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The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I have no difficulty whatever with that. The Court of Appeal is acting as a sieve to decide whether it is proper that there should be a further trial. The evidence will appear to be compelling. It will be made absolutely plain to the jury at the trial that they must assess the evidence for themselves, and it will be challenged. But it must appear to be compelling.
In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, the right to elect for jury trial in either way cases will remain. The noble Baroness said, wrongly, that we were going to abolish jury trial in serious cases. Not so. Our proposals are confined to serious fraud cases and very complex and lengthy cases that the judge thinks would be unduly burdensome for the jury to try. It will also apply to cases of jury intimidation. No doubt, your Lordships will wish to scrutinise these provisions closely in Committee. But I do not think that they amount to the end of the world for legal verities. On the contrary, they are limited and well-judged proposals. We will demonstrate that by argument in Committee.
I have to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, in her unavoidable absence, that her opposition to the Bill is not made good by generalised castigation. The expressions she used were, "authoritarianism", "unworthy of this Government", "loss of enthusiasm for civil liberties" and even, "receding into comfortable middle age". I plead not guilty to all these unparticularised charges. We will make good by argument in Committee the case for these limited changes. Those who trumpet a liberal position must always be on guard against falling into the conservative error that no change is ever possible in setting the balance between the protection of the public interest and the protection of the interests of the individual.
We can achieve the improvements that the criminal justice system so desperately requires only if all the relevant agencies work together towards a common purpose. The Courts Bill will bring the administration of all the courts below the House of Lordscivil, family and criminalinto a new single, modern organisation accountable to Parliament through my department and offering a better service to court users.
The agency will also embody a degree of what is fashionably called earned autonomy. The better performing areas will have more freedom to innovate, with less intervention from the centre and a light-touch inspections regime. The centre will be left freer to concentrate on areas where performance is poor, there exercising a greater degree of control and ensuring that best practice is spread.
New structures that facilitate rather than hamper agencies' attempts to work together will be complemented by an entirely new case progression system. Often, administrative changes to delivery on the ground can achieve as much asand perhaps even more thanlegislation, if there is the will to promote and accept cultural change. That is the aim of the case progression project, led by my department, which will see that cases progress more quickly and more smoothly through the criminal justice system. Judges will assume overall supervision for case progression. The judge will agree with both sides at the outset what the issues are, what action is required and within what time-scale, so giving case progression a clear structure, timetable and momentum. Together with clearer responsibilities for all involved, tough enforcement of case progression targets and more certain listing so that cases go ahead when planned, this will help us to bring more offenders to justice, give victims and witnesses a better deal and cut down on delay.
We remain as firm as ever in our belief that delay in the criminal justice system is the biggest impediment to justice. As Lord Denning famously said, "delay turns justice sour". Delay reduces the commitment of witnesses, gives further opportunities for witness intimidation, demoralises victims and plays into the hands of the guilty, who wish only that cases will go away. Tackling delay has been a success story since 1997. Magistrates' courts' waiting times have been reduced by 20 per cent. Delay in the youth courts has fallen from 87 days to 57 days last year. We have cut the time from arrest to sentence for persistent young offenders from 142 to 63 days.
The Government's position on sentencing is clear and will be reflected in our reforms. Protecting the public from violent, sexual and other serious offenders is our priority. But the courts must strike the right balance between the need to deal effectively with serious and violent crime and the need to keep prison as a last resort in other cases. The Home Secretary and I have twice now issued statements to this effect. In doing so, we have been echoing the words of the Lord Chief Justice: imprisonment only when necessary and for no longer than necessary.
I assure the right reverend Prelate that we shall recognise that rehabilitation and crime reduction are as important as punishment as aims of sentencing. He will see that enshrined as a statutory purpose of sentencing in the Criminal Justice Bill.
I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that our doubling of magistrates' sentencing powers is not intendedI say this loud and clearas a spur to send more people to prison for longer. The new sentencing framework will encourage full use of tough new community sentences, aimed not only at punishment that is proportionate to the crime but also at preventing reoffending, and encouraging rehabilitation.
Both the Courts Bill and the Criminal Justice Bill will stay faithful to the principle of local justice. This legislative programme puts the interests of local communities at the heart of the Government's reforming agenda with measures to tackle anti-social behaviour. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, put it so well last Wednesday: such behaviour makes people's lives almost unbelievably hard to endure; indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, made the same point. We all have a responsibility to respect our neighbours and our environment. Anti-social behaviour orders already provide a powerful weapon in the fight against persistent and serious anti-social behaviour. For that reason, the Government will do much more to address such issues, especially as regards those who ignore their responsibilities, with new measures in the civil and in the criminal law to tackle truancy, aggressive behaviour, vandalism, litter, graffiti, and nuisance. Every local authority will have a comprehensive plan to tackle anti-social behaviour, tailored to the specific needs of that community. That will involve public, private, and voluntary sectors to the full.
Some mention has been made of House of Lords reform. It is a subject about which your Lordships remain fascinatedand rightly so. However, only the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, spoke specifically on the matter today, although the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, made some observations in that respect. As the gracious Speech said, we look forward to considering the report of the Joint Select Committee. But, first, we await completion of that report, followed by the free votes in both Houses that we have promised. We all recognise what a vexed issue this is. The Joint Committee has already been working on the matter for four months. That the report has not yet been completed should not detract from the fact that this Government have progressed much further down the road of reform of this House than any of their predecessors.
However, I noted with interest the observation made by the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, that your Lordships' House makes its unique contribution to the legislative process because it is not elected. We have
The legislative programme set out in the gracious Speech furthers the Government's radical programme to reform and modernise public services. It is an enabling agenda. It removes the barriers that frustrate those agencies working together in the interests of service to the public, whether in the criminal justice system, the National Health Service, or in education. It is a programme designed to protect rights and promote responsibility. I commend it to the House.
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