6 Baroness Sater debates involving the Scotland Office

Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975 (Amendment) (England and Wales) Order 2020

Baroness Sater Excerpts
Thursday 10th September 2020

(3 years, 9 months ago)

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Baroness Sater Portrait Baroness Sater (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I am grateful to be able to speak in this short debate. I welcome these orders, which would amend the filtering rules that govern what is automatically disclosed through the standard and enhanced criminal record certificates issued by the DBS. Removing the automatic disclosure of youth cautions, reprimands and warnings, as well as the multiple conviction rule, will help to strike the right balance between rehabilitating offenders and protecting the public.

I have been a keen advocate of reform around childhood criminal records, and here today we see real progress towards greater support for improving outcomes of those with minor criminal records and their future in society. Making errors of judgment in childhood should not prevent those who are trying to turn their lives around leading a fulfilling and rewarding life and contributing positively to their community.

My time as a youth magistrate and a member of the Youth Justice Board gave me a real insight into the debilitating effects of minor criminal records that hung over young people who were trying to put the past behind them and get on with their lives. Too often, the current disclosure system acts as a barrier to employment, as well as to other things, such as housing, education and insurance, which in turn minimises the chances of rehabilitation.

We know that employers use DBS certificates as part of their recruitment process to help them consider a person’s suitability for certain roles, particularly those requiring a high degree of public trust. We also know that securing a good job can notably increase the possibility of desistance. It is therefore very welcome that these changes will particularly benefit those with childhood cautions and those with minor offences who have moved on from their past. Too often, you hear from young people who seem resigned to the fact that because they have a criminal record, they have zero chance of securing a job and getting on with their lives.

It is right, however, that convictions and adult cautions for offences specified on a list of serious offences, and which received a custodial sentence, are recent or unspent, will continue to be disclosed. Additionally, enhanced criminal record certificates may also include any information that a chief officer of police reasonably believes to be relevant and, in their opinion, ought to be included.

I am grateful to the safeguarding Minister in the other place, Victoria Atkins, for bringing this new legislation forward. I agree with her that making these changes will help to ensure that vulnerable people are protected from dangerous offenders, while at the same time ensuring that those who have turned their lives around or live with the stigma of past convictions from their childhood are not held back. These changes build on the Government’s commitment to increase employment for ex-offenders and are a very welcome step. I believe that a wider review of criminal records would highlight further improvements that could be made to deliver better outcomes, but that is not for now.

Sentencing Bill [HL]

Baroness Sater Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 25th June 2020

(4 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Sater Portrait Baroness Sater (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I declare that I have sat in the youth court for more than 20 years. I warmly welcome this Bill. It would introduce one coherent Sentencing Code. I join other noble Lords in paying tribute to the assiduous work of the Law Commission and note that it has received widespread support from judges, lawyers and academics, as well as the other place.

I particularly welcome the introduction of the clean sweep. It brings much-needed clarity to the application of sentencing law, deleting layers of historic sentencing legislation and making it possible for offenders to be sentenced under the new code, regardless of when an offence was committed. It is a significant step that will help avoid errors and appeals resulting from historic or redundant aspects of the legislation being incorrectly reflected in sentencing decisions.

The Bill makes important steps to simplify criminal sentencing, not only for the judiciary and legal practitioners—crucially, it also improves the clarity, accessibility and understanding of the law to defendants, witnesses, jurors, victims and the public at large. Once the Sentencing Code is enacted, I ask the Minister to do all he can to ensure that the training measures are in place, so that the judiciary who use it are able to do so to best effect and that it is applied correctly and appropriately.

I am pleased that in his remarks in the other place the Lord Chancellor focused on defendants. They are at the sharp end when it comes to sentencing and we should not lose sight of the fact that these matters affect the lives of real people. The Bill will improve the confidence that all users of the criminal justice system need in sentencing, including the public, defendants and victims. Clearer law will lead to greater understanding. I agree with the Lord Chancellor and others that for far too long there has been a gulf between what the practitioner and the lawyer might understand and how it is explained to the public.

The passing of correct sentencing is crucial, based on the right legislation and procedure, which will bring increased public confidence. The coherent Sentencing Code that will be enacted through this Bill is therefore not only desirable but utterly essential and long overdue.

Royal Commission on Criminal Justice

Baroness Sater Excerpts
Wednesday 3rd June 2020

(4 years ago)

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Lord Keen of Elie Portrait Lord Keen of Elie
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I cannot at this stage specify the precise terms of reference that will be submitted. Of course, once those terms of reference are accepted and proceeded with, they cannot be altered.

Baroness Sater Portrait Baroness Sater (Con)
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My Lords, having sat as a youth magistrate for over 20 years I ask my noble and learned friend whether he agrees that, for the royal commission to be a comprehensive review, it must take into account the developments in the delivery of youth justice—substantially different from that of adults—that have occurred since the last royal commission over a quarter of a century ago.

Lord Keen of Elie Portrait Lord Keen of Elie
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Clearly the royal commission will seek to embrace the terms of reference that are finally agreed. As the manifesto indicated, there was the intention to cover the areas of prosecution, trial, sentence and parole.

Offender Management: Checkpoint Programme

Baroness Sater Excerpts
Thursday 27th February 2020

(4 years, 3 months ago)

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Baroness Sater Portrait Baroness Sater (Con)
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My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Bates for introducing this debate and I welcome innovative and holistic approaches like this one which build on much of the work I have witnessed over the years in the youth justice system.

We know that early intervention and out-of-court disposals have been effective in contributing to the reduction of youth custody and keeping children out of the criminal justice system. While there are, of course, differences between this approach and the Checkpoint programme, the principle of early intervention is the key parallel. Subject to successful completion, specifically designed interventions will help address the underlying causes of offending, including drug and alcohol abuse and mental health issues and will leave offenders without a criminal record, which so often is a huge barrier to breaking the cycle of reoffending. It will also allow them to go on and lead a life free of crime. Prison will remain the right option for those who commit serious crimes, but prisons themselves are all too aware that rehabilitation outcomes are not good enough, although there are notable success stories,

We should and need to focus our time and resources on dealing with these underlying issues at the earliest opportunity because of how prevalent they are among offenders entering prison. It is good to see that Durham Constabulary’s interim impact figures are promising—as my noble friend Lord Bates mentioned—and that other police forces around the country are adopting innovative programmes to tackle these issues head on. Prison, after all, is the last resort.

We must not forget the victim and at no time should the safety of the public be compromised. We owe it to the offender and the victim, as well as society, to find a way to reintroduce reformed or reforming individuals so that they can become fully contributing members of society. Unless we continue to try and explore alternative solutions such as Checkpoint and address the underlying issues before people end up in prison, we will not make progress.

Getting the balance right between tough sentencing and rehabilitation will always be challenging, but there can be no greater prize than taking someone out of a life of crime and supporting them back into being a contributing member of society. This will always be worth fighting for.

Criminal Justice System: Women

Baroness Sater Excerpts
Thursday 25th July 2019

(4 years, 11 months ago)

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Baroness Sater Portrait Baroness Sater (Con)
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My Lords, I am most grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate. It touches on issues with which I was closely aligned before coming to this House. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Farmer for introducing this excellent debate and conducting this new review, further to his very good review in 2017. It makes important recommendations that highlight the need to address the specific circumstances of female offenders. In particular, I wholeheartedly agree with my noble friend that the promotion of strong family ties and other relationships must be the golden thread running through the whole criminal justice system. Prisoners who receive family visits are, as previously mentioned, 39% less likely to reoffend. Research suggests that these relationships are even more important for women than men. We cannot ignore this significant figure.

Furthermore, according to the Office for National Statistics, 22% of females in prison are serving sentences of less than 12 months, compared with 9% of males. Sadly, women are easily caught in the so-called revolving door, with short prison sentences. They lose their homes and often custody of their children, which exacerbates a downward spiral into more serious offences and an inability to secure the vital employment they need. Prison is and should continue to be the appropriate option for women who commit serious crimes. However, for those who commit less serious, non-violent offences, there are alternatives.

As mentioned before, last year I too visited the Nelson Trust women’s centre in Gloucester. It is clear to me that female offenders are among the most vulnerable in our society. As part of the female offender strategy launched last year, the Government committed to working with local and national partners to develop a residential women’s centre pilot in at least five sites across England and Wales, offering an alternative to short custodial sentences. As per the Minister’s Written Statement last month, I am pleased that the Government have recently concluded the first phase of the consultation to inform the scope of the project, and will now continue to consult to refine the design and delivery of the pilot. This is encouraging.

A 2015 Ministry of Justice report found that the reoffending rate for female offenders who received support from women’s centres was lower compared with those who did not. We also know that women’s centres are a more cost-effective way of rehabilitating women than prison. Women’s centres provide an opportunity for a different path, and I strongly believe that the women’s centre model will deliver positive outcomes for more female offenders through the entire criminal justice system.

I will now speak to my noble friend Lord Farmer’s suggestion of making pre-sentence reports mandatory for all female and male primary carers before a custodial sentence is passed. I served as a magistrate for more than 20 years and, as I have said before in this House, one of the most difficult duties a magistrate faces is, where there is no alternative, to send an offender to prison. It is not a decision that is ever taken lightly, particularly when imprisoning women who have children, because of the often damaging impact that such a sentence can have on these relationships. Further, while it is important to recognise that women are likely to be the primary carer, we should also consider these recommendations for men.

When I was in the youth court, I saw first hand how essential pre-sentencing reports were in helping us come to our decision from a more informed viewpoint. I would support mandatory pre-sentencing reports for those cases where there is an opportunity for a different path to custody.

I recognise that any change in the law would increase the workload of the national probation service. However, if this measure helps break the cycle of reoffending by properly addressing and considering the vulnerability of many female offenders and their families, it is certainly worth progressing.

We must also pay more attention to the children of offenders, as previously mentioned. According to the Prison Reform Trust, 17,000 children per year are affected by maternal imprisonment, only 5% of children remain with their family when a mother goes to prison, and only 9% are cared for by their father. I was therefore pleased to see the Sentencing Council highlight to courts in its new Overarching Principles guideline the necessity of considering the effect of a sentence on dependants and ensuring that a court has the information it needs. The council also states that a PSR should be obtained when a community order or custodial sentence is being considered for any offender who has, or may have, caring responsibilities. These are welcome steps.

When considering my noble friend Lord Farmer’s recommendations regarding video-conferencing facilities and in-cell telephones, it is important to recognise, as I have mentioned previously, that prisoners who receive family visits are 39% less likely to reoffend. Maintaining these relationships can only reduce intergenerational offending.

I strongly support the recommendation that women’s prisons be prioritised for the rollout of virtual visits given the positive impact that they can have on dependants, especially when so many women offenders are primary carers whose children are likely to live far away. We can all sympathise with a child who wants to be with and speak to their mother on the first day of school, on their birthday or when they receive exam results. Video-linking and in-cell telephones will help reduce the trauma of separation, maintain relationships between offenders and their dependants; in turn, improving outcomes after they leave prison. Such facilities must of course be properly monitored and judged on a case-by-case basis.

Virtual visits should not be viewed as an alternative to face-to-face visits. They should be an addition to the ongoing rehabilitation of offenders through maintaining relationships with their dependants. Children do not deserve the punishment that might occur from their parents’ behaviour, nor to endure the generational cycle of offending. We owe it to them to support recommendations that will make their lives better and provide them with better life opportunities. We must recognise the importance of maintaining relationships between offenders and their children, family members and friends.

Tailoring interventions and the treatment of women within the criminal justice system is vital. Only then can we provide them with the appropriate environment to address their needs. Let us remember that this in turn will mean less reoffending, fewer victims of crime and a healthier society for all.

Justice: Women’s Centres

Baroness Sater Excerpts
Wednesday 12th September 2018

(5 years, 9 months ago)

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Baroness Sater Portrait Baroness Sater (Con) (Maiden Speech)
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My Lords, it is an honour and I am most grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate today, which touches on many issues with which I have been closely aligned before coming to this House. First, I would like to thank everyone in this House from all sides for their kindness and support. Black Rod and her staff, the doorkeepers, the attendants and the police officers have been incredibly helpful and given me so much guidance and direction. I cannot thank them enough.

My induction into this House, although a nerve-wracking and humbling experience, was made less stressful by my wonderful supporters—the noble Lord, Lord Carrington of Fulham, who has been a friend and mentor to me for too many years to mention, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chisholm of Owlpen, who not only took on the role of supporter but wanted even more punishment as my mentor. Thank you both. I am truly grateful.

I have been involved with the justice system for nearly a quarter of a century, much of it as a magistrate. One of the most difficult duties of a JP is, where there is no alternative, to send an offender to custody. It is not a decision that is taken lightly. This is particularly the case when imprisoning women because of the impact that such a sentence has not just on them but, all too often, on their children and families.

None the less, in order to ensure that public safety remains a top priority and to address the rightful needs of victims, prison is and will continue to be the only appropriate option for those women who commit the most serious crimes. For other women offenders—those who commit the less serious, non-violent offences—there are alternatives. This is why I believe strongly in the ability of women’s centres to improve outcomes in the justice system. I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester for introducing this debate, not least because we know that the reoffending rate, after a custodial sentence of less than 12 months, is far too high.

All too often, I have seen at first hand, not only as a magistrate but as a former trustee of Addaction, the impact on women and children of not having had the start or support in life to help them with the many difficult challenges and trauma that come from being victims of domestic abuse, sexual abuse and exploitation, or from suffering from poor mental health or addiction to drugs or alcohol. Regrettably and sadly, these circumstances often lead to a downward spiral into criminality. Women’s centres provide specialist treatment services to help precisely those women whose lives have taken a wrong turn and who need to get back on track.

During a recent visit to the Nelson Trust women’s centre in Gloucester, it was evident that female offenders are frequently among the most vulnerable individuals in society with very complex needs. I was extremely impressed by the successes achieved as the result of the tireless work of those working at the trust. There are many others like them who dedicate their lives to helping vulnerable women in need and I pay tribute to them all.

I therefore welcome the Government’s decision to pilot residential women’s centres. They will provide an additional option to manage women in the community on a sentence that is more intense and robust but that enables them to maintain their ties with their families and support them to stay in stable housing and employment. Such centres can provide the wide-ranging and holistic services that are now the norm for young offenders, both female and male.

Of course, the ideal would be to tackle issues before they lead to criminality. During the three years that I recently spent as a member of the Youth Justice Board, I worked to improve early interventions and rehabilitation for children and to give them an opportunity to live crime-free lives. One area that I believe offers great benefits and potential for both adult and child offenders to find new opportunities as well as to improve their health and well-being is sport. In my case, tennis played a significant part in my childhood, growing up in Wales. Playing competitively provided life skills and confidence from which I have benefited greatly, even if I was no Virginia Wade.

In turn, I have been keen throughout my career to turn my personal sporting experience to the benefit of others, not least to provide them with similar opportunities to get on in life and to reach their full potential. It was through the Youth Justice Board, under the chairmanship of my friend the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that I was introduced to StreetGames and subsequently became its chairman. The charity delivers sports into disadvantaged communities, giving children real opportunities to develop life skills and confidence and eventually to improve their prospects of employment. If we can help youngsters before they take the wrong turn, how much better off they are and how much better off society is.

For now, though, we must accept the reality that there are young and adult women who have, for whatever reason, committed offences. It behoves us to treat them as individuals and provide the most appropriate place to address their needs. Women’s centres can and should play a critical part in their rehabilitation. It has been a privilege to contribute to the broad criminal justice system, whether as a magistrate, working with those with addiction or affording opportunities through sport. It is an honour now to have the opportunity to play a role, however small, in your Lordships’ House.