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Prosecutions and Sentencing

Volume 799: debated on Tuesday 3 September 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they plan to take to support the Crown Prosecution Service in prosecuting, and the courts in sentencing, those involved in gang-related offences, illegal migration and petty offences.

My Lords, in 2018, the Government published a serious violence strategy to take action to address serious violence. Our strategy places a new emphasis on early intervention and sets out a multiagency approach. The CPS is developing new guidance about gang culture and gang offending, which will summarise the relevant principles in case law to be applied when making charging decisions in any gang-related offence.

My Lords, over the summer, I was very pleased to hear of the Home Secretary’s new approach and of the extra funding for 20,000 police officers. Indeed, that takes me back to the time when my noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne, an esteemed predecessor, took a number of determined steps and succeeded in getting crime down across the board. Does my noble and learned friend agree that the vital way to support the police, who need to be helped, is to ensure that criminals receive appropriate sentences from the courts, that they serve those sentences, and that new, secure prisons are built, so that the problems we have in these various areas are tackled?

My Lords, clearly, sentencing decisions are a matter for the independent judiciary, which is of course under a duty to follow any relevant guidelines produced by the independent Sentencing Council. The council produces guidelines specific to particular offences or groups of offences. I entirely acknowledge the points my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe makes about the need to complement the increase in policing by ensuring that we have adequate provision in the judiciary and the prison establishment.

My Lords, is there not a wider question about the crisis generally in the practice of criminal law, from whom many in the CPS are recruited, because of continuing underpayment for work done? Now that austerity is said to be over, will the Government advocate for more resources to prosecutors and defenders?

My Lords, we are of course concerned to ensure that the criminal justice system is adequately funded. We do not consider that we are in the midst of a crisis so far as that is concerned. Indeed, we engage with both the CPS and counsel and solicitors engaged in criminal defence work to ensure that they are properly resourced.

My Lords, given the Prime Minister’s recent pronouncements on tackling crime more generally, are the Government abandoning previous policy on rehabilitation—of using prison less rather than more, reducing short sentences and increasing release on licence and home detention curfews? Are we moving towards a policy of harsher sentences based on the frankly false notion that prison works and, if so, on what evidence, particularly given the more liberal, evidenced-based policies on imprisonment and rehabilitation pursued by David Gauke, David Lidington and even Michael Gove as Justice Secretaries, and Rory Stewart and the present Justice Secretary as Prisons Ministers?

My Lords, the Government recognise that prison alone is not the answer to crime. Prison must go hand in hand with rehabilitation and our policies are always pointed in that direction.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his answer. Does he agree that it is time to invest more in the justice system as a whole? Might he also agree that when Governments seek to encourage respect for the law in the country, they should begin by respecting the law themselves?

My Lords, this Government do respect the law. In addition, this Government understand the law and the distinctions that lie between matters of politics and matters of law. In some areas that is not properly understood. Of course, there is always room for further investment in the justice system, but the Government face an issue of priorities. The question of further investment must be balanced by other demands on government.

My Lords, I share with many others gratitude for what the Government are doing to have an integrated approach to serious violence and youth violence in particular, and I welcome having more police because we need to have safer streets. But by the time we get to prosecuting and sentencing it is all too late. Very often people have been left injured and dead. How much are we investing way before that, particularly at school level? Will the noble and learned Lord say a little more about what support is being given to our schools? In particular, when, for example, children are found with knives, does this trigger a safeguarding response so that we are trying to deal with the causes, rather than just the results?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate makes a very good point. In July this year the Government announced their intention to bring forward legislation when parliamentary time allows for a new legal duty on public bodies to prevent and tackle serious violence—essentially what is referred to as a public health duty—that will cover the police, local councils, local health bodies, education, and youth offending services. Clearly, intervention at an early stage is the preferred approach.

My Lords, is the increase in crime due to the Government cutting the number of police officers on our streets and massively cutting local government services that looked after young people? Do we not have to reverse those cuts, and should not the Government apologise for them?

My Lords, the variation in crime has no single or simple explanation. It is a complex issue, based on social and attitude factors, education and intervention. It is not possible to single out one matter that would reduce or increase crime.