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Lord Ackner: My Lords, the noble Baroness said that the Government wanted the position to remain as it is. Now that the Home Secretary no longer has any part to play in determining the time that an individual prisoner spends in prison, how will the procedure in court relating to what the judge says and does differ between murder and discretionary life sentences?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, if a person is convicted of murder and the life sentence imposed, that person will, whatever tariff the judge alights on, remain on licence for the remainder of their life, once the tariff has been served and the person released into the community. With a discretionary sentence, the sentence imposed in terms of years would, unless the court determined that that person should be subject to a life sentence, be the total period served by the defendant. Such a person would not, I imagine, thereafter be on licence.
Lord Ackner: My Lords, I am entitled to ask a question. I have not had an answer to my question. How will the procedure in court differ, now that the Home Secretary has no part to play? Does the judge say, "The period that I consider that you should serve by way of the penal part is X. After that, you will be subject to the Parole Board"? Or, will he say, "I make no recommendation, because life should mean life". How will the position differ, if at all?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, at the moment, we do not have the rules that will apply to such matters. With regard to the procedure for murder and discretionary life sentences, we believe that the murder tariff will be set by the court with reference to the principles that we outlined, while, with discretionary life sentences, the court will set the tariff but not on those principles.
I anticipate that the court, in one sitting or two, will, first, give the nature of the sentencelife imprisonment. Secondly, it will say what the tariff should be. Thirdly, it should describe to the defendant what the proposals are for the role of the Parole Board. Fourthly, it should say that a life sentence, if imposed, will be life on licence for the remainder of the person's life. I cannot tell your Lordships the precise details. The rules relating to how the system will work in practice have not been set. However, it will certainly be for the court to set the tariff.
That will not impinge in any way on the fact that, if a life sentence is imposed, all that the judge will be doing is indicating the part of the sentence that must be spent in custody. Whatever remains, after the custodial sentence is served, will be on licence. The defendant will remain on licence, whether released by the Parole Board on conditions or otherwise, for the remainder of his life.
It is a matter of concern. I join the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, in saying that we must do better in helping people to understand that life means life. It may be that the whole of the life sentence will be served in prison or that part of the sentence will be served in prison and part will be served in the community.
The document produced by the Law Commission is very helpful. I should like to take the opportunity to thank the Law Commission for its valuable work and analysis in this area. The paper refers to the relationship between the partial defences to murder and the mandatory penalty. It argues that were the mandatory penalty to be abolished, there would be less need for the partial defences, which is an issue that will be looked at.
The document is an initial consultation paper that sets out options for reform. In due course, the Government will consider the final report. However, I must make it clear that we have absolutely no intention to abolish the mandatory life sentence. That is our firm policy and an understanding of our position is reflected throughout the Law Commission report. It is clear from the consultation document that the Law
I hope that I have made clear why the Government consider this an appropriate matter to retain and why it would not be right to accept the amendment. I invite the noble Lord to withdraw. I make it plain that if the amendment is pressed, the Government will resist it.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the Home Secretary had, until the Anderson case, an ability to set the tariffs. The Parole Board exercised the judgment on behalf of the public in relation to when it is safe and satisfactory to release those persons. The noble Lord will remember that the Royal prerogative of mercy was of particular importance when we still had the death penalty. I know that the new shadow Home Secretary would like to reintroduce lethal injection as a means of dealing with murderers, but it is not a view with which we concur.
Lord Ackner: My Lords, my noble and learned friend Lord Lloyd is a very busy person. I anticipated that there could be a possibility of his not being available when the amendment was called. It was not out of any desire to put the position on the basis of alphabetical merit, but in order to know where I stood. In fact, when the amendment was called on Report, he was not there.
I should like to make two points. First, the noble Baroness spoke as if the discretionary life sentence does not involve imposing a life sentence when it is appropriate. One imposes, at one's discretion, a life sentence. Subsequently, all the questions about remaining on licence for the rest of one's life come into being. The only difference is that, under my amendment, the prisoner gets his "just deserts". It is a fair sentence.
Secondly, I want to refer to what happened in 1991 when there was a ping-pong arising out of the success in this House of a majority vote of nearly 100. The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, Leader of the House and former Home Secretary, according to The Times dated 4th July 1991, said to the House:
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
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