Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Avebury: My Lords, in relation to the use of first-phase cards as a combined driving licence and passport, will it be the intention to write to the cards such information as endorsements on the licence and visas, where required? In the latter case, will that not require that we have international agreement on data standards and encryption to be used throughout all the countries which are to accept these documents as passports?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I have tried to make clear that we understand the enormity of the task at hand. First, we must get the biometric data in an acceptable form for passports and driving licences. The noble Lord will concede that no decision has yet been made as to which methodology will prove to be the most felicitous. There is iris identification,

11 Nov 2003 : Column 1234

fingerprint identification and face recognition, all or any of which may prove the best way forward. No decision has been made.

Once advancement has been made as regards passports and, perhaps later, driving licences, consideration will be given to how and whether to merge and what use could be made of it. All the questions raised by the noble Lord will have to be considered.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, international?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the noble Lord said international, but I am not sure what he means by that.

Criminal Justice Bill

4.7 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now further considered on Report.

Moved, That the Bill be further considered on Report.—(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Clause 247 [Determination of minimum term in relation to mandatory life sentence]:

Baroness Anelay of St Johns moved Amendment No. 225:


    Page 142, line 31, at end insert—


"(7) This section does not apply if the offender was under 18 when he committed the offence."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 225, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 237, which is consequential to Amendment No. 225. The purpose of the amendment is to remove juvenile offenders found guilty of murder from the sentencing framework proposed in Schedule 19; that is, those offenders who were under the age of 18 when they committed the offence. The determination of the minimum term to be served in such cases would then be a matter for judicial discretion.

The Children's Society has no doubt briefed other noble Lords as well as myself on the matter. In another place, my right honourable friend Oliver Letwin and his colleagues made it clear in their debates on the Bill that we object in the strongest terms to the inclusion of young people under 18 years old in Schedule 19. When we debated the issue in Committee, the Minister said that she thought it necessary and desirable to include young persons in the provisions. We disagreed then and we disagree now. She said:


    "It is very rare for murders to be committed by very young juveniles".—[Official Report, 14/10/03; col. 870.]

She is right and that is, mercifully, true.

The Minister argued that it was not right to have a substantial disconnection around the age of majority and that she would be worried if the new principles were seen to apply to an immature 18 year-old and not to a 17 year-old. However, we argue that it is right to follow the current legal definition of a child enshrined

11 Nov 2003 : Column 1235

in the Children Act 1989 and the UNCRC. In respect of these provisions, it is therefore appropriate for a cut-off to be at 18 years old.

In Committee, the Minister raised a valid point when she said that my amendment would leave young people without any right to receive judicially determined tariffs because the Bill repeals Section 82 of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000. The Children's Society suggested a solution, which is in the form of my Amendment No. 237. Section 60(1) of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 inserted Section 82A into the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000.

The section applies when a court passes a life sentence that is not fixed by law or where the offender is under 18 years old when he or she committed the offence requiring the sentencing court to specify the period that should be served. This section is repealed in Schedule 28, paragraph 98 of the Bill. Amendment No. 237 would, therefore, delete paragraph 98(2).

This amendment would work; it would not remove the mandatory life sentence for minors who are found guilty of murder—life sentence should still follow. It would preserve the current position whereby the trial judge fixes the minimum period to be served. It should always be remembered, as in every case, that the minimum period is not necessarily the maximum period that will in fact be served.

The Minister undertook to consider the House's view before we reached Report, although she made it clear that she thought it was unlikely that the Government would wish to remove juveniles altogether from the framework on murder. I very much hope that she will be able to say today that the Government have reflected further on the representations that have been made and that they will either accept my amendment as it stands or say that they have decided to bring forward their own similar amendments on Third Reading. I beg to move.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I support this amendment on behalf of these Benches. I remain convinced, despite our discussion in Committee, that the discretion of the trial judge to set the minimum custodial sentence before the offender's case can be considered for early release should be retained. It is worth emphasising that we want only to ensure that early release can be considered at a point to be determined by the judge. There would, of course, be no guarantee that early release would be recommended.

In responding to our concerns that the welfare of the child principle is not being upheld by this part of the Bill, and on other occasions, the Minister has pointed out that there are times when the protection of the public should come first. That may well be so, but that is the job of the parole board—to consider the matter of dangerousness at a certain point in time and regularly thereafter. If there was still a risk to the public, early release would certainly not be given. Therefore, I do not believe that the Minister's argument in Committee can apply.

11 Nov 2003 : Column 1236

The proposed starting point of 15 years would mean that children sentenced for murder would be held well beyond the point at which they cease to be dangerous. Therefore, this measure does not comply with our obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. As the Minister conceded in Committee, murders committed by minors are rare and do not fall into a pattern. All the more reason, therefore, that judges who have had many years in courts assessing the special circumstances of hundreds of cases should retain the discretion they currently have.

The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, mentioned the cut-off point of 18; the Minister had said that it was arbitrary. Given that some young teenagers are remarkably mature and some older teenagers remarkably immature, that could also be said of adults. It is really rather a good argument for deleting the new principles altogether—for adults, too. Taking the argument to its logical conclusion, perhaps we should have no legal cut-offs at all, because there will always be someone who will fall just outside them.

I remind your Lordships' House of our obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which are to have a separate system for dealing with children in trouble with the law, ensuring that the best interests of the child are a primary consideration and that custody should be a last resort and for the minimum necessary amount of time. These measures contravene all those factors, for the reasons I have just mentioned.

The welfare principle has been emphasised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Browne-Wilkinson, in the Venables and Thompson case. He said,


    "the judge is bound by Section 44(1) of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. Therefore in imposing such a tariff he must take into account the need for flexibility in the treatment of a child and, in so doing, will set the minimum tariff so as to ensure that at the earliest possible moment the matter comes under the consideration of the Parole Board".

The Sentencing Advisory Panel and the Court of Appeal practice statement both indicate that what the Government are doing in this clause is wrong. Indeed, the joint effect of the provisions of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 and the new statutory minimum would be such that the consideration of welfare would be well nigh impossible.

As my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford reminded us in Committee, the effect of this and other measures will be to ratchet up sentences and to put the courts into a straitjacket. The Minister's comments in reply lead me to think that she believes the public are clamouring for this. I do not believe that is the case at all. The public well understand the need for proper punishment for serious crimes and the protection of innocent people. However, they also understand the nature of children, the impact of their immaturity and life experience on their behaviour and the need to treat them differently from adults. This clause does not do that, and I strongly urge the Minister to listen to the concern of the House, the judiciary and children's organisations about this. I strongly support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay.

11 Nov 2003 : Column 1237

4.15 p.m.

Baroness Mallalieu: My Lords, I should like to add my voice to this debate: My perspective is slightly different. I did not intervene on this matter in Committee, and I wonder if I might briefly do so now.

I have had the privilege of representing a number of children who have been accused of murder and, on occasions, have subsequently been convicted. It has been my experience that in some cases, a remarkable change has already occurred by the time the trial takes place. The child has been in secure accommodation and has, in some cases, received attention which was much needed and brought about very rapid change.

I should like to give an illustration. I once represented a boy, aged 16, who was subsequently convicted of not one but two murders. Having spent nearly a year in secure accommodation, he came to his trial with such determination to better himself that he had become interested in subjects which had occupied none of his time before—he had been a truant. Arrangements were made so that his trial was delayed each morning so that he could take his GCE examinations, which he was passionate to do, and which he passed. He is now in the process of serving his sentence.

Given that children often undergo a remarkable change when they receive treatment and attention which may have been desperately needed before, it seems to be a major mistake to abandon flexibility within the system. There may be rare cases in which this would be necessary or valuable, but we should not lose the flexibility; I am therefore very concerned about the application of Clause 247 to children. I hope that the Minister will adopt one of the two courses that has been urged on her by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page