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That is a pretty condemnatory statement for any person to have to make. One is really saying, "This person is ill and I can tell you that he is going to die". What happens if a person is seriously ill and is expected to recover? I suppose that this does not apply. The whole thing hinges on someone's assessmentone may ask whose assessmentthat the person will die. That seems to be pretty hot stuff.
Baroness Crawley: We would agree to take this matter up with parliamentary counsel. The effect of Clause 22 is that the production of a certificate, which is provided by the registered medical practitioner, is sufficient evidence that the conditions under the special procedure are met; that is, the person will not recover as far as the medical conditioner is concerned at that time.
Earl Ferrers: Would any medical practitioner give an undertaking that the person who is in his charge will not get better? That is asking an awful lot for a doctor
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to say. I should think that most doctors would say that they are not prepared to do that. The whole point of being a doctor is to try to help people to get better.
Baroness Crawley: If the seriously ill person is expected to recover, the Registrar General would consider that it is reasonable for that person to wait until they are sufficiently well and to use the standard procedure for the civil partnership schedule.
Lord Higgins: We are getting a little disorderly with all this jumping up and down. I am not clear why the seriously ill person who is expected to recover should wait, when the person who is seriously ill and not expected to recover does not have to wait. I can understand why the person cannot wait, but I do not see why the person who is expected to recover should have to wait.
Lord Higgins: I shall give way in a moment. I still am not clear whether that is the same procedure as exists as far as an ordinary marriage ceremony is concerned. Perhaps the Minister could clarify that. I remain unclear about why at the beginning of subsection (3) the word "but" appears, unless it is expected to indicate the kind of hesitation that my noble friend Lord Ferrers has just indicated in respect of any registered medical practitioner giving such a certificate.
The Lord Bishop of Peterborough: I hesitate to intervene. My colleagues who are hospital chaplains are probably very familiar with dealing with cases where a person is known and understood to be terminally ill. I stand to be corrected, but I think that there is a similar provision in the marriage Acts. Procedures can be shortened so that someone who is in that condition can marry. This parallels that provision for a civil partnership and therefore seems entirely reasonable. If the person is expected to recover, he or she can wait. The marriage can take placein this case, the civil partnershipand be registered in due procedure.
Baroness Crawley: I am very happy to write to the noble Lord. I take it that the word "but" refers to the conditions in Clause 22(2), which are that one of the proposed civil partners comes under either paragraph (a) or paragraph (b). But the certificate of a registered medical practitioner is sufficient evidence of any or all of the matters referred to in that subsection. No further evidence is needed.
Baroness O'Cathain: Surely, unless I am completely cockeyed, the conditions are both that one of the
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proposed civil partners "is seriously ill" and that he "understands". It is not, as the Minister has just said, either.
Lord Higgins: I think that the answer is "no". We have probably clarified most of the points. The right reverend Prelate referred to possibly very tragic circumstances, which reflect the same situation as exists in the case of marriage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: All the amendments in the group concern the substitution of numbers. Amendments Nos. 31 and 33 would have the effect of changing the maximum imprisonment term for offences under the Bill. The Bill prescribes five years in prison as the maximum penalty for committing an offence relating to a civil partnership schedule and three years for an offence relating to a Registrar General's licence.
Why have the Government chosen those limits for those two offences? Can the Minister explain why they are, certainly in sentencing terms, so very different? What other similar offences are there that can carry such sentences, which seem to be rather harsh? Can the Government explain why that is so?
The amendment has been tabled to find out the Government's thinking behind that limitation period. Are there any examples of similar offences that have
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the same or a similar limitation period? I look forward to clarification, if it is possible, on the points that those amendments have raised. I beg to move.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I can deal with this matter briefly and simply. These maximum prison terms are similar to the terms that apply to civil marriage. The maximum imprisonment term of five years, for similar offences relating to the equivalent document in marriage law to the civil partnership schedule, was considered appropriate at the time when the relevant marriage legislation was introduced. Likewise, the maximum imprisonment term of three years for offences relating to the Registrar General's licence for marriage were also considered appropriate at the time when the relevant marriage legislation was introduced.
We have considered these maximum terms and take the view that they remain appropriate. Furthermore, there are no plans to alter these sentences in relation to the comparable marriage law offences in the forthcoming regulatory reform order on marriage law reform. The current provisions reflect equivalent marriage law provisions and we do not wish to introduce avoidable divergence between the sentencing provisions of civil partnership legislation and marriage law in relation to very similar offences.
The amendment to increase the period within which a prosecution may be brought for offences against the civil partnership schedule is resisted for the reasons that I have outlined. In addition, the amendment would also introduce an inconsistency in the Bill in relation to the period during which a prosecution may be brought for similar offences. That is because one is looking at the nature of the activity and seeking to attach an appropriate penalty to that activity. So, we have used marriage, because it is the most closely related type of situation for dealing with similar types of abuse. The consequences that will flow from the breach will be similar, although not identical, to that which would flow from the consequences of entering into a civil marriage.
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