Debates between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Bellamy during the 2019 Parliament

Victims and Prisoners Bill

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Bellamy
Tuesday 12th March 2024

(1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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Yes, and yes.

On the basis that I accept, on behalf of the Government, the importance of this topic, I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I am grateful to all noble Lords in the Committee. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, not least for giving us an opportunity to thank, once more, the Prison Reform Trust, and I would add the Howard League for Penal Reform and UNGRIPP, in particular, who are the family members of these desperate people in many cases. I thank her for pointing out this issue of the window of opportunity for rehabilitation and seeing another possible way of life.

Hope springs eternal, and therefore we are particularly lucky to have “hope” in the form of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, who is so active in this Committee. Every point he made was quite hard, if I may say so, to resist. But my man of the match, I am afraid, was, none the less the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots, because I feel that one of the reasons that we have not had a serious penal reform campaign in this country, possibly since the Victorian period, is because we have lost empathy for the prisoner. We have locked them away—out of sight, out of mind. They do not vote, et cetera: all these things that will set the alarm bells ringing at the Daily Mail, if anybody is up there. We have lost empathy for these people. They are not human anymore; they are prisoners; but in this group of amendments at least, we are talking about people who were children when they were given this sentence, and the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots, had sufficient empathy to compare “criminals” with his late father’s friend and a war hero is the kind of empathy that I rarely hear about any demonised group in our society, whether it is convicted people, refugees and asylum seekers or anyone else who is, for the moment, in a demonised category. I am grateful to the noble Lord for what he said.

I am grateful, of course, to my noble friend Lady Thornton for the support of the Labour Front Bench. She of course was an Equality Minister in the not-too-distant past, and I hope that she will be one in the not-too-distant future, shortly, or in due course, or whatever these other phrases are that are occasionally—

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Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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I do not wish her noble friend to place overreliance on the word “quite” in terms of statutory amendments. Statutory amendments are rather different from a proper approach in the action plan and putting that on a statutory basis.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I am grateful, but my hope is not dashed, not least because my noble friend is a force of nature, as he has demonstrated throughout his career with the integrity that others have referred to in the way that he has conducted himself over this particular issue in recent times. I need to put on the record for the Committee that he feels particularly strongly about the injustice faced by this cohort. I repeat: every argument we have aired earlier this evening becomes turbocharged in relation to these people, who were children when they were placed under this sentence. But for the moment, at least, I beg leave to withdraw.

Victims and Prisoners Bill

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Bellamy
Lord Bellamy Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bellamy) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. I will first briefly recap some basic points that apply equally to the second and fourth groups of amendments that we will come to.

First, this Government recognise the highly regrettable history of this particular sentence. The Lord Chancellor himself has described IPP sentences as

“a stain on our justice system”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/5/23; col. 592.]

As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, rightly said, the question is what should be done. I will briefly summarise, to encapsulate our debate, what the Government think should be done.

The Government are making some very determined efforts to mitigate the situation of IPP offenders who are still subject to a sentence that was abolished in 2012. To bring noble Lords up to date, there were originally approximately 8,100 people subject to these sentences. Of those people, as of last December 1,227 had never been released, 1,625 had been released and later recalled, and there were still about 3,000 on licence in the community. Currently, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, pointed out, an offender cannot apply to the Parole Board to have their licence terminated until 10 years after first release.

Taking the released and then recalled population first, this is a challenge because that population is slowly rising. The major statutory change in Clause 48 will reduce the qualifying period before the offender becomes eligible for licence termination from 10 years to three years from first release, with a presumption of termination after three years and an automatic termination two years thereafter—provided that the offender can pass two years in the community without further recall. That is, as I think the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, said, a huge change and a major achievement for the Government to be proposing. It should substantially mitigate the problem of prisoners being released and then recalled, which we will come to in more detail as this debate continues.

Regarding the second cohort—perhaps the first, depending on your point of view—of those who have never been released, most of these people have come up before the Parole Board, which is responsible for deciding on their release. In many cases, this has happened many times and the Parole Board has decided that it is not safe to release them as the risk to the public is too great. What is the Government’s approach to that problem? Spurred on by the 2022 report of the JSC, to which I pay tribute, the Government are developing a robust, coherent and detailed action plan in consultation with relevant stakeholders, including the families, with the aim that each prisoner has a tailored sentence plan, appropriate support and clear objectives to work towards eventual release.

This last cohort is difficult, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, has just pointed out because, aside from having committed very serious offences, many suffer from trauma, mental health issues, substance issues and so on. However, the Government are determined to see this cohort further reduced and to get rid of the idea that there is no hope. In the Government’s view, no one has given up on the IPP prisoners who have never been released. They have to be worked on. That is a hard task, but one that the Government—any Government—should take on.

For example, the number of those released has been reducing over the last two years at roughly 200 per year. There are now 200 of these prisoners in open conditions who are being prepared for further release. It is not as if nothing is going on or as if things are just vegetating and no one cares. The Government are very focused on doing something about this most difficult cohort. That is the overall framework, which I hope your Lordships will view, despite the difficulties of the past, as something of a new beginning for the future.

With that background, I turn to Amendments 149 to 151 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas. The effect of these would be that, if the Parole Board refused to terminate the licence at the new three-year point, the offender would have the right to apply annually to the Parole Board for a licence determination. As the Government understand it, the offender would be in the community rather than waiting out the two-year period, which results in the automatic termination of the licence. The offender would be able to apply to the Parole Board for termination after one year.

The Government recognise that released offenders in many cases need better support and have accepted all the recommendations to that effect in the recent report of the Chief Inspector of Probation on the recalls of IPP prisoners. However, the Government are not at present persuaded of the need for Amendments 149 to 151, on the following basis. If the offender has applied and the Parole Board, after three years, does not terminate the licence at that point, it does not seem to the Government unreasonable to expect the offender to spend two years in the community with the incentive of the certainty of licence termination at the end of that period. This amendment would enable the offender to make an interim application at the end of year four. That would impose further resource costs on the Probation Service and Parole Board because reports have to be prepared, hearings have to be convened and so forth. It would necessarily take the Parole Board several months to process that application.

We have come back several times in this debate to the pressures on the Parole Board and the time these applications take. It appears to the Government that, even if you could apply after year four rather than waiting until the end of year five, there is probably only a marginal gain for the offender. The Government are not at the moment persuaded on these amendments, although the Government continue to be in listening mode on this part of the Bill, as on every other part of the Bill.

Amendments 152 and 153, also moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, address what one could call in shorthand “questionable recalls”. I think there are two sorts of recall that we should be thinking about. The amendments suggest the possibility of the Parole Board disregarding a recall for the purpose of calculating the two-year period. Perhaps I may first clarify what is considered to be the existing position. If a recall is based on a fundamental mistake of fact—for example, the probation officer thinks that the offender has missed an appointment but the offender is in hospital because of a road accident the previous day—the Lord Chancellor considers that he already has the power in such a clear case to treat the recall as a nullity, as never having happened. That is a relatively clear case and I respectfully suggest that Amendment 152 is unnecessary.

The situation envisaged by Amendment 153 is effectively a challenge to the judgment call made by the probation officer about the recall. Technically it is a decision by the Secretary of State, but in practice of course it depends on the report by the probation officer. Amendment 153 would require the validity of that recall—the “appropriateness” of that recall, to use the word in the amendment—to be considered by the Parole Board and treated as a nullity if the board then considers that the recall decision was not appropriate. Although the Government understand the thinking behind the amendment, His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation found, in both 2020 and much more recently in 2023, that in practice HMPPS recall decisions are very largely appropriate.

At present, the Parole Board does not have any power to adjudicate on the appropriateness of the recall; its task is to decide on the issue of public protection and whether the offender is safe to release. For that purpose, the Parole Board will typically have much wider and more detailed information than was available to the individual probation officer faced with the recall decision. Amendment 153 would, however, turn the Parole Board process into an appeal from the recall decision and require the Parole Board, in effect, to second-guess what it would have done had it been the probation officer with the information then available to the probation officer.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. I should like to better understand this part of the argument. When the noble and learned Lord said he is satisfied that in most cases recall is appropriate, did he mean recall in general or recall in IPP cases in particular? Secondly, when he was discussing the difference between decisions on executive recall on the one hand and dangerousness and public protection on the other, did he not think that there was a relationship between the two? When one is considering dangerousness, one might have a rather different view of what is required in relation to public protection if one or more recalls were inappropriate because they were for non-criminal, minor conduct that at no point presented a danger to the public?

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for those questions. As to whether I was speaking of IPP specifically, I cannot off the top of my head recall whether the 2020 work was specifically in relation to IPP, but certainly the 2023 work, which is the most recent and the most valuable and which I highly recommend everyone to read, was specifically in relation to IPP when the Government were considering what to do following the JSC report when concern was expressed that recalls might be being made inappropriately. That inspector’s report took a sample of recalls, studied them very carefully; it was thought that a small number were questionable but that the vast majority were appropriate on the basis of the information that the probation officer had at the time.

Up to a point, the circumstances of the recall are part of a general picture of the dangerousness of the offender—I accept that. But the real point is that, when the Parole Board comes to consider public protection, it will have much more information, very often much more up-to-date and fuller, than the information that was before the probation officer at the time, who might well have to take a decision in an emergency on very limited information, but because of the risk, as they see it, to public protection. So it is very difficult, in the Government’s view, to give the Parole Board power to go all the way back and say, “This was inappropriate”. However, having said that, I would like to come back to the question of recall when we get to Amendments 154 and 168, to be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Carter. It is a question of executive re-release on recall, which might be another way of approaching that problem. So that is the Government’s position.

Victims and Prisoners Bill

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Bellamy
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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Perhaps the Minister can drink a bit more water at this point, though that is not the sole reason for my intervention.

I am grateful for the Minister’s clarification, but my own clarification is that no one suggested, at any point, that Clause 5 is an ouster of judicial review. Last time, I was trying to make it clear that, in Clause 5, the code does not give any right to civil proceedings, and so no individual can sue on the code. In the creative scheme that we devised, we were not suggesting that individuals should be able to sue either. We certainly agree with not wanting more litigation for people who have already had a terrible time with litigation and probably have no civil legal aid anyway.

The point was that the Victims’ Commissioner should be more than a toothless tiger. Whether or not it is through force of personality, as with the current commissioner, future commissioners should have something in their back pocket for recalcitrant public authorities which, year after year, do not respect the victims’ code. Even in the scheme that we developed, litigation should not be the first resort for a Victims’ Commissioner either today or in future. They should have to jump through hoops first—the issue of private notices followed up by the issue of public notices. Only in extremis should the Victims’ Commissioner alone—in relation not even to particular a criminal case but to systemic failure—be able, as a last resort, to sue on the code. I understand the Minister’s position, but I hope he will at least take the opportunity to reflect on what noble Lords have suggested before the next stage.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for that intervention. I will continue to reflect on all the points made, including this one. The Government’s present position is that this “slap on the wrist” power for the Victims’ Commissioner probably does not take matters much further forward, but I may reflect on that further.

I turn to Amendments 37 to 42 from the noble Lord, Lord Russell, and other related amendments, which, as I understand it, require the Secretary of State, rather than the police and crime commissioner, to monitor code compliance for a local police area. For transparency, the Government are committed to national oversight via the ministerial task force, but there is an essential role for local accountability. There is a hierarchy here, and the police and crime commissioner is the right person to be responsible for ensuring compliance in that local area as they already play a vital role in improving and championing services for victims through commissioning support services and chairing local criminal justice courts. The Government attach importance to that local activity.

This brings me to Amendment 36, supported by the noble Lords, Lord Ponsonby and Lord Bach, which seeks to specify that criminal justice boards and PCCs may use local criminal justice boards for the purposes of local review. We entirely agree. As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said—I completely recognise this—we need a wider debate about placing local criminal justice boards on a statutory footing. The Government have expressed support for that happening in a way that reflects the full remit of the work they do. Once we find a legislative opportunity to do so, it should be taken forward. The Government are very much of the view that their often vital work should be supported.

I return to awareness and training in Amendment 51 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, and Amendment 83 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Russell, on training in support for victims of stalking. The noble Lords are quite right that there is an obvious need for more training. The Government hesitate to have a national training framework because so much will depend on the local situation. These amendments apply to a vast range of organisations and a one-size-fits-all approach will not appropriately support staff to meet the diverse needs of victims in the wide range of settings in which they operate.

However, it is very difficult to imagine guidance on Clause 11 which does not include a reference to the kind of training that should be done. If you are placing a duty on the agencies to work with victims day in, day out to promote awareness of the code, it seems implicit that the relevant persons have to be properly trained. The Government agree with that.

Victims and Prisoners Bill

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Bellamy
Lord Bellamy Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bellamy) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and others, who have spoken in this part of the debate. To take up at once the challenge of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, the Government’s position is that there are no specific amendments, including Amendment 108, which could or should be promoted into the Bill—they should all be dealt with in the code, in the right place. The difficulty of putting specific matters in the Bill, among other difficulties, is that you make a policy choice, irrespective of the available resources and the available situation in different areas, and so forth, as to which—

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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I was just going to finish my sentence, but of course I give way to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I am sorry for being premature. I totally see the Minister’s point about the challenge of taking particular parts of the victims’ code and putting them in the Bill. That is why some of us are offering the suggestion that the whole victims’ code should be in statute. I hope that that would assist the Minister, because he would then not be picking and choosing particular aspects of the code, as the whole code of victims’ rights in this country would be in primary legislation, subject to amendment and so on. That would make victims’ rights a little bit closer to the appropriate rights of suspects, defendants and convicted criminals.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful for that intervention and clarification. Perhaps I could explain why the Government do not think that this is a positive way to go.

The first point is that the present code is still a statutory code. It is grounded in statute, authorised by statute, has been subject to negative resolution in Parliament and therefore has a legal status. The Government’s position is that putting the code in a schedule to the Bill does not materially increase its legal enforceability, or indeed its legal status. Therefore, there does not seem to the Government to be a compelling reason to do it in either case. The Government would consider the present code to be subject to judicial review. There could be a legal challenge; in fact, the legislation on the face of it accepts that the code is admissible in legal proceedings, and so forth. So we already have a statutory code, and we are dealing with quite a fine point—whether putting in a schedule really has any material effect. The Government’s position is that, certainly legally, it has no effect—but in practice there is a very significant downside.

The downside is that what you have on the statute is no longer user-friendly and no longer contains the information that victims want when they reach for the code and want to know what to do, where to go, what the telephone number is and what the website is that they need to consult. You cannot put that in the statute, and I invite noble Lords to compare the code as currently reproduced in the amendment we are discussing with the code as published. The latter sets out 12 rights very clearly, has boxes that explain various things, tells you where to go, elaborates on the rights, et cetera, all in very user-friendly language. Either you abandon that—in which case, you abandon the signposting and everything we were discussing in the previous group—or you have two documents. And that, in the Government’s view, is not very satisfactory. Although we all have touching faith in the interest of the general public to read long schedules in the statutes that we pass, that is not actually the way to raise awareness. You raise awareness through other means.

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Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her intervention. Let me have another go at explaining it. The code is not in itself a statute. Once you go down the route of having a code and not a statute, you effectively have a framework that is still a legal framework—it is still legal guidance that gives people rights. The code says that you have 12 rights and lists them: this is what the authorities have to do and this is what you do if those rights are not observed. It is a legal framework; we are talking about degrees of legal right, but these are legal rights. If you wanted to, you could go to court and say that you have not had them.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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No, you could not.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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Well, that is not the Government’s advice.

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Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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I think the short answer is that the purposes of those later clauses is to impose a statutory duty on the relevant bodies. The purpose of Clause 2(3) is to set out the principles. In terms of these, the Government’s view is that “should” is a more appropriate word than “must”, because the principles are very broadly expressed. Noble Lords might argue that “should” and “must” are almost interchangeable. I think we are again drawing really fine distinctions.

Perhaps I could just deal with two or three other points that arise on this part of the Bill. One is the question of the affirmative procedure as against the negative procedure. If I may say so, at the moment the code is subject to the negative procedure. Noble Lords can pray a resolution against it—of course there is going to be a debate in Parliament. I would respectfully suggest that it is more flexible than our somewhat—on some occasions at least—torrid debates in the Moses Room on affirmative resolutions. Noble Lords cannot change anything, it is very formalistic, and I respectfully suggest that making it an affirmative resolution is not a material improvement.

To keep the whole structure flexible and adaptable—I have used various words beginning with “a”, and I think I could add “adaptable” to this cohort—the Government suggest that it is not a useful move to put the code without the accompanying description in the statute itself; that in itself has no material effect on the Government’s view.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I am grateful to all noble Lords who participated in this debate.

I remind noble Lords that Clause 5 makes it clear that failure to comply with the victims’ code, currently and as proposed in the Bill, does not make a person liable to criminal or civil proceedings. The code has no legal teeth.

Let us cut through a bit of the legal waffle. The noble Baroness the Victims’ Commissioner is right: this is a code without enforceability. No victim can enforce their rights in any court in the land, and even the Victims’ Commissioner appointed by the Government of the day cannot enforce the code. That is why the amendments in this group dovetail with later amendments which would give the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and her successors and heirs, some modest powers to issue notices to public authorities, to publish those notices and, in extremis, to take legal action.

With the greatest respect to the Minister, to say that there is no difference between the scheme that is offered in these amendments and the current position is just not accurate as a statement of law. He said that this amendment is unnecessary and unhelpful. I hope that I have dealt with that. He said he did not want to burden the legislation with a schedule. I do not want to burden victims because this Bill is supposed to be about them. I know where the balance of the argument is between a few extra pages in a schedule and this toothless, illusory, broken promise to victims.

As for the arguments about how clunky it looks to have a code in a schedule to legislation, compared with the sparkly thing that could be on the Victims’ Commissioner’s website, we have that all the time. The convention rights—which may not be totally popular with everyone on the Benches opposite—are popular with me and mean a lot to people. They are in a schedule to the Human Rights Act. They are popularised in all sorts of ways to all sorts of people. They know that this is not a code of guidance; it is a Bill of Rights.

As I have said before, parties on both sides of this House have, for many years, talked the talk about victims’ rights—more legislation, longer prison sentences, et cetera—but have not actually delivered a right to see the transcript, to have a separate room at the court, to be treated with dignity. Let us have this debate but let us not pretend that there is no legislative or legal difference between the current and proposed positions.

I am disappointed by the Minister’s response. Because I have so much respect for him as a lawyer and a former senior judge, I urge him and his colleagues to think again about this. It would not cost a penny, but it would mean so much to so many people. Putting this and the subsequent amendments that we will debate on a legislative footing would give the Victims’ Commissioner some judgment and power to give this code teeth.

For the time being—but only for the time being—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Victims and Prisoners Bill

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Bellamy
Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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I am very grateful for those interventions. I have personally seen this in operation in Manchester, but it may have been that the court had particular availability of rooms that is not generally the case.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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That is where Ministers are taken.

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Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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I am extremely grateful for that important intervention. As a number of noble Lords pointed out, although from various quarters adults can—sometimes quite vociferously—speak for themselves, children cannot, on the whole. They are the silent ones. We have heroines such as Poppy but on the whole, we are dealing with a cohort that does not have the ability to raise its own profile, for that fairly obvious reason. I am grateful indeed to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for making that point. For myself—I cannot commit the Government—I would say that we need available a part of the code or something that is particularly child friendly, so that at least some children can themselves consult it and understand their rights. So the Government’s door is not at all closed on this point. If I may say so again— I am conscious that sometimes I sound a bit like a broken record—can we please work on the practicalities of the code and on bringing everybody up to the same sort of level, rather than getting hung up on rather dry legal points?

I think I have covered in general terms the spirit, drift and direction of the amendments. I have to make one point on Amendment 100A which it does not at all please me to have to make. The difficulty with that amendment, as the Government see it, is that it relates to cases of suspected abuse. We have in the Bill a definition that turns on the existence of criminal conduct, and if there is criminal conduct, there is a victim. The Government at the moment are reluctant to extend that to suspected criminal conduct. That is a difficulty.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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But that is not quite right, though, is it? I do not believe that the definition of a victim in the Bill requires there to have been even a charge of criminal conduct, let alone a conviction, so I do not quite understand the reasoning that says we are concerned about suspected criminal conduct.

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Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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We may slightly be dancing angels on a pin. It may well be that if a regulated professional says to an authority, “I suspect there is criminal conduct”, there is enough there to say that there actually is criminal conduct to enable—

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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For clarity, it is important, given that I intervened on the Minister before, to refer the Committee to Clause 1, “Meaning of ‘victim’”, and to subsection (5) in particular, which says that

“It is immaterial … that … no person has reported the offence”


or that

“no person has been charged with or convicted of the offence”.

Therefore, if no person has even reported the offence but a victim is still a victim, I believe—with huge respect to the Minister—that victims of suspected crime are included in the definition of “victim” that is the foundation of His Majesty’s Government’s Bill.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, I am not sure that we are really in disagreement on this. As I think I pointed out several times on the last occasion, criminal conduct does not depend on whether something has been reported; I had a discussion with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, about that before. We are discussing what level of evidence there has to be before somebody has to say that there is criminal conduct. Somebody has to judge whether there is criminal conduct if the thing has not been reported to the police, prosecuted or charged. It may well be that, in the circumstances the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, refers to, the fact of that kind of reference may be enough to establish criminal conduct. However, if it turns out that the suspicion is wrong, there has not been criminal conduct. That is the only point I am making: it is either covered already, or it should not be extended to the situation being envisaged. I do not think I have made myself very clear, but I was struggling to do so.

Imprisonment for Public Protection

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Bellamy
Tuesday 16th January 2024

(2 months, 4 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, the Government accept that there are certain special mental health issues for a number of these prisoners. They are being tackled, as far as we can do so, within the existing system. The action plan to which I referred contains provisions in that regard, particularly on improving psychological services and providing better support for prisoners on licence to avoid later recall. I do not accept the second part of my noble friend’s question that it follows that we need special legislation to deal with this.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, we must all be so grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, for his continued campaigning on this issue, and we are grateful to the Government for responding at such length to the rapporteur. If everything in the IPP garden is so rosy in relation to indeterminately detained people, some of whom would have got a sentence of only months for their actual crime, why did the Government abolish this sentence in the first place, and why did the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, as late as 2016 call the threshold that prisoners have to meet to secure their release both ridiculous and absurd?

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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I do not assert that everything in the garden is rosy. This area is one of the acute—perhaps the most acute—dilemmas faced by the Ministry of Justice. Your Lordships will be aware that the subject of IPP prisoners is being addressed in Part 4 of the Victims and Prisoners Bill currently before Parliament, which we will shortly discuss in detail in Committee, and I am meeting noble Lords on Thursday to take that discussion further.

Victims and Prisoners Bill

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Bellamy
Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, my noble friend makes a perfectly fair debating point—and we are debating, so it is perfectly fair that he makes a debating point—but it is a debating point at the end of the day. The point is: are you prepared to take the risk of 1,200 dangerous people being released from prison? The Government are not prepared to take that risk. We can of course discuss it further, but I am just explaining what the Government’s position is: it is better to work with those prisoners to ensure that they are safe to release eventually.

That probably takes me on to the issue of public protection and related issues. First, perhaps I may clarify what seems to be a muddle that has arisen about the statement in the Bill that it is compatible with convention rights. The Bill is perfectly compatible with convention rights: it does not take away any convention rights at all. Section 3 of the Human Rights Act is a procedural provision only, which gives the court an—to use a neutral word—unusual power to reinterpret what Parliament has said in a manner that may not have been and probably was not Parliament’s original intention so as to render a particular provision compatible with the convention.

On the provision in the Bill disapplying Section 3, which at least one member of Sir Peter Gross’s commission thought we should get rid of, and on other parts of Section 3, Sir Peter himself recommended a rather complicated hierarchy of different ways of applying the section. It has been quite a difficult section to apply. Case law has gone all over the place over the years, although it has settled down more recently. It introduces uncertainty where the Government want to have certainty in this area: that this is the test for public protection for these prisoners, that is what Parliament has said, and that is the end of the matter.

If that was found to be incompatible with the convention in any case, hypothetically, the court would have to make a declaration of inapplicability, and Parliament would have to deal with it. But the underlying issue is the constitutional balance between the courts and Parliament. That is quite an issue, and it has not gone away, but that is how the Government understand this particular point.

As regards the question of the Parole Board and all the various provisions affecting it, it is worth making the point that when these very high-risk offenders are released, they live in the community. Who speaks for the people in the community who have to live with them? Are they represented at all in this system? The only person who can represent the interests of the community with whom released prisoners have to live is the Secretary of State. All we are doing is saying that if there is some doubt about the application of the public protection test, it is wise from the point of view of the system—

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I am sure that the noble and learned Lord understands the irony of that statement, set against his statement that victims’ rights should not be put on a statutory, enforceable footing.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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I am not sure that I entirely understood the noble Baroness’s point, but it is perfectly true that I am thinking—rather, the Government are thinking; I should not put it in personal terms—about the potential victims of people who have been released and the actual families of those who have suffered at the hands of the offender. We are simply saying that there might be some very high-profile cases where it is sensible for there to be a second judicial look. That is a very much modified position from the position originally in the Bill, but it is, I hope, a sensible one.

I have used up my time, but I hope that I have covered most things. I apologise to noble Lords whose specific points I have not met. Anyone is fully entitled to write to me or ask me questions and I will, of course, answer them. If I may just finish with the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester, who was kind enough to say he was going to be kind to the Bill. Let us be kind to the Bill and—

European Court of Human Rights

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Bellamy
Wednesday 25th October 2023

(5 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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It is probably no surprise to say that I am not privy to the contents of the King’s Speech but. as far as I am best aware, the answer to the noble Lord’s question is no.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I remind the noble and learned Lord that his boss, the Lord Chancellor, appeared before the Justice and Home Affairs Committee of this House just before lunchtime. I urge noble Lords to read that evidence and take heart from it, and I urge the Minister to do so too. I hope his words will be taken forward as commitment to the ECHR, and that Section 3 of the Human Rights Act will not keep being disapplied from future Bills in this House.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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As ever, I am happy to take the advice of the noble Baroness and read the evidence very carefully.

Joint Enterprise: Young Black Men

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Bellamy
Thursday 19th October 2023

(5 months, 4 weeks ago)

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Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I would like to press the Minister a little further following my noble friend’s question. The Supreme Court, no less, stated in 2016 that the law had been misapplied for 30 years. Leaving issues of race aside, that must mean that a lot of people who should not have faced life imprisonment have faced it. Will the Minister meet other interested noble Lords and campaigners, many of whom are mothers and sisters of those incarcerated, to consider whether for once legislators might assist in remedying judicial error, rather than the other way around?

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, it is relevant to emphasise that the Supreme Court in that case said that only if a substantial injustice could be established would the change in the law be relevant to any future appeal. Of course, I am very happy to meet anyone in the category the noble Baroness refers to.

Illegal Migration Bill

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Bellamy
Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, in relation to the latter point, I repeat the point I made on Monday that this is precautionary. There is no reason to deprive oneself of the possibility of providing for “a part”. With an enormous country such as India, it may be that up in Nagaland or somewhere there are some disturbances, but that does not prevent us saying that India is a safe country. That is the Government’s answer to the first point.

Our answer to the second point is that the words “in general” have—I am open to correction and I will correct myself if I am wrong—stood for 20 years on the statute book without difficulty and do not preclude, in an individual case, an application being made to oppose removal on the grounds of irreparable harm. It is the combination of a general view that the country is safe with the possibility of individual protection. Those are essentially the answers I gave on Monday.

I entirely accept the noble Lord’s point that this is new, but, for the reasons I have tried to explain, it is a workable and, I submit, balanced approach to a very difficult problem which the Bill is trying to solve.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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As always, the Committee is very grateful to the Minister. I want to be absolutely certain that I have understood his case, because this is so important. My understanding is that he is reassuring the Committee on the basis that, first, nobody is going to be sent to the country that they fear in the first place—they are not going to be sent back directly to the country that they have escaped from and which they say was originally persecuting them—and, secondly, they can be sent only if there is a deal with a country. So maybe this is all going to be rhetoric in the end: we are going to tell the British people that we are stopping the boats, and we are going to warehouse more and more people under this whole edifice because there will be a duty under Clause 2 to remove people to places where they are irremovable to because there is no deal. Thirdly, the Minister points to the little chinks in the scheme whereby somebody might make some kind of exceptional non-suspensive claim. That is what I understand to be the three parts of his case.

On sending people to third countries that are unsafe because they are gay or because there is some other reason why that individual person would be at risk, it matters not that they would be unsafe in a third country or unsafe in a first country. In relation to the other little nudges and winks that he offers us—that this is perhaps fiction because in the end we do not have deals with a lot of these countries—that might be some comfort to people coming, and maybe even to those smuggling them, but it is certainly no comfort to the British people on the cost or on the toxicity of the debate we are having about stopping the boats, when actually the boats are not likely to be stopped.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, it is a question of judgment. The Government’s judgment is that this legislation will go a long way towards reducing the terrible risks that people and unaccompanied children are facing in crossing the channel in difficult circumstances, and will destabilise the business model of the people smugglers. Those are surely legitimate objects for any Government to pursue.

The noble Baroness’s analysis is essentially correct: if I am a national of a particular state and I make an asylum claim or human rights claim then I cannot be sent back to that country; I could be sent back to a country with which—she puts it somewhat colloquially, and I would not quite use these words—we have a deal. The country with which we have a migration partnership at the moment is Rwanda, so that is still a possibility, subject to the individual in that case being able to make an application for either a factual suspensive application or an application based on imminent and foreseeable and serious harm. That is how it works, and that is how the Government see it.

While I am on my feet, I will address the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, about whether the threat of deterrents supersedes individual human rights. For the reasons I have given, our answer is that there is no question of superseding individual human rights due to the protections I have just explained. Refoulement is covered by the existing agreement with Rwanda, and I am sure it will be covered in future agreements.

European Court of Human Rights: Rule 39

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Bellamy
Tuesday 6th June 2023

(10 months, 1 week ago)

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Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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In memory of my late noble and learned friend Lord Morris, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Lord Bellamy Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bellamy) (Con)
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My Lords, if I may, I associate myself with the tribute to the late Lord Morris.

The Government recognise that interim measures can be an important mechanism for securing individuals’ convention rights in exceptional circumstances. Nevertheless, the Government want the interim measures process to achieve a better balance between transparency, fairness and the proper administration of justice. Ministers, including the Prime Minister, have had constructive discussions with the Strasbourg court about reform. The court’s regular internal review of procedures began to look at the interim measures procedures in November 2022.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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As always, I am grateful to the Minister for his Answer. Does he agree with me that the current group of interim measures against the Russian Federation precluding the execution of prisoners of war is very important, and that, notwithstanding Russia’s current status outside the Council of Europe, anyone who thinks about ignoring those interim measures should think again? In the spirit of reciprocity, notwithstanding the discussions about process, will the Minister also think again about legislating to allow British Ministers to ignore interim measures from the Court of Human Rights?

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, if I may take the last question first, that issue will be explored in more detail in Committee when we get to Clause 53 of the Illegal Migration Bill. I remind the House that the Rule 39 power is a very important power, particularly in relation to the circumstances affecting Russia. However, it raises at least five quite difficult legal questions. First, what is the basis of the legal power? Secondly, what is the procedure with which the power is exercised? Thirdly, what is the competence, in the civil sense of the term, of the single judge? Fourthly, what is the effect in domestic law of such an order? Fifthly, what constitutes a breach of the order? None the less, the Government’s focus is on constructive and helpful discussions with the Strasbourg court on improving the process.

Illegal Migration Bill

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Bellamy
Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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It will remain a question of fact in each case and the examples of relevant harm are set out in Clause 38(4), which refers to

“death … persecution … torture … inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”

and where onward removal would raise a risk of

“real, imminent and foreseeable risk of … harm”.

If that in practice amounts to a situation in which you could not send a gay person back to that country, that would be a decision for the tribunal.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I am so grateful to the Minister for responding with his characteristic courtesy and patience. I think I can help him, because I think the problem here arises from the Government own cake-eating, if I can put it like that. The general proposition in the Bill is that we will now decide on a blanket basis that people are to be removed, regardless of their circumstances, because of the means of their arrival, not because of the circumstances of their past and their persecution. Fair enough; that is the thinking behind the Bill. Then the Government say, “Here is the schedule of safe countries”, again on a blanket basis. Then the Government say, “But only for men”—so they have already adopted the approach that there are some countries that are safe for men but not for women. But then when my noble friends and other noble Lords in the Committee say, “But gay people are a vulnerable group in many parts of the world, just as women are”, the Minister is, I think, forced into the Government’s position of saying, “But women are not a precedent”.

That logic is not standing up to scrutiny, in this Committee at least, so I hope that, after Committee and before Report, the Minister might just consider that issue of gay people, or LGBT+ people, in particular. We all know, in this Committee, that just as there are some countries that may be safe for men but not women, there are many countries that are not safe for queer people either. Rather than playing on this sticky wicket, which he, with his characteristic grace, handles with great aplomb, perhaps before Report, the Government could think again.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, the Government will of course consider that, as we try to consider everything that is said in this House, before Report. I simply reiterate that under Clause 5(3)(d), it still has to be

“a country or territory to which there is reason to believe P will be admitted”—

and that is probably not very likely to be satisfied in the particular countries we are talking about, such as Ghana, for example. Having responded to the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, the Government will of course consider the position.

Independent Public Advocate

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Bellamy
Thursday 2nd March 2023

(1 year, 1 month ago)

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Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, makes a very powerful point. I think it is related to all the issues we have in this particular area, in relation to legal aid, costs to the system, legal aid for inquests and other inquiries. The principle of proper representation is accepted, I am sure, on the part of the Government. How exactly we implement it and where the funding comes from is a matter for further discussion, I hope on a consensual and collaborative basis.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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In the same spirit as that question from the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, I have a concern about equality of arms in terms of representation before inquests and inquiries across the piece. I understand concerns about spiralling costs in some of these matters, but it seems to me that often, particularly in inquests but also in inquiries, public bodies are heavily represented. It seems totally iniquitous that public money will be spent with no upper limit to represent those public bodies that may be in the frame for negligence or wrongdoing, but that there is only exceptional case funding and tighter caps on the victims and their families. Is this perhaps something that the Minister, in the collaborative tone that he has adopted, might think about? Might that potentially be within the scope of the Bill itself, or at least the package that should support this enterprise?

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, for that question. The question of equality of arms is very much on the Government’s minds at the moment. The point has also been raised by Sir Bob Neill and the Justice Committee that there should be parity and equality of representation. We should do something to level up the ability of families who are up against what appears the be the apparatus or full panoply of the state, as part of levelling up in general. I think that the IPA is an important step in that direction; exactly how we ensure that kind of equality of arms, how it is funded and how we go about it, is something I look forward to having further discussion with all parties about.

Probate: Waiting Times

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Bellamy
Thursday 8th December 2022

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, first, I apologise to my noble friend and all those affected by unacceptable delays in the probate registry. Secondly, active steps are being taken to fix the problem. Some 76% of all applications are now made digitally. The problem arises in so-called stopped cases where an element, such as a document, is missing or a query arises. That is where communications have been less than perfect. The registry has now recruited more than 100 staff to make sure that phone calls and emails are answered properly and that the web chat facility, which deals with around 200 calls a day, works well. My colleague in the other place, Minister Freer, is monitoring this closely. I am told that telephone answering times have now come down to less than 10 minutes. We are determined to ensure that that progress continues. I fully accept that, in a time of bereavement, the service in the probate registry must be beyond reproach.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, will the Minister join me in congratulating his noble friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer? This is not the first time in a distinguished career in public service that she has converted personal grief into public campaigning and courage on behalf of other people. I am very grateful for her intervention. The justice system is creaking under the weight of years of austerity. Digitalisation may be part of the answer but it is not the whole answer when there are human beings involved. Perhaps the Minister might meet his noble friend to get some direct experience and advice for his department moving forward.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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I fully associate myself with the noble Baroness’s remarks. It is completely right that these issues should be raised, and I congratulate my noble friend Lady Meyer on raising them. I have already met her to discuss this problem. In fairness to the probate registry, I simply point out that we are still enmeshed in the aftermath of Covid. Excess deaths are currently running 13% above the five-year average. The first half of 2022 saw 16,000 extra applications above the same period in 2020. So there is a challenge here. I assure your Lordships that, as far as I am concerned, this issue is being monitored closely and everything is being done to correct it.

Rape: Prosecutions and Support

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Bellamy
Tuesday 29th November 2022

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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The Government hope to bring forward the victims Bill as soon as possible but have no present plans to change the legislation on violence against women or, indeed, anybody else.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, many women are facing a crisis of trust and confidence in the criminal justice system at the moment. I appreciate that the Minister is relatively new to this arena. However, there are people who believe that rape has effectively been decriminalised in our jurisdiction. That is a very serious matter. Would he consider meeting me, perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove—who is not in her place—other interested Members of your Lordships’ House and victims’ groups, including the Centre for Women’s Justice, to hear their experience before taking this work further forward?

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I would certainly be prepared to meet the noble Baroness and others and, on that occasion, take everyone through the steps that we are taking to combat this problem.

Lammy Review

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Bellamy
Monday 28th November 2022

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, stop and search is a matter primarily for the Home Office and the police, but I know that there is special training for police services in relation to this, including better use of body-worn cameras and other action taken to ensure that stop and search is less of a problem than it has been hitherto. In relation to charging, the Lammy report found no discrimination by the CPS in charging decisions, but there is ongoing academic work to establish exactly what the position is as far as the CPS is concerned.

As far as other matters are concerned, this is very much a matter of trust in the system between the ethnic minority and those who are dealing with that person. One of the things in train in the police station is a trial of an opt-in system when legal advice is available. As noble Lords know, free legal advice is available to everyone in the police station. The take-up by ethnic minorities is not very great, because it has to be asked for, but if it is given automatically and the person has to opt out of it, that could make quite a difference in building trust. That is an important initiative currently in train that I hope will bear fruit in due course.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, returning to the sensitive but vital subject of judicial diversity, it has long been understood that, in order to do its job, our highest court must have at least one senior justice from Northern Ireland and one from Scotland. Yet, to my understanding, not once have we ever had a black or brown senior justice as a Law Lord or, latterly, in our Supreme Court, notwithstanding the Privy Council, Commonwealth and Empire heritage. Is that really acceptable? Is it not time to experiment with time-limited affirmative action?

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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That is a matter for the Judicial Appointments Commission. I cannot challenge the facts that the noble Baroness presents. This is certainly an area on which continued work is necessary.

European Court of Human Rights

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Bellamy
Monday 5th September 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

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Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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I think the answer to that question is in the affirmative. The UK Government follow carefully any case that concerns UK citizens under the convention.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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Does the Minister, as a jurist of some distinction, agree that dialogue between domestic courts and international ones is incredibly important, and that is what is enshrined in the Human Rights Act?

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the noble Baroness; I entirely agree with the importance of dialogue.

European Convention on Human Rights

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Bellamy
Monday 18th July 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

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Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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The Government have set out their position in the manifesto upon which they were elected. There is no change to that manifesto.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I, for one, am very grateful to the Minister for the clarity of his Answer. However, I am concerned that the more popular of the two candidates in the Conservative race for the premiership who have committed to staying in the ECHR has been subject to an absolutely disgraceful campaign of smearing in the right-wing press. Can the Minister give some fatherly advice to these candidates that when they launch Islamophobic and misogynistic attacks on each other, and when they attack human rights, it is bad for his party and for the country?

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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I am not in a position to give fatherly advice to anybody. The Government do not support misogynistic or Islamophobic attacks on anyone. I have set out as clearly as I can the Government’s policy, and I shall doggedly pursue that policy unless and until instructed to the contrary.

Human Rights Act 1998

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Bellamy
Thursday 14th July 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

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Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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There is, as far as one can tell, an important part of public opinion that is very doubtful about the role of this legislation and the Strasbourg court in our constitutional settlement. Why that is the case is not for me to speculate, but it does seem to be difficult to say that it is not the case that there are sections of the public that have less confidence in this legislation than Members of this House.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I am grateful to the Minister for the patience and courtesy with which he is responding to this debate, but I am concerned about one very important element. The Minister said that the Government’s position is that we stay in the ECHR and that we are committed to it; that is the Government’s position, which cannot be overturned by a leadership candidate. But what if that candidate happens to be the current Attorney-General of England and Wales and legal adviser to Parliament and the Cabinet? That is not any old candidate, is it? Ms Braverman surely speaks for the Government, as their Attorney-General. In due course, would the Minister address my question about all these recent powers in the police Act, Nationality and Borders Act and so on, which were justified to us from that Dispatch Box by Ministers who said, “Don’t worry: there is the Human Rights Act as the safeguard, and these powers will have to be exercised in a manner compatible with that”.

European Convention on Human Rights

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Bellamy
Thursday 23rd June 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

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Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to encourage compliance with the Convention on Human Rights (1) in the United Kingdom, and (2) across Europe.

Lord Bellamy Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bellamy) (Con)
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My Lords, the Government are fully committed to abiding by their obligations under the convention, in line with the Brighton declaration of 2012, agreed under the UK’s chairmanship of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers. We will continue to lead efforts to ensure the effective implementation of the convention by all state parties, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity and the margin of appreciation afforded to them under that declaration.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I welcome the Minister to his very well-deserved new role.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti
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I thank him for his Answer, but I am afraid what Amnesty International has called the “rights removal Bill”, which was published yesterday, tells a rather different story. Its provisions drastically dilute the positive obligations on the police to protect the public from sexual and violent crimes, and it attempts to break the vital link between our domestic courts and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. How can Ministers get on aeroplanes to talk about human rights elsewhere in the world while promoting such a hatchet job at home?

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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I thank the House for its welcome. As the House knows, this afternoon we have an Oral Statement during which we can go into some of these questions in more detail. If I may at this stage confine myself to general terms, the Government’s view is that this Bill will strengthen our human rights framework in this country, in particular—and these are the key words I would like to introduce—by introducing a better balance in the human rights framework, a better balance between the judiciary and the legislature, a better balance between UK judges and Strasbourg, and a better balance between rights and obligations. We stay in the convention; the rights in the convention are still there in UK statute; but we seek to rebalance and clarify, in the words of the Act, and thereby restore public confidence in our human rights framework.

Bill of Rights

Debate between Baroness Chakrabarti and Lord Bellamy
Thursday 23rd June 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

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Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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I thank the noble Viscount and gratefully accept his invitation to give such a considered and more detailed view at a later stage.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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I welcome the Minister once more. He spoke at some length, rightly, on the interpretation provisions, which are obviously incredibly important given the relationship between our continuing commitment—as I understand it—to the Convention on Human Rights and the need to enforce these at home. Clause 3, which he referred to, quite rightly says:

“The Supreme Court is the ultimate judicial authority”,


as the noble and learned Lord agreed is the current provision. Yet, the Supreme Court is told in Clause 3(3)(a) that it

“may not adopt an interpretation of the right that expands the protection”

beyond the Strasbourg court. In other words, the Strasbourg court may not expand human rights and nor may the Supreme Court, which looks a little bit like the Government telling courts over there and over here what their limits should be in protecting people’s human rights.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for that question, which will require further and detailed thought as we go along. The essential purpose of this part of the Bill and the provisions to which the noble Baroness refers is to incorporate into legislation the test recently enunciated in the Supreme Court by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Reed. He said essentially that the UK courts should not go further than the Strasbourg court under human rights legislation unless they are satisfied that the Strasbourg court would. This is not intended to do any more than incorporate in statutory form what the Supreme Court has already said.