Select Committee on Constitution Seventh Report

Appendix 1

Letter from the Lord Norton of Louth, Chairman of the Committee, to the Home Secretary, the Rt Hon. David Blunkett MP

The House of Lords Constitution Committee, which I chair, has been appointed by the House of Lords "to examine the constitutional implications of all public bills coming before the House; and to keep under review the operation of the constitution".

The Committee has several concerns relating to constitutional aspects of the Criminal Justice bill, particularly with regard to the composition and functions of the proposed Sentencing Guidelines Council. The Committee would therefore be grateful for further information in response to the following questions.

1.  Is it appropriate that the Home Secretary should be able to appoint civil servants (from the Home Office or any other department) to membership of the Council? When such people act as members of the Council, is a Minister of the Crown responsible for their views? And will a Minister of the Crown have the power to direct them in the performance of their functions?

2.  What is the intended relationship between the Sentencing Guidelines Council and the Sentencing Advisory Panel? Are both bodies needed?

3.  What is the intended relationship between the work of the Sentencing Guidelines Council and the work of the Court of Appeal — which hitherto has been the source of authoritative sentencing guidelines?

4.  Is it likely that the work of the Sentencing Guidelines Council will meet the public interest in sentencing policies? And how might it affect the legislative work of Parliament?

As I am sure you are aware, the second reading of the bill will take place in the House of Lords on Monday 16 June. I would be very grateful for a reply, if possible, by Friday 20 June. This would enable the Committee to report to the House before the Committee stage of the bill on Monday 30 June.

The Committee has written in similar terms to the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, and other interested parties, to seek further views on these matters.

16 June 2003

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