Debates between Lord Harries of Pentregarth and Lord Bellamy during the 2019 Parliament

Wed 31st Jan 2024
Victims and Prisoners Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage: Part 1

Victims and Prisoners Bill

Debate between Lord Harries of Pentregarth and Lord Bellamy
Lord Bellamy Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bellamy) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken to this group of amendments. The Government appreciate the considerable work that goes into preparing amendments and arguments and bringing issues before this House.

By way of a brief reminder, in general terms the Government have a threefold approach to the Bill. The first is to set out general principles of the victims’ code included in Clause 2(3), supplemented by regulations in subsection (4). The second approach is to put the detail and the operational information that victims need in the code, rather than in the Bill. I commend to your Lordships the latest draft version of the code, published in June 2023, which sets out the 12 rights in a particularly user-friendly way. The third approach is to create a system whereby victims are aware of the code, and the relevant criminal justice bodies comply with their obligations under the code. The mechanism for this is set out in Clauses 6 to 10, supplemented by guidance under Clause 11.

I have reiterated that framework because, in the Government’s view, a lot of the debate we have had today is about what should be in the Bill and what should be in the code, in guidance or elsewhere in the framework. There may be no disagreement in principle about the importance of many of the things we are discussing, be it restorative justice or the right to object to a charging decision, but the question we are on now concerns the way the Bill should be drafted. The broad view of the Government on most of the amendments in this group and subsequent groups is that the matter is either already covered in the code or should be covered in the code, rather than being expressly on the face of the Bill. That is the Government’s broad position.

Turning to the amendments, I take first the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Gohir, relating to multiple perpetrators and the fact that in some cases if only one perpetrator is charged, the victim may be aggrieved because other perpetrators were not charged. First of all, this is a good example of how it should work; the principle of a right to challenge, from the victim’s point of view, is set out in Clause 2(9). The implementation of that principle in this context is in code right 6, which refers to the victim’s right of review scheme in respect of various police and CPS decisions. The noble Baroness rightly draws attention to an apparent lacuna in the CPS part of the scheme, which currently does not cater for the situation where only one of several perpetrators is charged. The Government are very happy to look again at that issue and to discuss with the relevant agencies how that lacuna should be addressed.

As the Government see it, this is a very good example, rightly drawn to public attention, of a possible gap in the code that should be addressed by making improvements to the code rather than putting the issue directly in the statute. The draft code itself, in its present form, will be subject to further consultation anyway under Clause 3 if and when the Bill is passed. That is essentially the Government’s position on Amendment 13.

I take next the important issue of restorative justice, of which the Government are wholly supportive. Amendment 14, in the name of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and Amendments 16, 17, 22, 32 and 52, in the name of, in particular, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, aim to ensure that on the face of the Bill victims should have access to restorative justice—that is the broad thrust of it—and that the Secretary of State should issue guidance about that.

The Government entirely accept that restorative justice is extremely important; again, I salute, if I may, the words of my noble friend Lord Hodgson in raising this issue so eloquently. However, important though it is, the Government do not feel that restorative justice should be elevated above all the other victim services by being specifically included in the Bill. Once you start including specific services in the Bill, either you have a very long list or you have to prioritise certain things. The Government’s view is that the structure should be that the Bill contains short principles, and almost everything else is in the code or guidance. To do otherwise is to introduce rigidity and might have the somewhat perverse effect of concentrating what are admittedly limited resources on some specified kind of support at the expense of other, equally valuable, kinds of support.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
- Hansard - -

I think we are all very sympathetic to the idea that a huge amount could go in the code and the guidance, certainly as far as restorative justice is concerned. But the third part of what the Minister said the purpose of this Bill was is to ensure that the criminal justice system knows what its responsibilities are. Surely some things could go in there, including restorative justice. Will the Minister look particularly carefully at the evidence produced by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, about how at least 27% of people would have taken up restorative justice if they had been asked? Would he not come to the conclusion, perhaps, that it is only if it is on the face of the Bill that that situation will be remedied?

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

My Lords, as the noble and right reverend Lord invites me, I will look again at that evidence and the whole argument. However, in relation to this aspect, noble Lords should be aware that access to all the supporting services and processes in the criminal justice system are already part of the principles under Clause 2(3). In the implementation of those rights, access to justice is already specifically provided for under right 3 in the present draft code, which, among other things, requires the police to provide all the information you need to exercise that right.