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Baroness Carnegy of Lour: Perhaps I may follow that. Are there instances where adjournment may be justified?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: There are a number of instances where an adjournment may be necessary. We do not want them to be used in circumstances which simply compound delay. However, adjournments are sometimes necessary because, for instance, the defendant may be ill or does not turn up. There are a large number of circumstances in which adjournments are justified. Equally, there are a large number of circumstances manipulated by those who know the system and/or those who advise them which genuinely put off sentence and therefore take away from the virtue and value of the sentence itself.

Viscount Colville of Culross: Is not the following the correct situation? Looking at Clause 1(1), if an offence fulfils subsection 1(a)--in other words, it is not something like murder or something where the sentence

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is fixed by law--and it is a serious matter, the court can ask the probation service to produce a pre-sentence report before it decides whether or not to impose a custodial sentence. But if the pre-sentence report suggests that, instead of a custodial sentence there should be a CSO, probation order or something of that sort, even though the rest of the compulsory referral conditions in Clause 2(1) are fulfilled, they are wasting their time and the only consideration is whether or not the young person will be sent into custody. That is the only point in having a pre-sentence report.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The noble Viscount is right again. I was trying to point to the difference between referral and adjournment.

Viscount Astor: I am grateful to the Minister for his reply and also to my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern who managed to ask a question with such clarity that it enabled the Minister to reply with equal clarity and explain it to those of us who are not of the legal profession. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 5 [Making of referral orders: attendance of parents etc.]:

Viscount Astor moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 5, line 8, leave out first ("a") and insert ("each").

The noble Viscount said: This is a simple amendment and relates to when a court makes a referral order and requires the attendance of a person who is a parent or guardian of the offender. The Bill as drafted in Clause 5(3) says,

    "is a person who is a parent or guardian of the offender".

In the case of young people it is important that both parents are part of the process. There may be situations when the child is running out of control, the father has little control and the mother has even less. Indeed, they may even be intimidated by their child. The question is: who will decide who must attend. Will it be the parent most easily manipulated by the child or the parent who can stand up to the child? It is important that where a child has two parents, both should attend; both should take joint responsibility for that child and have a joint view--views may differ from one parent to the other.

It is a pity not to incorporate a situation where both parents have to attend. Of course there will be situations where two parents cannot attend--it may be a lone parent or some other valid reason. But on this side of the Chamber we feel that, where both parents can attend, that is preferable and that is the reason we tabled the amendment. I beg to move.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am not unsympathetic to the thrust behind the amendment. There are many cases where both parents cannot attend for perfectly legitimate reasons; for instance, if there is a lone parent and the other parent has had little contact with the child. In that case it may not be beneficial for the second parent to attend.

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Clause 7(4)(b) provides the flexibility which ought to mitigate the anxiety of the noble Viscount to some extent. By virtue of Clause 7(4) the panel will allow-- I understand the word is "allow"--

    "to attend any such meeting...any person who appears to the panel to be someone capable of having a good influence on the offender".
That may well include another parent. However, I take the unspoken point of the noble Viscount that that does not provide the discretion to order both parents to attend. That is an important point. Perhaps I may consider the matter with care at Report stage and produce an amendment to meet absolutely the noble Viscount's point; that is, to give the court the discretion to order both parents to attend where it considers that to be particularly important to the case.

I shall take this matter away because it requires thought. I hope that my willingness to consider a proposed amendment in those terms will be both flexible and useful.

Viscount Astor: I am extremely grateful to the Minister for his helpful reply. An amendment along those lines will satisfy us. As he said, the court must have discretion to consider the circumstances of the parent--whether there are two parents; whether it is a lone parent or whatever. But in those cases where the court felt it important for both parents to attend and when they are able to attend, the court should have power to make them attend. I am grateful for the Minister's response and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 [Establishment of panels]:

The Earl of Mar and Kellie moved Amendment No. 27:

Page 5, line 39, at end insert ("within three working days").

The noble Earl said: Amendment No. 27 seeks to set down on the face of the Bill a precise time limit for the first meeting between the young offender and his or her youth offender panel. The targeted time limit is three working days.

After learning that the fast track to conviction for young offenders will in reality continue to remain on the slow lines, I feel that the Bill should inject some urgency into the process at least after conviction. There is only one merit in the current practice of delaying court proceedings and disposals; that is, the opportunity to see what the offender has done since being charged. Has he reoffended? Has he taken note of the crisis of his being charged? Has he avoided further offending behaviour?

Setting that to one side, there is every advantage in making sure that the consequences of offending are rapidly drawn to the offender's attention. It is important to make the connection between offending and the judicial process. A panel meeting within three working days will ensure that the crisis of conviction is kept on the boil. The first meeting of the panel would be mainly for introductions, both of the panel and the expected

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process. The panel will have to adjourn for reports. That is good because the second meeting will naturally be the more substantive. It will be at that point that the main dialogue about the new and desired behaviour patterns and attitudes will take place. Starting the process quickly will be a boon to the youth offender panels and the young people concerned. I beg to move.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: It is suggested that with this amendment we discuss also Amendment No. 28, which stands in my name. I am suggesting the same point as the noble Earl, although within a slightly different timescale. What seems important is not the time within which the youth offender panel is established--I take that to mean "appointed"--and the individuals informed that they are members of a particular panel in connection with a particular offender and offences, but the date by which the panel must meet and begin to interview the offender and so settle the contract. That is why I directed my amendment at Clause 6(1)(b)--at the first meeting of the panel rather than at its establishment. That is also why I chose a rather longer timescale-- 14 days rather than three--because it will take a little longer to arrange a meeting of the panel.

I share the noble Earl's desire to ensure that justice is not too long delayed so that the impact of the court appearance has not entirely vanished from the memory of the young person before he or she appears before the panel. The whole process should move swiftly once set in motion but, with respect to the noble Earl, I prefer my amendment. I believe that Magna Carta promised:

    "to no man will we sell, deny or delay justice".
We have already discussed the fact that there is a good deal of delay in the justice system which we should all like to minimise as much as possible. However, it is important that this particular new sentence is implemented quickly. That is why I tabled my amendment. I share the noble Earl's sentiments.

Lord Dholakia: I support my noble friend Lord Mar and Kellie in his amendment. It may be helpful to have a time limit but I am not sure that the question of whether it should be three or 14 days is important. What is crucial is not only that the panel is set up but that there is a timescale within which it must hold its first meeting so that its work can begin.

Viscount Brentford: We have spoken much about the necessity of speed in the justice system. If the timescale is written into the Bill, that is making a public statement that the first meeting must take place within 14 days. I strongly endorse the amendment of my noble friend Lord Cope, which seems likely to be clearer to the general public, the defendant, his or her parents or guardians, and others involved, as it states that the first meeting should be held within 14 days of the making of the order. That should be perfectly practicable.

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I am not sure what is involved in establishing the team, but it will take some days of negotiation to put the right people in place. It should be possible to hold the meeting within 14 days. I strongly support that amendment.

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