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Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendments Nos. 23 and 24:

Page 10, line 36, after ("holding") insert (", before the end of that period,").
Page 11, line 6, at end insert--
("( ) Nothing in section 7(2) prevents the panel from making the decision mentioned in subsection (3) in the offender's absence if it appears to the panel to be appropriate to do that instead of exercising either of its powers under section 7(2).
( ) Section 7(2)(a) does not permit the final meeting to be adjourned (or re-adjourned) to a time falling after the end of the compliance period.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

2 Mar 1999 : Column 1598

Schedule 1 [Youth offender panels: further court proceedings]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 25:

Page 45, line 44, at end insert ("; and
(c) where appropriate, may impose an additional sentence in respect of the time of the panel which has been wasted by the behaviour of the offender.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we have now moved on to the position where the contract has been completed-- or, at least, the contract period has been completed--but the contract itself has not been fully complied with and the offender has, therefore, been referred back to the court for sentencing. As I read the Bill as it stands, the court has to ignore the existence of the panel and what has happened during the period of the contract when deciding what sentence to pass. It has to pass a sentence relevant to the offence and not take into account anything that has happened since that time. I see some logic in that, but it seems to me to be very important that the court should also be able to consider the additional information about the offender which has come to light as a result of his response to the panel and to the contract, to which he agreed; or, for that matter, his refusal to agree to a contract, if he refused.

When the young offender returns to the court the latter is in a position to know more about him as a result of what has happened and should take that into account. Part of the reason for moving this amendment, which would give the court power to impose an additional sentence in respect of the time of the panel which has been wasted by the offender, is to provide some form of assistance to the panel in its work. If my amendment is passed, there would be a bit of a stick behind the purpose of the panel. The offender could not just string the panel along. Some young offenders who will find themselves enmeshed in all this are extremely manipulative. In effect, they will string the panel along to see how long they can get away with it. If they know that, whatever they do, the sentence will be exactly the same as if they had been sentenced in the first place, it seems to me that there will be nothing to deter them from doing exactly what I said. That would be a terrible waste of the panel's time; and we certainly do not want that.

We should bear in mind the fact that some of these cases will have been compulsorily referred to such panels; in other words, if the Bill remains as it is, the magistrates will have no discretion. Such offenders will be compulsorily referred, even if the magistrates suspect that the panel might be wasting its time. If the magistrates prove to be right, there is no way in which the court can allow for that in sentencing. However, I think that there should be, hence the tabling of this amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I still fail to see the logic of the precise circumstances that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, has in mind in relation to this amendment. I have sat as a youth court magistrate and I believe that those courts have ample powers to deal with the circumstances that are presented to them. I do not think that one needs any draconian measures. Indeed, there may be special circumstances where the youngsters who

2 Mar 1999 : Column 1599

appear before the youth panels are given a contractual obligation and yet are unable to meet it. I shall give your Lordships an example. If someone is made the subject of a probation order and is unable to meet the requirements of the Probation Service, he will be brought before the court, which has ample power to deal with the situation.

We discussed youth panels earlier. However, there may be borderline cases where, for example, they fail to make a hospital order. There may indeed be other borderline cases where it is right and proper to say that youngsters make use of some of the provision that has been agreed with the youth panel, but that may be very difficult in relation to certain individuals. There may be those who abuse drugs, who are brought before the panel and given a contractual obligation, and yet may not be able to meet it because of the very condition from which they suffer. I do not believe that the courts require additional powers for them. They can take into account the circumstances as presented to them. The powers are there and they can sentence the youngsters accordingly. I cannot support this particular amendment.

Lord Monson: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, does he agree that the amendment uses the word "may" and not "must"? I believe that that answers the reservations that he has expressed.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that observation. I wish that I had the same confidence in the ability of all magistrates to distinguish between the two.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, surely the sentencing of a young person is done in the normal way, taking into account how that particular young person is likely to react to a certain sentence. More will be known about how a young person will react to a sentence because of the experience of appearing before the panel, and his reaction to that, than was known before. I should have thought that it would be very difficult for a court not to take that into account to a certain extent. I am not quite sure whether the underlying philosophy--that an attempt should be made to make a referral to the panel before someone finally appears in court--necessarily precludes that. I believe that the Government are a little unwise to assume that it is unnecessary to take account of what has happened during the referral period or, indeed, even to ask about it.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, when a young offender breaches the terms of the contract and it is determined that the non-compliance is unreasonable, the court has to consider re-sentencing. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, is right in saying that in those circumstances the court will re-sentence in respect of the original offence with the full range of sentencing powers that they would have had there been no referral order.

This amendment seeks to give the court power to make an additional sentence in respect of the time the panel may have wasted. I do understand the noble Lord's arguments, but I cannot accept his amendment.

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Breach of a referral order is not an offence. It is an indication that the referral order is not working in that case. In the worst cases, when it is plain that there is no prospect of co-operation, we would expect--and I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, here--that the offender would be brought back to the court with the minimum of delay and the minimum therefore of wasted time on the part of the panel, and we intend to ensure through clear guidance that young offenders are given the minimum opportunity to manipulate the panel or give the panel the runaround, as the noble Lord, Lord Cope, indicated.

It is important to bear in mind that the breach of the referral order is not the offence for which the offender is being sentenced. The offender is being sentenced for the original offence for which the referral order was made and has then failed. We do not think therefore that what the noble Lord, Lord Cope, proposes is acceptable, but I stress that we intend to have clear guidance about prompt returns in cases of failure to co-operate.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I should first like to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that I was not proposing that it should be automatic that an additional sentence would be imposed. I am only proposing that the court should have the opportunity to do so. As I read the Bill, the court at the moment cannot take into account even the most obstructive and difficult behaviour of the offender towards the panel. The Minister seemed to be confirming this by saying very firmly that breach of a referral order is not an offence in itself and should not lead presumably, therefore, to any alteration of the sentence which is imposed on the young offender. However, I am grateful to the Minister for assuring us all that the guidance will provide for the minimum of manipulation (if that can be done), and in particular for the offender to be brought back to court quickly if that seems to be the way in which it is all going. Such a provision would be less necessary if there were not compulsory provisions on the magistrates, but that, as we have already said, is an argument for another time. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 45, line 46, at end insert ("; but those powers are exercisable even if, in a case where a contract has taken effect under section 8, the period for which the contract has effect has expired (whether before or after the referral of the offender back to the court).").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 16 [Witnesses eligible for assistance on grounds of age or incapacity]:

6.15 p.m.

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 27:

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