying that my understanding of restorative justice is that it is there for the benefit of the victims at least as much as, if not more than, that of offenders.
My Lords, I welcome the enthusiasm and support for restorative justice from across the House. Indeed, at the recommital stage of the Bill my noble friend Lady Linklater moved an amendment in relation to pre-sentence restorative justice. That amendment added an explicit reference to restorative justice meeting the needs of the victim.
Her Majesty’s Government entirely agree that RJ, when used appropriately, can be an extremely positive experience for victims. For example, our own research has shown that 85% of victims participating in direct RJ conferencing with their offenders were satisfied. We therefore gave an undertaking to consider the amendment in advance of Report. I assure the House that we are fully supportive of the intention behind the amendment. We consider that the phrase,
“meet the needs of the victim”,
needs more explicitly to reflect the benefits provided by restorative justice. Victims may have many needs as a result of a crime, and we should be clear about which of them RJ may meet.
I am sure that noble Lords will agree that one of the most important benefits of RJ is to give victims a voice in the criminal justice system. The amendment therefore seeks to reflect this. It puts an equal emphasis on victims and offenders in defining RJ requirements by focusing on victims’ need to have their voice heard. It also seeks to cover the different ways in which victims might want to express themselves. The phrase, “talk about” seems to us a direct and simple way of describing what might happen in the majority of cases—victims talking at a face-to-face meeting or mediation about the impact of the offending. The words,
“or by other means express experience of”,
is intended to cover other ways of sharing experience, thoughts and feelings.
In short, we appreciate that some victims may be too traumatised, or otherwise unable or unwilling, to talk about their experience. Instead, they may want to express their feelings in writing or drawing, or through other means. We therefore believe that the amendment will strengthen the role of victims in the restorative justice process. In the light of this, the Government propose to accept the amendment.
Amendment 113GD agreed.
113GE: Schedule 16, page 252, line 6, at end insert—
“Part 2AProvision for female offenders7A (1) Contracts made by the Secretary of State with probation trusts shall require each probation trust to make appropriate provision for the delivery of services to female offenders.
(2) Provision under sub-paragraph (1) shall include provision for women to carry out unpaid work and participate in programmes designed to change offending behaviour in groups consisting only of women.”
My Lords, I shall now speak about provision for women offenders. I echo the Minister’s remarks in relation to RJ, which he said gives victims a voice. What I hope to gain from this amendment is to ensure that the Bill gives women a voice. We are returning to the issue of specific provision for women who offend because of the recognition around this Chamber and in the country at large of the importance of this issue and the need, above all, to give statutory underpinning to the policies and plans to meet women’s needs.
When we discussed this issue in Committee, the Minister affirmed his shared understanding that women are different and need a different response from our criminal justice system. He reminded us that the Government have appointed a new women’s champion in the MoJ, Helen Grant MP, which is a positive and encouraging move. It is also clear that a specific women’s strategy will be developed. It is in this context that we have agreed on Amendment 113GF, whereby participation in community-based programmes will be provided,
“with the particular needs of women in mind”.
We hope that this new focus will ensure that this is the case in community-based provision, too, and women will not be relegated to provision designed for men. There is a clear understanding at the moment that the appointment of the new Minister, whom we greatly welcome, will give a focus on and impetus to the development of a new strategy for women. There is a difference between a strategy and having a statutory place in the MoJ’s scheme of things, and that is what we seek.
I do not think that the Minister needs reminding that these women not only have a different offending profile, but that they tend to serve very short sentences, with 58% of those in custody serving six months or less, 81% of whom have committed non-violent crimes. That is a very high proportion. However, the personal trauma that they have suffered includes more than half having suffered domestic violence and a third having been sexually abused. This, in turn, means that their needs are particularly acute and sensitive, which is reflected in the fact that 31% of all incidents of self-harm in prison are by women, although they represent only 5% of the prison population.
A recent YouGov poll commissioned by the Prison Reform Trust showed strong public support for public health measures to help tackle their offending, in particular drug treatment, help with alcohol misuse and mental health care. It found support from more than two-thirds of those polled.
It follows that it is not only these women who suffer the trauma but also their children, for whom they are the principal and often the sole carers. It is estimated that each year more than 17,700 children are separated from their mothers by imprisonment. The report on such children a few years ago showed how the loss of a parent is experienced as a bereavement. This is why it is vital that, in all but the most extreme cases, community-based sentences are a necessity if the ripples of damage are not to be extended to the next generation while the current needs of these mothers are being met. We owe this to women and children alike. We should also be aware of the implications these figures have for our future society.
We know that the Government have provided £3.7 million to probation trusts for 31 women’s centres, which is extremely welcome. We also know that NOMS funding for women’s centres is guaranteed only until March next year. I look forward to the Government’s response to this and to seeing what assurances they can give us. The Government’s strategy, with the added focus that Helen Grant will bring, will be very important to this provision’s sustainability. It absolutely needs statutory protection to ensure continuity and maintain the necessary priority and profile among all the competing demands on the public purse.
There are worrying plans to commission justice services on a payment by results basis, which immediately puts much of women’s community provision at risk. This is because small voluntary organisations simply will not be able to compete as providers as they currently do. Along with the probation trusts, they may well find themselves competing with large private sector organisations, with the inevitable loss of contracts. This would be a catastrophe and further illustrates why women must have their statutory place as part of our criminal justice provision, which this Bill represents.
It will be some time before another such Bill will come along, and women’s needs are too pressing and important in our public responsibilities to be left to an MoJ strategy alone. Following a visit to Holloway in November, the Secretary of State for Justice Chris Grayling said:
“I saw at first hand the very different challenge we face with women offenders”.—[Official Report, Commons, 13/11/12; col. 163.]
I hope that, with this insight into the needs of women who offend, he and Helen Grant, along with the Minister, will recognise the desirability and necessity of women having their statutory place in this Bill. I beg to move.
Amendment 113GF (to Amendment 113GE)
113GF: Schedule 16, line 9, leave out “in groups consisting only of women” and insert “with the particular needs of women in mind”
My Lords, I would like to explain this amendment to noble Lords who might think it is a little odd. My noble friend and I discussed the amendment that she has just moved and I suggested the wording that your Lordships will see on the Marshalled List, which my noble friend thought was a good idea. At that point the first amendment would have been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, so we sort of knew what we were doing. Other things moved around us.
The reason for the alternative wording was that it seemed to us that to provide something wider than,
“groups consisting only of women”,
would mean that what was being called for was less prescriptive as to the means, and potentially more affordable, which we hoped would appeal to the Government. However, what is particularly important is that it would widen what is known in the terminology as “the ask”.
I will briefly reinforce what my noble friend said about the children of women offenders who are given custodial sentences, and the importance of looking at the issue in the most hard-hearted way. Separating children from their mothers puts a strain on the whole family, if there are other members of the family, and undoubtedly does damage to the children. The advancing work on the neurological impact on children of being separated from their mother is becoming better known. In hard cash terms as well as in humanitarian terms, trying to reduce to the absolute minimum the number of times this happens can only be to the good of society and the public purse.
My Lords, I venture to intervene in this debate only with trepidation and because in the past I have spoken about the position of women in the criminal justice system. The two noble Baronesses who spoke were absolutely right to emphasise the question of children who are separated from their mothers by custodial sentences. I hope very much that the Government will do their best—I hope that they are listening—to begin implementing the recommendations of the report of the noble Baroness, Lady Corston. Among the things that she asked for were centres for women who are at risk of offending, who have already offended or possibly who need rehabilitation post-offending, post-sentence or during sentence. It would be a great step forward if we could have at least one such centre somewhere in England. Will the Government take this seriously and consider having one experimental centre to see what good results it can achieve? I hope that the Government have also taken on board all the other arguments in favour of the amendment.
My Lords, as treasurer of the Parliamentary Group for Children, I feel particularly concerned about this Question. I am also particularly grateful for, and pleased to learn about, the investment that the Government are making in these centres—prisons without walls, as the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, called them in her report. I feel, with her, that if we are going to make a difference in this area, we need to put the position of women on a statutory basis. It may be helpful if I quote some statistics about women and families from the Corston report. It reveals that 34% of women in prison are lone parents. Around two-thirds of women were living with their children before they came to prison. One-third had a child under five. Only 9% of children whose mothers are in prison are cared for by their fathers. Around 18,000 children each year are separated from their mothers by imprisonment. Only 5% of women prisoners’ children remain in their home when their mother has been sentenced to custody. As many as 25% are cared for by grandmothers, 29% by other family members or friends, and 12% are in care, with foster parents or adopted.
The noble Baroness, Lady Corston, goes on to say:
“One of the most alarming statistics that I have seen reported appears in the Revolving Doors Agency’s survey in which 1,400 women serving their first sentence in Holloway were interviewed. 42 women had no idea who was looking after their children. Quite apart from the dreadful possibility that these children might not be in a safe environment, this must cause mothers great distress and have deleterious consequences for their mental health”.
I am very grateful to the previous Government for their response to the Corston report and for the current Government’s work in this area, but I hope the Minister responds to the request for a statutory basis for women in the probation area.
My Lords, in her report a few years ago my noble friend Lady Corston drew attention to the reality that existing provisions, both in prison and in the community, are largely geared to male offenders and the needs of male offenders. The Corston report called for separate services, locally available, geared to the needs of women offenders in order to reduce as far as possible the disruption to family life and the impact on children The needs of their children and families have a considerable bearing on the ability of women offenders to attend programmes and avoid breaches of the order, and on the effectiveness of those programmes in having a positive impact on reducing reoffending. My noble friend’s report also drew attention to the number of female offenders in prison who had been, or were, the victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, which are not normally issues that have to be taken into account by providers of services, or addressed by the skills they have to provide for male offenders.
A recent joint inspection report on alternatives to custody for women offenders highlighted the lack of women-specific provision for unpaid work and offending behaviour programmes, though it also said that women-only provision where available was often very successful. Investment in credible and appropriate alternatives to custody for women is essential. Programmes should be specifically designed for female offenders and address their needs. As well as reducing reoffending, community sentences designed specifically for women should help reduce the rate of breach as they should be capable of better fitting with women’s needs and responsibilities.
Schedule 16, dealing non-custodially with offenders, actually makes no specific provision or reference to women. The amendments seek to address these concerns by ensuring that probation trusts are required to make appropriate provision for the delivery of services to female offenders that will include provision for women to carry out unpaid work and participate in programmes designed to change offending behaviour with the particular needs of women in mind. I hope the Minister will accept this group of amendments and recognise the significant gap created by the absence of specially tailored arrangements for dealing with women offenders, most of whom, as has already been said, have committed non-violent offences, and whose sentences if they end up in prison can lead to the break-up of families, with potentially disastrous consequences for all concerned, not least the children who can end up having to go into care.
My Lords, we are fully aware of the point that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, made in closing. One of the special factors about women in the criminal justice system and in prison is that the impact of their incarceration is an impact not only on themselves but also on their children and their families. For that reason, the Government have taken the Corston report of 2007 very much as the template of their approach to women. I have benefited from having a number of conversations with the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, over the past couple of years about the implementation and carrying forward of the report. I know that my colleague Helen Grant has also met the noble Baroness to discuss these issues.
It is interesting to note that the Government accepted 40 out of the 43 recommendations in the Corston report and made a range of commitments across government departments to take them forward. There have been real improvements in the past five years under successive Governments, including significant investment in women’s community centres to address holistically the underlying causes of women’s offending such as drug and alcohol addiction, mental health issues and histories of abuse.
The female prison estate was reduced by 400 places with the closure last year of HM Prison Morton Hall. We have about 4,000 women still in prison. However, the cross-government strategy includes: piloting and, subject to business case approval, rolling out liaison and diversion services in police custody and the courts by 2014; the piloting of drug recovery wings for drug and alcohol-misusing prisoners at three women’s prisons—New Hall, Askham Grange and Styal—and the development of intensive treatment-based alternatives to custody for offenders with drug or mental health problems, including four women-only services at Wirral, Bristol, Birmingham and Tyneside. In addition, there is the implementation of particular provisions in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 with regard to remand and breach, which are expected to reduce the number of women in custody, and the delivery of the Home Office-led Call to End Violence Against Women and Girls, which will address the high levels of abuse experienced by female offenders. The commissioning of women’s services, including women’s community services, has been devolved to local probation trusts to ensure that provision is integrated into local services. This year’s £3.78 million of funding is now embedded in NOMS’ community budget baselines to allow for continued support of provision for women.
As I indicated in Committee when we last considered the issue, I fully agree with noble Lords that it is important that the criminal justice system is properly responsive to the needs of female offenders. I share the view that it is also essential that we take account of women’s experiences and needs. That is why I am pleased that the National Offender Management Service is still rolling out the Women Awareness Staff Programme, currently with a focus on training the trainers, so that they can provide support to staff and voluntary and community sector partners working with female offenders. This covers issues such as self-harm, relationships and abuse, and is complementary to the Women’s Aid best practice framework, Supporting Women Offenders Who Have Experienced Domestic and Sexual Violence.
I am also pleased to confirm that the National Offender Management Service has been working to develop the evidence base around what works with female offenders. Over the coming year, this work will support the strategic approach to female offenders as set out in the National Offender Management Service’s Commissioning Intentions discussion document, published in October of this year. All probation trusts are required by the National Offender Management Service’s Commissioning Intentions document to make appropriate provision for women in the community to address factors associated with their reoffending, using third sector and private sector services, where appropriate.
The National Offender Management Service has also published information on the specific needs of women to support the commissioning of relevant offender services for this group as part of the commissioning round for 2012-13. Already probation trusts across the country are coming up with innovative, new approaches to working with women that reflect the local situation. There are many good examples of women-only provision in the community. For example, Nelson Probation Office in Lancashire has a women-only reporting day. In Durham in the Tees Valley, the trust provides women-only reporting centres in each of the six local delivery units, with community based support and childcare provision located at these points. In Derby, there is a women-specific programme addressing violent behaviour.
Going forward, Probation Trusts will be supported with, as has been mentioned, an additional £3.78 million of funding for women’s community services. This funding has now been embedded in the National Offender Management Service community budget baselines to support the provision of appropriate services for women. Trusts are currently discussing with the National Offender Management Service their proposals for women’s services in 2013-14, and will be challenged when these do not appear to be sufficiently robust.
It is essential that trusts have the freedom to make the best arrangements for each individual offender. In addition, the National Offender Management Service’s unpaid work operating manual requires that women should be allocated to work placements which take account of their particular needs. This includes providing flexibility to take into account childcare responsibilities or the need to be in a safe setting.
I mentioned in Committee that work was well under way on our promised strategic objectives for female offenders and that we planned to publish these by the end of the year. However, we are no longer in a position to do so. This is because, since my new ministerial colleagues took up their posts in September, we have been keen to review the current position, and we have all been looking closely at our policy on female offenders. As I said earlier, Helen Grant and the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, have met and the noble Baroness is aware that we are delaying it. I think delaying it is good news, because we will be able to reflect in the work when it is published the buy-in that was mentioned from the Secretary of State—a conviction by him that we need a vigorous, robust women-oriented strategy.
I know that my noble friend thinks that this would also be improved by a statutory commitment in the Bill, but I really do not believe that this is the case. I mentioned in an earlier debate the ability of some of my colleagues to look gift horses in the mouth on some of the progress we are making in this area. This is equally true as far as women are concerned. This Government—and certainly my department—have been giving a new urgency and a higher priority to services for women, and this will be reflected in the strategy and programme that we roll out. In the circumstances, I would ask my noble friends to withdraw their amendments.
My Lords, I do not think—at any rate, in my case—it is about looking a gift horse in the mouth. Rather, we are only looking at it in the mouth long enough to get it into the stable and close the door. However, I hear what my noble friend says. He stressed flexibility; he was stressing it before he even got to use the term. It has been clear to me for a long time that my noble friend does not use empty words on this subject and that his heart really is in this; I welcome that. To the extent that he can ever see amendments from these Benches as intended to be helpful, this one certainly was.
I, too, choose to look at the delay in the publication in a positive light, given the introduction that he gave it. I had intended to be helpful with this amendment; I will not accuse my noble friend of looking the gift horse of the amendment in the mouth, but I will beg leave to withdraw it.
Amendment 113GF (to Amendment 113GE) withdrawn.
Amendment 113GE withdrawn.
113H: Schedule 16, page 255, line 24, leave out from “In” to “before” in line 25 and insert “paragraph 1(5) of each of Schedules 9 and 13 (certain requirements not to be included in orders to be complied with in Scotland),”
My Lords, this group consists of three government amendments that, if not technical amendments, are certainly not controversial. Amendment 114 is intended to remove uncommenced elements of Section 67 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 and make a minor consequential amendment to the Criminal Justice Act 2003.
I know that it might seem odd for this House to be considering again a provision that was debated so recently both here and in the other place, but it is right for us to do so. This amendment repeals provisions in the LASPO Act that, if brought into force, would mean that the courts could consider a case where an offender has breached a community order without reasonable excuse and allow the order to continue unchanged.
Having reconsidered their position, the Government do not think that it is appropriate for offenders to breach their community order and not face any sanction at all. We must ensure that both offenders and the public have confidence in community orders and take them seriously. Offenders will not take their order seriously if breaching does not have consequences. If an offender breaches a community order, we believe that a court should be able to take one of the three following actions: make the order more onerous; revoke the order and resentence for the original offence; or impose a fine. The last option allows the order to remain unchanged, while at the same time imposing a penalty for the breach. The courts did not have this power until it was included in the LASPO Act 2012. I am sure noble Lords will be pleased to know that it was brought into force on 3 December.
The Government believe that this revised framework provides the courts with the right options for dealing with failures to comply with community orders. It will still give the courts different options to tailor responses to breaches to individual offenders. However, it will also ensure there is a sanction of some sort for any offender who is found to have breached. Accordingly, on further consideration, we now believe that there is no good case for allowing offenders who fail to comply with court orders without a reasonable excuse to receive no penalty.
Amendment 114 also corrects a technical error in Section 150 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. This section was amended by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, which prevents a court from making a community sentence where a mandatory minimum sentence for the new aggravated knife possession offences in the LASPO Act apply. The LASPO change inadvertently prevents the court from giving a 16 or 17 year-old a youth rehabilitation order, which is the youth equivalent of the adult community order for these offences. Amendment 114 corrects this technical error so that the new provisions work as they were originally intended to. Without this amendment, were the court to decide to set aside the mandatory minimum, it would not be able to give a youth rehabilitation order and would therefore have no option but to give a lesser penalty such as a referral order or a fine.
Amendments 113H and 113J are of a technical nature. The intention is to allow for the transfer of community orders and suspended sentences to Northern Ireland, where an order containing location monitoring under the new electronic monitoring requirement is made in England or Wales but the offender lives in, or is planning to move to, Northern Ireland. It is already possible to transfer existing orders to Northern Ireland, so this provision merely extends that capability to the new location monitoring provision that we are introducing in the Bill. Although location monitoring is not currently available in Northern Ireland under existing contractual arrangements, this will be addressed in the retendering of the contract in 2013. This provision will therefore enable appropriate cases to be transferred when the operational arrangements are in place in Northern Ireland. The transfer will be possible only where the court is satisfied that the appropriate arrangements are in place. This means that the tag will be capable of being fitted and the offender’s location will then be able to be monitored. If the court is not satisfied that the necessary tracking technology is available, the court in England and Wales will not be able to transfer the order.
Noble Lords will have noticed that the provision covers Northern Ireland but not Scotland. This is because at the moment there is no statutory provision for the imposition of tracking as a requirement in Scotland. If and when the time comes that Scottish courts can impose location monitoring as a requirement, we will bring forward legislation enabling the transfer of orders, including such requirements, from England and Wales to the Scottish jurisdiction. I beg to move.
My Lords, I rise slightly diffidently to ask a question about Amendment 114. I am not sure that I fully understood what the Minister said, though I am sure it is my fault. At one point I thought he was saying that the effect of Amendment 114 was to take out from LASPO an obligation to deal with breaches and insert instead a power to deal with breaches and give the court the opportunity to make its own mind up, but then I thought I understood him to be saying the opposite, that the purpose of this amendment is to ensure that where there is a breach of a community order the court is obliged to impose some penalty. I would be grateful if he would clarify that.
Perhaps the Minister could also clarify how it comes about that we are asked to amend LASPO quite so quickly and whether or not the passages that would be amended—indeed, removed—by this amendment were debated. I have no recollection as to whether or not they were, but it would be good to know if something that was debated, for example, in this House is now being removed in this way at 9.45 pm on the penultimate day of Report.
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord is long enough in the tooth to remember other times when Governments have taken a second look at relatively recent legislation.
To clarify, Amendment 114 will remove uncommenced elements of Section 67 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. The provision being removed would have empowered courts dealing with a breach of a community order to allow the order to continue unchanged. Not commencing the provision means that the court must make the order more onerous, resentence for the original offence or fine the offender for breach. In lay man’s language—which is the only language I can use, because I am a lay man in this—in the Government’s opinion, the LASPO Act left an option that they now wish to change, which is that breaches of the order could have gone unpunished. We do not think that that is a sensible way of getting people to take the orders seriously and therefore this amendment empowers the courts to make the order more onerous, resentence for the original offence or fine the offender for breach.
Amendment 113H agreed.
Amendments 113J to 115
113J: Schedule 16, page 255, line 26, at end insert—
“(4) pIn paragraph 3(1) of Schedule 9 and paragraph 6(1) of Schedule 13 (pre-conditions for imposing requirements where offender will be living in Northern Ireland) before the “and” at the end of paragraph (a) insert—
“(aa) in the case of an order imposing an electronic monitoring requirement within section 215(1)(b)—(i) that any necessary provision can be made in the offender’s case under arrangements that exist for persons resident in that locality, and(ii) that arrangements are generally operational throughout Northern Ireland (even if not always operational everywhere there) under which the offender’s whereabouts can be electronically monitored,”.(5) In paragraphs 3(3)(b) and (4) and 13(b) of Schedule 9 and paragraph 6(3)(b) and (4) of Schedule 13 (references to the pre-conditions) for “and (b)” substitute “to (b)”.
(6) In paragraph 4(3)(d) of Schedule 9 and paragraph 9(3)(d) of Schedule 13 (disapplication of section 218(4)) for “subsection (4)” substitute “subsections (4) and (9)”.
(7) In paragraph 17 of Schedule 13 (reference to the pre-conditions) for “and (b)”, in the second place, substitute “to (b)”.”
114: Schedule 16, page 255, line 31, at end insert—
“Part 4ACommunity orders: further provisionBreaches of community orders21A (1) Omit paragraph (a) in each of subsections (2) and (5) of section 67 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (amendments which would have turned duties to deal with breaches into powers to do so).
(2) In paragraph 9(6) of Schedule 8 to the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (which refers to provision that would have been made by those amendments) for “have the power” substitute “be required”.
Community order not to be made in case of knife etc offence attracting minimum sentence21B (1) In section 150 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (no power to make community order or youth rehabilitation order where sentence fixed by law)—
(a) the existing provision becomes subsection (1) of that section, and(b) after that subsection insert—“(2) The power to make a community order is not exercisable in respect of an offence for which the sentence—
(a) falls to be imposed under section 1A(5) of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 (minimum sentence for offence of threatening with offensive weapon in public), or(b) falls to be imposed under section 139AA(7) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (minimum sentence for offence of threatening with article with blade or point in public or on school premises or with offensive weapon on school premises).”(2) In consequence of sub-paragraph (1), in Schedule 26 to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 omit paragraph 19 (which would have made provision corresponding to the new section 150(2) of the 2003 Act but also preventing the making of youth rehabilitation orders).”
115: Schedule 16, page 258, line 13, at end insert “,
or information which is held with information so held;”
Amendments 113J to 115 agreed.
Amendment 115A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
115B: Schedule 16, page 260, line 24, at end insert—
“Part 8Reorganisation of the National Probation Service1 The Offender Management Act 2007 is amended as follows.
2 After section 15 insert—
“15A Power to reorganise the National Probation Service
(1) Any plans to reorganise the Probation Service for England and Wales must be instituted by regulations.
(2) Regulations under subsection (1) shall be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure of each House of Parliament.””
This amendment is similar to one that I tabled in Committee in order to give the Minister the opportunity to say more about the Government’s intentions for the future of the probation service. The amendment states that:
“Any plans to reorganise the Probation Service for England and Wales must be instituted by regulations”.
It adds that those regulations,
“shall be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure of each House of Parliament”.
Bearing in mind that in this Bill we are asked to agree to significant changes in community sentencing, which will be dependent on an effective and properly resourced probation service, the Government still cannot tell us what their intentions are for the probation service. It therefore does not seem unreasonable to agree to this amendment, which will enable both Houses to satisfy themselves that whatever changes the Government want to make to our probation service, they would not be in conflict with their objectives and changes on community sentencing contained in the Bill.
In Committee, I asked the Minister a number of questions, to which I received neither a specific answer then nor a specific answer in writing subsequently. I drew attention to the Minister’s statement that:
“I cannot imagine that any future structure would not draw on the experience and ethos that makes it such an excellent service”.—[Official Report, 30/10/12; col. 549.]
I asked what he meant by that and pointed out that it could mean that the Government were nevertheless still looking to hand over to outside contractors large parts of the network currently undertaken by the probation service; and that the experience and ethos to which the Minister had referred would be drawn upon because he would expect significant numbers of existing probation staff to be transferred to those contractors. I asked the Minister if that was an interpretation of his comments that he would either accept as accurate or not be prepared to exclude. I received no clear answer, even though it appears that the Government have indicated that some 60% of probation work will be put out to competitive tender.
I also asked the Minister which of the probation service’s current responsibilities the Government intended it to continue to undertake. Once again, there was no clear answer. I also asked the Minister what the objective was in looking to reorganise the probation service, bearing in mind that he had only recently said that it was “excellent”. Once again, there was no clear answer. I also asked the Minister what improvements in the “excellent” probation service the Government believed could be achieved without potentially putting at risk the quality of the service currently being provided. Again, there was no clear answer. I also asked the Minister how many staff were currently in the probation service and how many the Government envisaged there will be in future, taking into account their proposals in this Bill on community sentencing and their declared intentions on restorative justice and the role of rehabilitation in reducing reoffending. Again, there was no clear answer.
What the Minister did say was that the Government aimed to set out a vision for the future system over the next few weeks, which was not the most helpful response to the questions that I had asked. In the light of the Government’s lack of enthusiasm for answering legitimate questions about their intentions for the probation trusts and services—one does not embark down the road of reorganisation and change without having some clear view about where one wants to go and why—it seems perfectly reasonable that it should not be possible for the Government to make any attempt to reduce significantly or change the role of the probation service without Parliament being fully aware of what is going on, without the opportunity for a full debate with Ministers having to justify their proposals to Parliament, and without Parliament having to agree to those changes. This is precisely what is provided for in my amendment, which I move.
My Lords, I am not sure I shall be able to help the noble Lord, Lord Rosser; he asks lots of questions, most of which do not have a great deal to do with the Bill but have a lot to do with the Government’s declared intention to reform the probation service. We have certainly made no secret of that; indeed, he will be familiar with our consultation paper, Punishment and Reform: Effective Probation Services. He will be aware that this was the first step in determining our approach to how reform is delivered. Further consideration is under way to determine how best to meet the requirements of a probation service that delivers rehabilitation outcomes. We are in the process of carefully considering the way forward and will announce further details of our plans shortly. As I indicated previously, we will be keen to engage with probation staff, representative groups and all those who can make a contribution to the success of this important area of work.
It is interesting—I think I have explained this before to the noble Lord—that the reason why the powers to do all this are not in this or any future Bill is because they are within the powers of the Offender Management Act 2007. During the passage of that Act, there was a debate on the merits of parliamentary scrutiny when establishing, amending and dissolving probation trusts. In the Bill as originally published, no parliamentary procedure applied to the power in Clause 5(1) to establish, alter the name or purpose of, or dissolve a probation trust. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee noted that precedents existed for that, but felt that it lacked sufficient information about how trusts were to be established to make a recommendation about its appropriateness in this context. The committee therefore drew the matter to the attention of the House. In light of the debates on this subject, the previous Administration accepted on the floor of the House that this important power should be subject to parliamentary procedure. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland of Asthal, asserted that the affirmative procedure would be excessive but tabled a government amendment introducing a negative procedure, which was accepted by this House. On that basis, the Government believe that the parliamentary scrutiny set out in the Offender Management Act 2007 is adequate and we share the view taken by the previous Administration that the affirmative procedure would be excessive. I therefore ask the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister for that reply. He started off seeking to suggest that the issue raised in the amendment is not really relevant to this Bill, but it certainly is. The Bill seeks to make significant changes to community sentencing and the delivery of those services will be dependent on an effective and properly resourced probation service. It will not be particularly easy to deliver those changes in relation to community sentencing—of course the changes also cover restorative justice and the role of rehabilitation in reducing reoffending—if at the same time it is the Government’s intention to, metaphorically speaking, turn the probation service upside down. That must clearly be a relevant issue in the Bill. Is the probation service geared, both at the present time and in future, to delivering the objectives and changes that the Government wish to make in community sentencing?
The Minister made reference to the 2007 Act. I appreciate that it is his prerogative if he wishes to express an alternative view, but I do not think that the kind of transfer or apparent transfer of responsibilities away from the probation service that seems to be envisaged at the moment was envisaged at the time of the 2007 Act. Obviously, it is the potential implications of what the Government may be putting forward that have led to this amendment calling for the affirmative procedure to be used. I am sorry that the Minister has not been able to give any assurances at all about the extent to which the existing probation service will continue in being. He has not been able to give any assurances about what responsibilities may or will not be transferred away from the existing probation service. Indeed, put bluntly, he has not really been prepared to say anything at all, which will certainly do nothing to damp down some of the concerns over what the Government’s real intentions are. I appreciate that the Minister is not going to say any more so I have little alternative but to leave it at that. I beg leave to withdraw.
Amendment 115B withdrawn.
116: Transpose Schedule 16 to after Schedule 13
My Lords, Amendments 116 and 117 are straightforward technical amendments that simply move Schedule 16 to sit after Schedule 13 and Schedule 17 to sit before Schedule 14. Due to the recommittal process, these schedules are not currently in the correct place when compared to their corresponding clauses. These amendments merely move the schedules into their correct chronological place in the Bill. I beg to move.
Amendment 116 agreed.
116ZA: After Clause 25, insert the following new Clause—
“Requirement for review
(1) The provisions under section 25 and Schedule 17 shall cease to have effect at the end of a five year period beginning with the day the provisions come into force.
(2) Before the end of the five year period, the Secretary of State must—
(a) provide for a review of these provisions, in consultation with the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Director of the Serious Fraud Office,(b) set out the conclusions of the review, and(c) lay the Report before both Houses of Parliament.”
My Lords, knowing the Government’s inveterate enthusiasm for sunset clauses, I am not sufficiently naive to believe that the part of the amendment that deals with the sunset clause will command their agreement. However, the amendment is tabled partly to reflect a potentially dangerous underestimate of how the public might regard this major change in proceedings that we have collectively endorsed, albeit with varying degrees of enthusiasm. The objective of the amendment is to reinforce the need for a review of the operation of the provision which, in fairness, the Minister has previously indicated would take place as part of the normal post-legislative review process. It is particularly important in this case that we carry public support for this change because there is still a danger that there may be a suspicion on the part of the public that large companies are able to—I use the phrase I used in the recommitment debate—buy their way out of a prosecution. That is not the intention and we subscribe to the view that this is a sensible way of dealing with some matters, particularly in the light of the failure of the existing system and organisations to manage successful prosecutions.
The important part of the amendment is that which looks to the review as being a joint exercise with the Director of Public Prosecutions and the director of the SFO, and to the laying of a report before Parliament. There will certainly be a review and I see no difficulty in a report being laid before and discussed by Parliament although, as with other amendments which I shall be moving later, I resile from the position that affirmative resolutions and the like would be required to approve them. It is important that there is an opportunity for proper parliamentary debate to help carry public opinion with us as we move in the novel direction of deferred prosecution agreements. That will apply to other amendments as well as this one. Last week the Minister kindly organised a meeting at which four of us who are in the Chamber tonight, apart from the Ministers, were present and I rather thought he was sensitive to that view. Therefore, I hope he can give the assurance that any discussion of a review would be in consultation with the directors of the two relevant departments.
My noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith will speak to his amendment. I shall await what he says with interest and comment on it if necessary at the end. I reserve my position on that but I hope the Minister will look with some degree of acceptance on the point about having a proper consultation as part of the review and in discussion in Parliament. I beg to move.
My Lords, I want to speak to Amendment 116ZA and to refer to Amendment 116E, which stands in my name in this group. Both amendments touch on a similar point, although possibly from different perspectives. I note that my noble friend Lord Beecham and I have perhaps started in slightly different places on this part of the Bill, although maybe we are moving towards a middle position. As the House knows, I am one of those who has been more in the enthusiastic group who support the introduction of deferred prosecution agreements. I believe that they are capable of assisting enormously, in particular cases, in dealing with the problems with which we are faced in crime.
I am sorry that the Government have such a blinkered approach to where these deferred prosecution agreements can assist. What obviously lies behind my Amendment 116E is at least to enable other offences to be added to the list of those that are covered by deferred prosecution agreements without the need for further primary legislation. I have no illusions as to whether the Government will accept this amendment. I am grateful for the meeting to which my noble friend Lord Beecham has already referred and for the attention paid to what was said by a number of us in that meeting. I am also clear that the Government will not move, which is a shame.
Although my amendment deals with offences, the Minister will recall that not only I but others in this Chamber have been concerned also about the ambit of deferred prosecution agreements. It is not strictly speaking the subject of an amendment tonight but the question of reviewing this includes whether it can be reviewed not only to consider the efficacy of the system as it is being introduced but also whether its ambit is appropriate, both in terms of offences and, I repeat, in terms of individuals.
Perhaps I may say this to the noble Lord and, through him, to his ministerial colleagues and their officials: I believe that the Government are making a big mistake in not seeing the advantage of deferred prosecutions in other cases. In this House previously, in Committee, I referred to the benefits that I have seen, particularly in relation to drug offences. If you go to any Crown Court in the country—certainly, this was the case when I sat regularly there and I believe it is likely still to be the case—you will see case after case to do with drugs. It is either a drug offence, or an offence of petty theft, burglary, mugging or something of that sort to get money for drugs. It is hugely damaging to our society but we do not seem to be that good at finding solutions to it. I believe that the carrot and stick approach, which deferred prosecution agreements provide, is one way to deal with that.
I know that the Minister will not respond positively to that today and I know that he will not respond positively to my amendment. However, as my noble friend Lord Beecham said, I hope that there can be a clear commitment to review the operation. I ask the Minister to accept that that commitment should include looking at not just whether the system is working, as it is about to be enacted, but also whether it could be more broadly based in relation to offences or to individuals. If he cannot give that assurance, I, for one, would support—although this was not my position previously—my noble friend Lord Beecham’s amendment as a way of forcing that review.
I shall speak briefly to both amendments. While I support in outline the idea that there should be a review, the amendment in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Beecham and Lord Rosser, does not include a provision for an extension of the schedule. It seems to me that a review should be part of a continuing process. I agree very much with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, that there is considerable potential for deferred prosecution agreements. I would expect a review to come out with a recommendation for extension, rather than for limitation, and certainly for continuation of the system unless it turns out to have been a failure, which is not the expectation that I have.
I also agree with the noble and learned Lord in his amendment. I think it is a shame that the range of offences is confined to financial and economic offences. I entirely understand the Government’s position that, at this stage, this is an exercise in putting a toe into the water in unfamiliar territory, and I accept that it is unfamiliar territory. However, the extension of the offences under paragraph 31 of the schedule is subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. For my part, I do not see a huge distinction between adding other financial and economic offences to the list of offences under that procedure and adding the other offences of which we spoke at the meeting and in the debate in Committee. Health and safety and environmental offences have been mentioned, and drug offences were mentioned by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith.
We are in the middle of providing for what the Minister has called a rehabilitation revolution. I regard that as a useful phrase and a useful and beneficial concept. It seems to me that deferred prosecution agreements, with their potential for arrangements to be made to encourage future compliant behaviour, can be seen as part of that overall rehabilitation revolution. I know that my noble friend will not accept these amendments tonight, but I urge him to bear in mind, with those in his department in charge of these things, that a wider view can be taken of these agreements.
My Lords, the amendments in this group relate to issues raised and debated in Committee. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, that they have been considered in the intervening time. However, as the noble and learned Lord expected, the Government’s position on both issues is unchanged for the reasons that I will reiterate.
Amendment 116ZA seeks to introduce a sunset clause—I am always conscious that the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, often talks of sunset clauses after the sun has set; I am sure there is no direct relevance—for the DPA scheme. The Government still consider that to be unnecessary at present. Let me be clear: our approach to these proposals allows us to test the water, as my noble friend Lord Marks, said, by dipping a toe in to this novel approach. Our proposals have been designed to deal with the particular issue of bringing organisations to justice for economic crime.
However, let me reassure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, that the introduction of the DPA scheme is not a pilot. The Government are committed to DPAs becoming a permanent fixture in the fight against corporate economic and financial crime. For this reason, we do not consider the proposed sunset clause to be appropriate. Additionally, this provision could have a number of prejudicial consequences for any DPA under negotiation, in force or expired. The inclusion of such a clause would introduce uncertainty that might deter prosecutors and organisations entering into a DPA.
Let me assure the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, that the Government will review the operation of the scheme following its introduction, and I am content to reiterate that undertaking here. Pursuant to the Government’s policy on post-legislative scrutiny, of which noble Lords are aware, all new primary legislation is reviewed within five years of Royal Assent. We consider that there is no need to provide a statutory basis for the review of the DPA legislation and consider, on this occasion, that the undertaking we have given on post-legislative scrutiny conducted in the usual way is sufficient.
Amendment 116E, which was tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, broadens the scope of the Secretary of State’s power to specify by order further offences in relation to which DPAs may be entered. As has been stated already, the amendment would extend its scope to the addition of any offence whatever that could be committed by an organisation. We discussed this issue in Committee and have considered with great care the potential to extend the scope of the DPA scheme to cover a broader range of offences. The Government remain of the view that the scope of the scheme should be limited to financial and economic wrongdoing and that it should not be extended beyond this by way of secondary legislation for the following reasons.
First, 77% of the respondents to our consultation agreed that corporate economic crime is the right focus for these proposals, at least initially. Fewer than half of respondents supported the broader availability of DPAs. As we made clear in Committee, the proposals set out in Schedule 17 have been designed as a response to the particular problems of prosecuting organisations alleged to have been involved in financial or economic wrongdoing. Too few organisations are being held to account for economic wrongdoing owing to the particular challenges in investigating and prosecuting the conduct. These challenges are not as acute for other types of corporate offending, including—and I know other noble Lords have mentioned this—environmental offending, where successful prosecutions have been made and where there is already a range of effective alternatives to prosecution. Those responsible for prosecuting offences other than economic and financial crimes have not identified a broader need for DPAs.
The introduction of DPAs, as I have already said, is very much a toe-dipping exercise. We need to ensure that the benefits of DPAs are proven, that there are no unintended consequences and that the right cases are still being prosecuted before considering broadening the scope. The Government are therefore opposed at this stage to removing the restriction on the offences that might be brought within the scope of these proposals. We remain firmly of the view that the current draft of the schedule draws the scope of the DPA scheme appropriately.
However, I would like to reassure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, that the Government will keep this matter under review. If DPAs prove effective in tackling corporate economic crime, and the case is made for extending their availability for other types of offending, then we will reconsider this issue in the future. However, we consider that such a significant change in the scope of the scheme should be made only following appropriate consultation, and by way of primary legislation, with the more rigorous scrutiny that that entails, compared with the affirmative resolution procedure.
I therefore ask noble Lords to wait until these proposals have been fully tested in relation to economic crime in England and Wales, have been shown to be effective and, most importantly, have gained public confidence, before pressing for an extension in their scope. This is an important step forward. It is a new area and therefore it is right that we focus for the time being on economic crime. In light of these points and with the assurance that we will keep the scope of the DPA scheme under review I would be grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, would agree to withdraw his amendment and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, would agree not to move his amendment.
My Lords, I am slightly disappointed by that response. It is not clear to me what form the review will take. Leaving aside the sunset clause—which I virtually left aside in moving the amendment—the amendment really talked about the consultation between the Government and the Director of Public Prosecution and the Director of the SFO and producing a joint report, as it were, for Parliament to discuss. It is not clear to me that that follows from what the Minister has described as the usual post-legislative scrutiny. I would be glad to be corrected if it is intended to bring effectively a joint report to be debated as part of that process.
In relation to the reluctance to envisage bringing forward other areas of law—environmental law was debated at some length at an earlier stage but not necessarily just that area—if we have a five-year review it will be at least six years before primary legislation is likely to be enacted, given that it would have to take its place in the queue, as it were, at that time. That strikes me as rather too long a period to wait, given the general acceptance that this offers a way forward, particularly in the field of something like the environment where you are not just looking at a financial penalty but at different ways, which we will touch on later in the amendments of my noble and learned friend, of corporations recognising their responsibilities in practical rather than purely monetary terms.
I have, as I have previously expressed, some reservations about extending the doctrine to individuals, although I take my noble and learned friend’s point about drugs, which is made on a day on which the Government seem to have been much too quick to reject a call from the Home Affairs Select Committee for a Royal Commission to look into what is not a noticeably successful policy on drugs and their impact on society and the courts. However, clearly, the Government are not minded to move things in the direction that either I or my noble and learned friend would wish tonight. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 116ZA withdrawn.
116A: Schedule 17, page 262, line 21, leave out sub-paragraph (4)
My Lords, I will speak to all four amendments in this group, which are in my name. Amendments 116A and 116B cover the same grounds. They are really alternatives, and I will explain why. However, the fundamental point is that they deal with the provision in the Bill that the,
“amount of any financial penalty agreed between the prosecutor and”—
the company—let us call it that—
“must be broadly comparable to the fine that a court would have imposed on”—
“on conviction for the alleged offence following a guilty plea”.
I firmly believe that that is a wrong provision. It removes, first, the incentive for an agreement to be made. It is odd, because the Government put forward the limitations on the deferred prosecution agreement on the pragmatic grounds that it is often difficult to prosecute these offences. Therefore they want to have an alternative system which people suspected guilty of financial or economic crime will be prepared to accept. Well, they will be prepared to accept it if the offer is acceptable. There is another point to which I will come, but this provision says that if you do the deal you can only do it on the basis of the same financial penalty. Bear in mind that we are dealing with companies and commercial organisations which cannot be sent to prison, so it is the financial penalty which matters. It seems, with respect, to make no sense to remove the possibility from an agreement which provides some sort of incentive to make that agreement. To impose a requirement that the penalty must be,
“broadly comparable to the fine that a court would have imposed on … a guilty plea”,
seems, as I have suggested, to be wrong in principle.
However, there is another reason. It was pointed out clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, in Committee, when he noted that this provision only applies if there is a financial penalty. There are a number of options in the agreement: a financial penalty; compensation; donation of money to charity; disgorgement of profits; implementing a compliance programme; and so on. There is a whole menu, but this provision says that if you have a financial penalty is has got to be the same fine that would have been imposed, broadly speaking.
That seems to lead to an absurd situation. In the discussions that are taking place, the company will say, “We don’t want to pay the full fine that we would have paid. We are prepared to accept our guilt even though we think that we could fight this in court and get off, but we do not want to pay the full penalty”. Then the prosecutor is faced with saying, “Well, either that means no penalty at all, because then I can escape the straitjacket of subsection (4), or you have to pay the full penalty, so there is no deal. So we will be forced to go into court; we may lose the case; it will cost the public a great deal”. It seems to make no sense at all, and the noble Lord, Lord Marks, was quite right to draw attention to that.
It is critical that deferred prosecution agreements work. Of all the amendments necessary to make this work, I suggest that this is one. One needs to remove the straitjacket whereby the penalty has to be the same as the fine that would have been imposed. In promoting that—I shall come to the way to do it—I want to underline that the scheme that the Government have put forward contains safeguards against a wrong agreement. Those safeguards are, first, that the deal has to be approved by the Director of Public Prosecutions, the director of the Serious Fraud Office or another senior prosecutor specifically designated for that role. There is no doubt that a senior prosecutor will have to make the decision. Secondly, the deal has to go through not one but two approvals of the court, the preliminary approval and the final approval. That is the structure of the proposal. I cannot see why this opportunity to make an agreement with some greater incentive should be removed.
There are two ways of achieving this, and that is what my two alternative amendments are designed to do. One is simply to remove sub-paragraph (4) altogether. I would be content with that. It achieves the objective and it leaves it to the discretion of the prosecutor and the court to fix the right elements. If there is some sentencing guideline as to what is appropriate, that is perfectly proper and perhaps it does not need to be contained in the Bill. That way of dealing with the matter meets an objection raised when I spoke to the other amendment in Committee when it was said that by saying “not more than broadly comparable”, one had to work out what the fine would have been, that that was difficult and it was therefore unreasonable to say that it should be “not more than broadly comparable”. I did not say then what I say now: that seems to be an objection to the provision as it stands, in any event. If the Government prefer, I accept that the alternative way of doing this would be not to say that the amount of any financial penalty should be “broadly comparable” to the fine that would have been imposed on a guilty plea, but “not more than” such a fine. It sets a finite level.
I want to make one further point before I briefly deal with the two other amendments in my name, Amendments 116C and 116D. I have gone back to the consultation paper to consider what respondents actually said on this issue because a question arose in our meeting as to whether I had recollected correctly that a majority of respondents had thought that the reduction should not be limited to the one-third reduction that one receives on a guilty plea. On page 28 of the Government’s response to the consultation paper at paragraph 102, it is stated:
“57% of respondents disagreed with the proposed maximum reduction of one third”.
Also, paragraph 105 states:
“We have noted the concerns raised by respondents that the maximum penalty level of one third may not prove to be sufficiently attractive in practice”.
Those are exactly the points that I have raised, and it appears that a majority of respondents took that view. I take some heart from that.
The other two amendments go together. Amendments 116C and 116D are simply intended to provide that in a deferred prosecution agreement there should be an obligation to spell out to the person who accepts it what the consequences may be, so that people know where they stand. There may be other ways of achieving that, but it seems right that the deferred prosecution agreement should, one way or another, make it clear to someone who is signing up to it what the consequences may be. Of course, if the person signing up to the agreement is a great corporation advised by substantial firms of lawyers, they do not need such a provision, but these cases may not be limited to such corporations and people deserve to be told just what they are getting into. I beg to move.
My Lords, I respectfully adopt and support most of my noble and learned friend’s comments and indeed most of his amendments. If I had a preference between Amendments 116A and 116B, I think it would be Amendment 116B, but it would be interesting to hear which way, if either, the Minister inclines on that particular aspect.
It seems very sensible that other possible consequences of a failure to comply should be incorporated, so I endorse Amendments 116C and 116D. As to the amendment in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Rosser, we return again to the principle of having these novel matters debated openly before the new process is set in motion. In this particular case, it is a matter of having the financial penalties and parameters that would be proposed by the Sentencing Council subjected to scrutiny and debate but not, as I suggested in Committee, to an affirmative procedure. In retrospect, I think that was going too far and perhaps trespassing on the role of the Sentencing Council in an unacceptable way, although I note that there seem to be some judicial misgivings about the operation of the council. Be that as it may, it does not relate specifically to this point.
Again, bearing in mind the need to carry public opinion with us on this new process, it would be helpful to have that debate before the Sentencing Council’s proposals became adopted. The novelty of the process is such that not only would that be justified but it would actually assist in securing public acceptance. I can anticipate the next amendment, which is very much on the same line; again, having it debated should inform both public opinion and possibly the final decision-makers in a way that can only contribute to the success of the experiment, if that is what it is. I suspect that it will be a successful experiment on which we are embarking.
On the question of incentives, my noble and learned friend is right. It is quite clear from the American example—I repeat for the second or third time that very much larger sums are secured under the American system—that an incentive has to be provided. Whether that is a maximum of one-third or not is another matter. I am not entirely surprised that most respondents disagreed with a maximum of one-third; no doubt they would prefer it to be larger, which underlines my point, but there needs to be some open debate about this before a final decision is made.
In these circumstances I hope that the Government will, even at this late stage, acknowledge that there is substance in my noble and learned friend’s amendments, and I hope that they will also agree that my proposal would actually assist in gaining acceptance for this new process, both by the public at large and by those who will potentially be the subject of its operation. In that spirit, I beg leave to move the amendment in my name.
My Lords, I will be brief. In relation to Amendments 116A and 116B, after two debates in Committee and our meeting, I am still entirely unclear why the Bill as drafted contains only the all-or-nothing choice in relation to financial penalties. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, pointed out, the arrangements proposed are that the financial penalty should be optional only, but if there is a financial penalty then it must be broadly comparable to the fine that would be imposed on a guilty plea. I suggest that that is illogical because there is no room for such a reduced financial penalty, and there is no reason why there should be no room for one.
There are two possibilities that would be logical. The first is that we should have a compulsory financial penalty that would have to be broadly comparable to the fine that was imposed on a guilty plea. That would have the advantage that it would make it clear to the public that the offender was not escaping any part of his penalty by agreeing to a deferred prosecution agreement. However, it would have the corresponding disadvantage that it would risk diminishing or removing the incentive for the offender to agree to the DPA, however desirable that might be from the public point of view. It would also have the disadvantage that it would not allow for impecuniosity on the part of the offender, and would introduce an undesirable element of inflexibility in the way that the requirements of the DPA might be calibrated in relation to compensation, donations to charity, the cost of compliance and so forth with the financial penalty, which might lead to a conclusion that a financial penalty should be attenuated.
The alternative is that there should be no positive requirement for a financial penalty but merely an option, as is proposed. In that case, either one would omit altogether the guidance regarding the level of the financial penalty, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, proposes in Amendment 116A, or one would have a maximum, as he proposes in Amendment 116B. I am bound to say that I favour Amendment 116B because I consider it desirable that it should not appear to be open to an offender to buy himself out of prosecution by paying a greater penalty than he would have paid as a fine if he had pleaded guilty. Provision only for a maximum can allow for attenuation of the penalty, for the reasons that were discussed in relation to compensation, compliance costs and so forth. It is therefore my submission that Amendment 116B is the desirable of the logical options.
On Amendments 116C and 116D, I suggest that it is plainly sensible that the DPA should have to spell out the possible consequences of non-compliance. That is important in order to demonstrate to the public the seriousness of the agreement and to maintain public confidence. It is also important to demonstrate to the offender the possible consequences of non-compliance.
I will say a word on Amendment 116BA, which covers the Sentencing Council and was tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Beecham and Lord Rosser. I have some difficulty with this. The generality is that judges sentence according to guidelines. Parliament sets a maximum. That principle ought to be the same in relation to deferred prosecution agreements; some sort of guidelines should be available and the maximum should be set by reference to the comparable fine. However, circumstances of offences vary so widely that they do not lend themselves easily to debate by Parliament that descends to particularities. On that ground alone it seems to me that judges, when approving agreements—and prosecutors and offenders when entering into them—should take into account the nature of the offence, the other requirements that are to be agreed to as part of the DPA and the financial position of the offender. The need to do that means that the terms of the financial penalty and of the DPA generally must be sorted out case by case, which does not lend itself to parliamentary debate.
My Lords, paragraph 5 to Schedule 17 sets out both the mandatory elements that every DPA must include, namely an agreed statement of facts, an expiry date and a non-exhaustive list of potential financial and non-financial terms. Each agreement will be tailored to take into account the particular type and extent of the alleged wrongdoing, as well as the wider circumstances of the case and the situation.
A financial penalty is one of the terms that an agreement may contain. We expect that a financial penalty is very likely to be a term in the majority of DPAs. Let me make the Government’s intention clear. The Government believe the level of the financial penalty should bear close relation to the fine that would have been imposed following conviction in court after a guilty plea. A DPA is not a soft option for organisations and setting financial penalties at an appropriate level is important in achieving that.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, asked whether the financial penalty is optional. The Government believe that parties should be able consider all circumstances of the individual case and this may include a large compensation payment, which will take priority over financial penalty. In the drafting of paragraph 5(4) we have provided an approach to setting a financial penalty that will achieve that aim. The key aspects are: an incentive, in the form of a discount of any penalty—I will come onto the issue of a discount in a moment; consistency of approach with sentencing upon conviction; certainty as regards the level of financial penalty; proportionality as the parties and courts will be able to take into account the means of the organisation and the level of other monetary terms, such as compensation, that take priority.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, and the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, both mentioned incentives. The primary incentive for entering into a DPA is to avoid prosecution and conviction, both of which have the potential to cause huge reputational damage and to give rise to other negative consequences for an organisation. As someone who has spent 20 years working in the corporate world, let me assure noble Lords that reputation for a corporate body is of immense importance, and a DPA provides a route where that can be protected.
Our scheme provides a further incentive: any financial penalty under a DPA would be discounted to reflect the position a defendant would be in after pleading guilty in a timely way. In other words, the organisation could benefit, as again the noble and learned Lord mentioned, from a discount of up to one-third. A total of 94% of the respondents to our consultation supported our proposals for a discount although, as has been pointed out already, there was no consensus on whether there should be a maximum reduction and what that might be. Indeed, the figure cited of 57% of respondents did not support having a maximum discount of one-third as we proposed. However, the important point is that there was no consensus as to what the alternative should be.
Furthermore, we know from our consultation and engagement that it is essential that there is consistency of approach and some certainty as to the potential level of financial penalties. Organisations made it clear to us during the consultation that they would not enter into a DPA if there was a real risk that the penalty negotiated and agreed with the prosecutor would be out of line with what a judge thought appropriate.
Through paragraph 5(4) we have, therefore, provided that where a financial penalty term is to be included in the agreement, the sum payable should be broadly comparable to the fine that would have been imposed for the alleged offence on conviction following a guilty plea. This will allow parties to have regard to the guidelines on both sentencing for particular offences and principles including discounts for early guilty pleas. We believe this provision provides an essential benchmark on setting a penalty, not only to the parties but also to the judge, who will decide whether the amount that the organisation and prosecutor have agreed is fair, reasonable and proportionate. Both parties and the judge have some comfort that they will be starting from a clear, common position. The organisation can therefore expect some certainty as to what it faces if it decides to enter into a DPA.
In determining a penalty that is “broadly comparable” to a fine a court would have imposed following a guilty plea, the parties will have regard to relevant sentencing guidelines produced by the Sentencing Council, including the guideline on an early guilty plea, which currently provides for a discount of up to a third. I will come on to the points regarding the Sentencing Council in a moment. But they will also have regard to other law and practice a sentencing court would follow so as to take account of matters such as the means of the defendant and how compensation should be prioritised over the other financial elements of a sentence. Without such a benchmark, we consider it likely that the two parties to the DPA could have such widely divergent opinions as to what the level of the penalty should be that discussions would be unworkable, making negotiations protracted and difficult. This is exactly what we are seeking to avoid by providing for DPAs. We therefore consider that paragraph 5(4) will enable the parties, and ultimately the courts, to ensure that the financial elements of a DPA, taken as a whole, reflect a proportionate and balanced approach. To be clear, this is essential to ensure that a DPA does not look like a soft-option; anything less, in our view, would risk giving that impression.
Amendment 116A would remove paragraph 5(4), thereby providing no guidance at all for the parties or court as to how to approach setting a penalty under a DPA. This would be undesirable for a number of reasons, not least that the parties would be denied guidance on an appropriate penalty. In the event that paragraph 5(4) was to remain part of Schedule 17, Amendment 116B would provide that the financial penalty term should not exceed the fine that a court would have imposed. Again, this would deny the parties and the court the appropriate level of guidance they desire, and suggests that the parties might agree a fine well below what a sentencing court would have imposed upon a guilty plea. For the reasons I set out earlier, this would in our view be unworkable. It also gives the impression that DPAs are a soft option. We do not agree therefore that it is necessary to set a bar as proposed, but with no lower limit. Paragraph 5(4) sets out the clearest and in our view most workable solution to determining a financial penalty.
The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, has tabled Amendment 116BA, which is a variation of an amendment considered in Committee in relation to parliamentary scrutiny of guidance on setting financial penalties. The amendment would require the Sentencing Council to lay before Parliament its proposals for setting a financial penalty. Although not explicit from the terms of the amendment, we understand this to mean any proposal prepared by the Sentencing Council in relation to financial penalty payable under a term of a DPA.
The Sentencing Council has informed us that it is committed to producing sentencing guidelines for many of the economic and financial offences listed within Part 3 of the schedule, which will be in place in time for the implementation of our proposals, to which the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, referred. These guidelines will also cover corporate offending. As a result, a separate DPA guideline is no longer necessary. We will instead be riding on the coattails of guidelines which are produced for a different purpose: namely, sentencing a defendant after a conviction. Those guidelines are already subject to appropriate consultation and scrutiny. Under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 the Sentencing Council has an obligation to consult a number of interested parties on any sentencing guidelines it proposes. In particular, it has a statutory obligation to consult the Justice Select Committee of the House of Commons. This provides an appropriate opportunity for parliamentary input into these guidelines.
We do not consider that scrutiny beyond that described is necessary or appropriate. The fact that the Sentencing Council’s guidelines will be referred to by the parties and judges in the process is secondary to the primary purpose for which they are developed and used: that is, determining sentence on conviction, and for which there is a robust and comprehensive development and review process.
Amendments 116C and 116D relate to a provision we have made enabling the parties to negotiate a term specifying the consequences of non-compliance with an agreement. We included this provision as a way for the parties to deal with some forms of non-compliance with a DPA capable of being objectively determined such as the late payment of money under a DPA. The aim is for the parties to be able to remedy such non-compliance without recourse to the court: for example, by way of punitive interest in relation to a late payment. Such a term would be negotiated alongside all other terms of an agreement and approved by the judge. We do not envisage that such a term would be appropriate in all cases. Whether or not an agreement includes such a term, paragraph 9 of Schedule 17 provides the formal procedure for dealing with non-compliance of a DPA, which will be the most appropriate way for addressing most instances of non-compliance.
The suggested amendments would require that every agreement include a term on the possible consequences of non-compliance. We do not think this is necessary, not least since such a term is designed to address a narrow range of non-compliance, which may not be appropriate in every DPA. I know the hour is late, but I trust that this rather lengthy explanation that I have provided to your Lordships’ House has addressed the concerns raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, and my noble friend Lord Marks. In the light of this explanation, I invite the noble and learned Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I very much regret to say that they have not been addressed. I am not going to press either amendment, but I want to say something about them because I want the Government to think a little further.
As regards the second set, I am afraid that the Government miss my point altogether. I invite the noble Lord and his officials to consider whether there is a way of ensuring that people who sign up to DPAs know what the consequences may be. I am not going to say anything more about that; it is an obvious point. The point that he made in response does not actually meet it; it meets a different point.
Let me go back to the first point. I detected three reasons why—and I was very disappointed by this—they said that it was inappropriate to accept either of the two amendments that I have put forward. One is the fear that if my amendments were accepted, the penalties would get out of line with what would happen in court. If that is saying any more than we want them to be the same, it is adding nothing to that. The parties will be in a position to know what the court would have imposed and can of course use that as a guidance without there being an obligation to fix at the same level.
Secondly, it said that there needs to be a benchmark. You have a benchmark by knowing what a court would do, and that could be a benchmark you can have in mind when you are negotiating. However, my second amendment would include that benchmark; I do not understand why it is thought otherwise. The real point—the third reason which the noble Lord repeated several times—is that it is thought that it will be a soft option. I really would invite the Government to think again. This is not a soft option because what is being overlooked each time is that the range of things that can be achieved in a DPA are not just the financial penalty. You would not get on a conviction an order for compliance; you would not get on a conviction an order for a monitor; you would not get on a conviction an order to make a payment to charity. You might get compensation for victims, but that would probably not be as well as a huge fine, because the court would take into account the fact that there is a limited financial obligation overall that should be imposed on the defendant. So it is not a soft option, and I invite the Government to get out of that frame of thinking about it and maybe one or two other times today the same point has come about.
I urge the Government to think again because they are about to make DPAs unworkable and fail to achieve the objectives they set. I will withdraw the amendment this evening—I am not saying that I will not bring it back. However, I really would respectfully—I do not normally use that word here, but I mean it all the time—invite the Government to think again and to question their view about this amendment. We will see where we get to by Third Reading.
Amendment 116A withdrawn.
Amendments 116B to 116D not moved.
House adjourned at 10.49 pm.