The Parole Board: supplementary provisions
Mr. Malins: I beg to move amendment No. 726, in
schedule 15, page 224, line 8, after 'held', insert 'part-time or full-time'.
The schedule addresses the membership of the Parole Board. The amendment is a minor one; it sets out who should be members of the board. It would be wise to widen the provisions of paragraph 2(2)(a) to include a person who holds or has held judicial office part-time or full-time. I say that because some distinguished silks have never wanted to take full-time judicial office. They might enjoy their lives as silks so much that they do not want to do so. When they retire they are just as distinguished as many who hold full-time judicial office. They might have sat part-time over many years and be just as experienced as many full-time judges. It might be worth considering part-time judicial office holders as well as full-time ones when choosing Parole Board members. This is a harmless amendment. I am not in much doubt that it will find favour with the Government.
Hilary Benn: The amendment is so harmless that the Bill already provides for the proposal. The schedule provides for both full-time and part-time members of the judiciary to be appointed as members of the Parole Board. Indeed, on occasion, recorders have been appointed, although at present the board's members are either High Court or circuit judges. The situation that the hon. Gentleman wants to facilitate has existed in the past and the Bill's wording will permit it in the future.
Mr. Malins: I am most grateful. This has been a worthwhile debate, not least—I am desperately thinking of a reason why it has been worth while—because people outside the building read the reports of our proceedings. Those who might have found the provision unclear—foolishly, because it is so obvious—would not be unclear now. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Schedule 15 agreed to.
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Crediting of periods of remand in custody:
terms of imprisonment and detention
Mr. Malins: I beg to move amendment No. 725, in
clause 220, page 122, line 3, leave out subsection (5).
This deals with periods of remand in custody. I want to probe the Minister on the point. When it comes to sentencing, courts sometimes have huge difficulties in assessing whether remand periods in custody should be taken into account. Subsection (5) requires it to be stated in open court the number of days for which the offender was remanded in custody and the number of days in relation to which the direction is given. There are problems with that in practice.
It is not uncommon for a defendant to come before the court remanded in custody from different courts in connection with four or five different matters at once, and for the court to be totally unable to unravel the true position. A sentence of a certain number of months might be passed, but it be difficult for the court to comment in public on what account it took of time spent on remand in custody, because the court cannot be aware of all the custodial provisions that have applied to a defendant before, or even of those current at the time of sentence. There is a real nuts and bolts, practical problem, and if the Minister knows a simple way of calculating periods of remand, I should be grateful to hear it.
Mr. Heath: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. The problem seems to lie in the fact that subsection (5)(a) is expressed in such absolute terms. It is not wrong for the court to make clear the process of calculation that it used to make the direction. It is not inappropriate, therefore, that it should indicate the number of days in custody that it has considered in making its recommendations, but whether it is an absolute term or the number of days for which the offender was remanded in custody for that particular offence is a totally different matter. It seems that it must be possible to find a common course between the intention of the clause and the difficulties highlighted by the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps the Minister would consider a slight variation in the terms of subsection (5)(a).
Hilary Benn: The clause re-enacts, with some amendments, provisions in the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000. It provides for time spent in custody on remand to count towards time that would otherwise be spent in custody post sentence. I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Woking, but the clause aims to simplify provisions in the Criminal Justice Act 1967, the Criminal Justice Act 1991 and the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 for calculating remand time because, as we have heard, the current framework has caused difficulties in translating the sentence of the court into a period of custody.
Subsection (3) requires the court to direct that the number of days for which the offender was remanded in custody will count as time served by him as part of his sentence, subject to the exceptions listed in subsection (4). Subsection (4) enables the court to
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disregard the provisions in the clause where the Secretary of State has made rules regarding specific situations or where the court believes that it is just in all the circumstances to do so. Where a direction is not given, or is given but falls short of the full period spent on remand, subsection (6) requires the court to state openly its justification. I hope that, in those circumstances, the clause will go some way towards meeting the problems to which hon. Gentlemen have referred.
Mr. Malins: I hope so. I do not want the matter to slip through because we have not properly scrutinised the clause. I take it that the Minister is saying that, when the court decides not to state the number of days for which the defendant was remanded in custody that will count towards his sentence, it will have absolute discretion not to come out with this diatribe if it does not wish to do so. I hope that that is the case and that the court will have the fullest possible discretion, because, otherwise, impossible situations could arise.
For example, someone is arrested for an offence on 7 October and kept in custody for seven days—or even for one day. He then goes before the court and is remanded in custody for a week. A week later, there is a successful bail application, and the defendant is released on terms. Then, as often happens, he commits three different offences in the jurisdiction of three different courts. He is brought back to court and pleads guilty forthwith at the court at which he had hitherto appeared and, through his lawyers, tells the court that he is appearing at another court next Tuesday and has not decided which way to plead, and at another on the Wednesday, where he thinks that he will be remanded in custody, although he is not sure. The sentencer then puts off the case for pre-sentence reports. By the time another tribunal has heard the case, a further month later, it is the devil's own job to unravel which periods of custody are relevant. Such matters are much better dealt with outside the court. However, if the court has the discretion to which the Minister has referred, I am pleased to hear it.
Hilary Benn: I am happy to confirm that the court has such discretion. That is the purpose of subsection (4)(b).
Mr. Malins: In that case, I am surprised that it says that the court must pronounce, subject to a discretion that it does not want to pronounce because it does not feel like it. There seems to be an inconsistency: either it should pronounce or it should not—in which case the clause would be unnecessary. The point has been made, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 220 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Effect of direction under section 220
on release on licence
Amendment made: No. 553, in
clause 221, page 122, line 46, leave out 'or a custodial period'.—[Hilary Benn.]
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Clause 221, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 222 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Persons extradited to the United Kingdom
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Heath: To parade my ignorance, will the Minister explain subsection (3)? What is the position of people who might be in Crown dependent territories, who are not covered by the category of British overseas territory? Are they included in the United Kingdom if they are brought back for trial from the bailiwicks of Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle on Man? I believe that the Isle of Man is not part of the United Kingdom. If the Minister can confirm the situation, my mind will be at rest.
Hilary Benn: I shall take advice on the question raised by the hon. Gentleman and respond to him in writing.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 223 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Duty to release prisoners
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Allen: I continue the campaign for honest sentencing. Subsection (3)(a) seems to contradict itself. In defining ''the requisite custodial period'', the provision says that
''in relation to a person serving a sentence of imprisonment for a term of twelve months or more'',
that means one half of his sentence. Rather than stating that there will be a 12-month sentence and then that the person will serve only six months, why are we not honest? Why do we not say that they will serve six months? If the other six months were served under the licence provisions, people would not say that those sentenced to 12 months were being let out after six, but would instead realise that they had served their sentence, that they would be constrained under licence for a further six months, and that if they broke its conditions they would go back into custody. Then we would genuinely have custody plus rather than imprisonment minus.
We all agree that that is the right way to proceed but the public perceive that we are somehow letting people out early. Instead, we should impose onerous constraints on such people once they have served an appropriate sentence. I think that we would all agree that, in those circumstances, that should honestly and actually be six months.