Criminal Justice and Police Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Heald: As far as new clause 2 is concerned, the list consists of those who are a danger to children. Why does the Minister want to release early those who are a danger to children?

Mr. Clarke: Neither I nor the Government want to let people out early. The key question in this process is whether the individual concerned constitutes a risk in the way that we have described.

Mr. Hughes: I want to make two points. First, given the Minister's description of the current criteria for home detention curfews, I assume that there could be other criteria for exclusion, and that in principle there is no objection on public policy grounds to excluding specific types of offence. I presume that the Minister will accept that the offences in question fall into such categories. Secondly, is the Minister saying that the sentencing review is empowered to consider not only length of sentence and the home detention curfew system, but whether the system could be extended in relation to category of offence and assessment of the risk of reoffending?

Mr. Clarke: On the hon. Gentleman's second point, the sentencing review is not focused principally on home detention curfews. They do not form part of the overall approach but measures such as tagging on release very much do. I mentioned the sentencing review because many of the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire relate to the way in which sentences work for various categories of offenders. The category of offenders that was alluded to at the start of this short debate is being dealt with through the sentencing review process, and I can confirm that the home detention curfew does not form a central part of that approach. We accept that, in principle, one can look at criteria for home detention curfew other than those that currently apply.

I described the new clauses as gimmick amendments because under the umbrella of a criminal justice Bill it is possible to raise any number of concerns. I understand the reason for the Opposition's general refrain about setting people free early. They seek to make their political points in that way and they are entitled to do so. However, they are not entitled to argue that insufficient time is being allowed to debate the Bill in Committee, given that we are considering the new clauses that they have tabled.

In the light of those comments, I ask the Opposition to withdraw the new clause, but I doubt whether they will succumb to my blandishments.

Mr. Hughes: I understand the Minister's answer but, for reasons that we all understand, only part of this Bill might be secured before the election. It would be remiss of us not to take the opportunity afforded by an umbrella Bill such as this to deal with a part of the criminal justice system that is seen not to work for victims and public servants. As the Minister anticipated, and even though the sentencing review process will be considered at some stage, when the time comes we will move our amendment and I hope that hon. Members on both the Opposition and Government Benches will support it. In turn, we will support new clause 1 if it is pressed to a vote.

Mr. Heald: We would indeed like to press new clauses 1 and 2 to a vote. Given that the Government are able to produce a 10-year crime plan while we are waiting for the old report, we need not wait for the sentencing review before making such a small change.

9.30 pm

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 8.

Division No. 23]

AYES
Ballard, Jackie
Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Gray, Mr. James
Hawkins, Mr. Nick
Heald, Mr. Oliver
Hughes, Mr. Simon
Lyell, Sir Nicholas

NOES
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Brinton, Mrs Helen
Clark, Mr. Paul
Clarke, Mr. Charles
Grogan, Mr. John
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
McDonagh, Siobhain
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry

Question accordingly negatived.

New Clause 2

Exclusion of prisoners convicted of offences against children from power to release short-term prisoners on licence

    `In section 34A of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 (power to release short-term prisoners on licence), after subsection (2)(c) there is inserted—

    ``(ca)(i) the sentence is for an offence listed in paragraph 1 of Schedule 4 to the

    Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000; or

    (ii) the sentence is for an offence listed in paragraph 2 of Schedule 4 to the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 which is committed against a person under the age of 18; or

    (iii) the sentence is for an offence which causes the prisoner to fall within paragraph 3 of Schedule 4 to the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000.''.'.—[Mr. Heald.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    Motion made, and Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

    The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 8.

    Division No. 24]

    AYES
    Blunt, Mr. Crispin
    Gray, Mr. James
    Hawkins, Mr. Nick
    Heald, Mr. Oliver
    Lyell, Sir Nicholas

    NOES
    Bailey, Mr. Adrian
    Brinton, Mrs Helen
    Clark, Mr. Paul
    Clarke, Mr. Charles
    Grogan, Mr. John
    Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
    McDonagh, Siobhain
    Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry

Question accordingly negatived.

New Clause 5

Application to magistrates' court

    `—If a person to whom a penalty notice is alleged to have been given in accordance with sections 2 and 3, but who for whatever reason has failed to ask for this alleged offence to be tried in accordance with section 4 nonetheless thereafter shall make application to the relevant magistrates' court in writing for the penalty notice to be set aside the court shall consider the application and if in all the circumstances it is right in the interests of justice to do so shall either set the notice aside or shall order the matter to be tried.'.—[Sir Nicholas Lyell.]

Sir Nicholas Lyell: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second Time.

The Minister is inclined to think that this matter is of no importance. However, I remain concerned that people will be given a penalty notice, but, for whatever reason, will not appreciate it. They may not realise exactly what they should do, even though it would have been adequately explained to them had they read the document that was given to them. I was concerned that there should be an opportunity for such matters to be tried if a court felt it just to do so, which is why my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) and I tabled new clause 5.

We are taking a considerable step in enabling the police to give these penalty notices in a wide variety of cases. In many cases, it is a sensible step, but if there is a genuine desire to contest the matter it is important that that desire should not be frustrated by the complicated system that surrounds penalty notices. I have dealt with the issue before in the context of penalty notices for motor vehicles and parking, which we know can lead to confusion. This is a simple clause, which enables somebody to whom a penalty notice has been given none the less to seek to bring the matter before a court.

I am aware that a stop point is provided in clause 12(5), which means that an enforcement court may order a matter to be tried. However, that process would come unnecessarily late. A citizen who has been given a penalty notice may fail to understand or exercise the methods at his disposal. He may be the victim of some mistake that is difficult to prove. For example, he may not have been handed the notice in its correct form, although it is down in the administrative records that he has received one. The new clause would allow for a fallback provision in those cases. Such a person would be able to ask the court in writing to reopen the matter and order it to be tried.

I have asked myself whether such a provision might be abused by being used too frequently, which would make nonsense of the sensible intention behind penalty notices to short-cut court proceedings. However, I do not believe that it would be abused; it would be used comparatively rarely, but it would enable justice to be done and would give people greater confidence in a system that might otherwise be in danger of falling into disrepute.

The system for parking offences might have fallen into disrepute if it were not for the mechanism by which one may write to the parking office. Some lady or gentleman in an administrative position in that office is entitled to reduce or abrogate the fine. That system is not built into the Bill, but the amendment would enable the matter to be brought back before the court.

Mr. Simon Hughes: We are sympathetic to the amendment.

Mr. Charles Clarke: If an error comes to light before a fine is registered, the chief officer of police has the power to take no further action. I can reassure hon. Members that the Bill caters for the situations that they have in mind. A person named as the recipient of a penalty notice may have a number of reasons for not asking for a trial. First, he may have paid the penalty. Second, he may believe that he has an explanation for his behaviour not evident to the constable issuing the notice, which may provide an excuse. Thirdly, if he has failed to respond to the notice, a fine will probably be registered against him.

Arrangements are provided in the Bill for such circumstances. For example, a person may acknowledge receipt of the notice but still want to be tried. Under clause 12, the court will have the residual power in the interests of justice to set aside any fine arising from a penalty notice. If the defaulter claims that he was not the recipient of the notice and that his name appeared in error, the court may adjourn the case for an investigation to be made.

The Bill contains substantial safeguards; they are well established, and we debated them under clause 12. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will withdraw the new clause.

 
Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index


©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 6 March 2001