Probation and Court Services: Workload

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Excerpts
Thursday 9th June 2022

(2 weeks, 6 days ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, disclosure of and taking into account the views of persons who are connected with or are directly victims of crimes is not a matter which bears directly upon the responsibilities of the probation service, but I assure the noble and learned Lord that the views of the Lord Chancellor in relation to the importance of this are being taken into account.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I want to ask about unpaid work as part of a community sentence. There is a huge backlog. For example, in January the east Midlands probation service had in excess of 100,000 hours of unpaid work which had not been delivered, and a low number of offenders actually complete their unpaid work. This undermines the sentence itself as well as victims’ faith in the justice system. What can the Minister say about the staffing levels necessary to administer unpaid work? Does he believe that this backlog can be reduced by any sensible proportion in the next year or so?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, training for probation staff to equip them with the necessary knowledge and information to be able to superintend unpaid work in the community, as with every aspect of their work, is invaluable. The Government have met their target to recruit 1,000 officers holding professional qualifications in probation for the financial year 2020-21 and 1,500 officers for the financial year 2021-22.

As for the noble Lord’s point about recognition of the importance of such work and how to ensure it is addressed, the Government recognise the importance of unpaid work in the community as an aspect of the sentence, note the backlog and the complex background against which that backlog has arisen—specifically the problems in relation to offender management caused by the pandemic—and are resolving them as quickly as possible.

Lord Garnier Portrait Lord Garnier (Con)
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My Lords, I join the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, in all that he has said, and I say with greater confidence, albeit with some reticence, if that is not a contradiction, that I disagree with my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Marks, with whom I am a fellow member of chambers. I think it is fair to say that the Back Benches of the Conservative Party in this House are now more greatly adorned by the promotion, I would say, of the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, to these Benches, and I look forward to his contributions from his Back-Bench seat. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, correctly described my noble friend, but he and I need to be very careful because we now have yet another competitor for a car park space in Brick Court.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I too would like to thank the Minister for his careful introduction to the Motions before us today. I would also like to thank all those who worked to improve this Bill during its progress through both Houses, and I single out my honourable friend the Member for Hammersmith, Andy Slaughter, and Alex Cunningham, the Member for Stockton North. I would also like to thank noble, and noble and learned, Lords from the Cross Benches who have taken an active interest, particularly in the judicial review parts of this Bill, which has led to the substantial improvements which we have just heard about.

There has been a spirit of consensus on parts of this Bill, particularly those concentrating on court procedures. I thank the noble and learned Lord’s predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, for numerous discussions about court procedures and how they might be monitored and improved. That is not a point of contention we are considering today.

I start with Motion A and the amendment to it, Motion A1, from the noble Lord, Lord Marks, on Clause 1 of the Bill. Yesterday the Government accepted the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, which would do away with the presumption that quashing orders would be prospective. As my honourable friend said yesterday, this

“extracts the worst of the sting in clause 1”. —[Official Report, Commons, 26/4/22; col. 604.]

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, on this achievement. It is in the spirit of recognising this compromise and move by the Government that, while we are sympathetic to Motion A1, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, we would not support it if it were pressed by the noble Lord.

In Motion B, on Clause 2 of the Bill, the Government propose that the House do not insist on its Amendment 5, in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton. The amendment would have retained Cart reviews in the High Court and Court of Session in limited circumstances. I understand the noble and learned Lord will not be revisiting this issue, and we will not oppose the Government’s Motion. For the avoidance of doubt, I should make it clear that we see no purpose in Clauses 1 and 2 of this Bill. It would be our preference to remove these clauses from the Bill in their entirety, but we recognise the votes yesterday and we will not be opposing the Government’s Motion.

I now turn to the Government’s Motion C and my amendment to it, Motion C1. The original amendment in my name ensured that bereaved people, such as family members, would be entitled to publicly funded legal representation in inquests where public bodies, such as the police or a hospital trust, are legally represented. The original amendment in this House was won with a handsome majority. The purpose of the amendment was to achieve an equality of arms at inquests between bereaved people and state bodies. This is an issue not just of access to justice, but of fairness. How can it be right that state bodies have unlimited access to public funds for the best legal teams and experts, while families are often forced to pay large sums towards legal costs, or risk representing themselves or resorting to crowd- funding? This fundamental point was acknowledged and agreed with yesterday by Sir Bob Neill, chairman of the Justice Select Committee in the other place.

The reason given by the Government for objecting to this amendment was that it would involve a charge on public funds. I acknowledge that point and the amendment now asks for a review. I also acknowledge the point that the noble and learned Lord made—that that is not the sole reason for the objection to the amendment in my name.

Five years have passed since Bishop James Jones delivered his report on the experience of the Hillsborough families. In that report, Bishop Jones made recommendations, which included publicly funded legal representation for bereaved families. In May 2021, the Justice Committee recommended that for all inquests where public authorities are legally represented, non-means-tested legal aid or other public funding for legal representation should be available for people who have been bereaved. This is a long-standing issue which, to be fair to the Government, as we have heard today, they acknowledge there is more work to be done on.

I have had a number of meetings with the Minister and his colleague Mr Cartlidge. Unfortunately, we have not reached an agreement on this matter, although I thank them for the efforts that have been made. I want to run through the arguments they advanced during our meetings. First, as the noble and learned Lord has said, there is a means test review under way. The Government’s argument is that by highlighting one particular group—namely, bereaved families—it would raise expectations for that group and that may not be fair to that group while the review is under way.

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Moved by
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
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At end insert “and do propose Amendment 11B in lieu—

11B: Insert the following new Clause—
“Independent review of publicly funded legal representation for bereaved people at inquests
(1) The Lord Chancellor must commission an independent review of the need for provision of publicly funded legal representation for bereaved people at inquests not more than six months after the passing of this Act.
(2) The review must be chaired by a person appointed by the Lord Chancellor.
(3) The review must include a consultation with interested stakeholders, whose submissions must be published.
(4) The Lord Chancellor must publish the outcome of the review and lay it before Parliament no later than one year after the passing of this Act.””
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I beg to move Motion C1.

Humanist Marriages

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Excerpts
Monday 25th April 2022

(2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, I am perfectly happy to arrange that someone from the relevant department should meet the noble Baroness—as, indeed, my colleague in the other place, Tom Pursglove MP, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, has met representatives from Humanists UK, and Crispin Blunt MP. That took place on 24 March.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, the Liberal Democrats clearly support this change; the Labour Party supports this change; the Government in Wales support this change; the Government in Scotland support this change; and, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, it is ultimately going to be a political decision, so why are the Government waiting for the Law Commission’s report?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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Because, my Lords, the question of marriage is a complex one and the Government do not wish to act prematurely where to do so may be to the prejudice of one group at the expense of others.

Coronavirus Act 2020 (Delay in Expiry: Inquests, Courts and Tribunals, and Statutory Sick Pay) (England and Wales and Northern Ireland) Regulations 2022

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Excerpts
Monday 25th April 2022

(2 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Stewart of Dirleton) (Con)
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My Lords, last month, 25 March marked two years since the Coronavirus Act gained Royal Assent. This Act gave us the necessary powers to tackle the direct health impacts of the Covid-19 virus, support individuals, businesses and the economy, and maintain our critical public services during the pandemic. When the Act was introduced, this House and the other place agreed for the temporary provisions within it to have a two-year lifespan. The Government have always been clear that these provisions would remain in place only as long as they are necessary and proportionate to respond to the pandemic. Thanks to the progress made in the fight against the virus, the Government have been able to repeal the vast majority of the temporary non-devolved provisions in this Act. There are now only five temporary non-devolved provisions remaining in force, which are extended by the regulations before us today.

Four of these provisions, at Sections 30, 53, 54 and 55 of the Act, relate to the justice system. They have allowed the system to continue to function throughout the pandemic, enabling the courts to deal promptly and safely with proceedings, and to avoid unnecessary social contact and travel while upholding the principle of open justice. They are now proving vital in our efforts to support court recovery. These temporary measures are so important to court recovery that we intend to replace them with permanent legislation, but we cannot afford any gap in provision while we wait for that legislation to complete its passage through Parliament, albeit some of it is comparatively well-advanced.

Section 30 removes the obligations for coroners to hold inquests with a jury where Covid-19 is the suspected cause of death. An equivalent measure is included in the Judicial Review and Courts Bill, which is expected to receive Royal Assent later this spring. The replacement measure has effect for two years and can be extended by regulations made by the Secretary of State. Neither Section 30 nor the new Judicial Review and Courts Bill prevents coroners from holding jury inquests in cases where they consider it appropriate. I think it is important to emphasise this element of discretion vesting in the coroner.

Sections 53, 54 and 55 enable participation in court and tribunal hearings to take place remotely by video or audio links. They also allow audio or video footage to be transmitted to remote observers and create new offences to prohibit the unauthorised recording or transmission of any live links sent from court. Essentially, it is an updating of the power inherent in the court already to regulate the behaviour of those observing its proceedings.

They are due to be replaced this summer with new provisions in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, subject to parliamentary approval. In the meantime, it is vital that these measures remain in place so that our courts and tribunals can continue to hold virtual hearings in an open and transparent manner. These measures continue to be crucial in helping our courts and tribunals to work more quickly through the backlog of cases that has built up during the pandemic.

Currently, around 10,000 hearings each week take place using some form of remote technology. On 14 February, the Lord Chief Justice issued guidance on the circumstances and types of proceedings where it might continue to be appropriate for advocates to attend Crown Court hearings remotely under these provisions. This includes bail applications, ground rules hearings, custody time limit extensions, uncontested Proceeds of Crime Act hearings and those hearings which involve legal argument only. Conducting these types of hearings via audio and video links means that court-rooms can be reserved for hearings which require participants to attend in person, including trials and sentencing hearings.

Without Section 30, the backlogs in our coroners’ courts would be significantly larger, further increasing the demand on local authority-funded coroner services. Hundreds, possibly thousands of individuals, would have to serve on Covid-19 inquest juries and coroner services would have been overwhelmed by the logistics. If the courts are unable to continue to use these provisions, even for a few months, I submit that it will have a significant impact on our court recovery programme. It will mean that defendants are waiting longer than necessary for trial, more complainers are waiting longer than necessary for justice and the bereaved are waiting longer than necessary for inquests. Therefore, we cannot, I submit, allow these powers to lapse. A maximum six-month extension will enable a smooth transition and avoid any disruption to service before replacement primary legislation comes into force. The provisions we are discussing today will be repealed once this new primary legislation is in force.

I turn to address a provision at Section 43 which relates to statutory sick pay in Northern Ireland. Section 43 is extended by this statutory instrument for a period of six months. This enables statutory sick pay to be paid from day one in Northern Ireland for absences relating to Covid-19. While statutory sick pay is ordinarily a transferred matter in Northern Ireland, Section 43 confers on the Secretary of State the power to make regulations in respect of this provision. In this provision, the UK Government are facilitating the extension of Section 43 on the formal request of the Department for Communities in Northern Ireland.

I take the opportunity today on behalf of the Government to note an addendum in the 12th two-monthly report of the Act, which was published on 24 March. This addendum addresses omission of status updates for two temporary provisions in previous reports. These are Sections 42 and 43 that relate to statutory sick pay and extend to Northern Ireland only. On behalf of the Government, I apologise for this omission and welcome the opportunity to correct it. The addendum provides information about the status of these provisions over the course of the pandemic. I have made inquiry of the Bill team about the way in which this addendum is promulgated and I am told that it together with an accompanying apology is placed in prominent view in the report.

I reassure the Committee and the House in general on behalf of the Government that the reporting omission has not impacted the policy relating to these provisions. The addendum provides information about the status of these provisions over the course of the pandemic.

On behalf of the Government, I thank all front-line workers and those working in our courts, tribunals and coroner services for the sterling work they have done to keep the system running.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this statutory instrument. It is fairly technical in the sense that it is a six-month extension of the current emergency provisions —starting from 25 March—to cover the coming into effect and Royal Assent for the two Bills which the Minister mentioned. In that spirit, we do not oppose this statutory instrument.

The Minister set out the importance of this emergency legislation in dealing with the situation we were in during the pandemic. I remind the Committee that I sit as a magistrate in the adult, youth and family jurisdictions, and have sat in a lot of these courts over that two-year period. I have been active in the two Bills the Minister mentioned, in trying to take the best of that experience and use it in continuing to work with an overburdened court system. I accept the points that he made that we are dealing with 10,000 hearings a week that have some form of remote technology in them and that we should do what we can to do hearings remotely, because it frees up court rooms to try to address the backlog.

Understandably, given the nature of this statutory instrument, the Minister did not address the BBC’s headline news today about the continuing and worsening backlogs for sexual offences. I was just looking up the statistics while waiting for this debate and the figures are getting worse: the average case length for sexual offences is 266 days—nine months waiting for suitable cases to come to court. This is getting worse, so I ask the Minister what the nature of the bottleneck is. Is it, as the criminal barristers are saying, that the number of criminal barristers has fallen over recent years? Is it because the number of judges’ sitting days has reduced? Or is it, as I have also heard, that there is a difficulty and a bottleneck in recruiting a sufficient number of judges to deal with these backlogs, that of sexual offences in particular? The Minister’s predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, made the point in previous debates that the lack of availability is not of courts as such but of appropriate judges. I would be interested to hear from the Minister whether that is still the case.

The Minister talked about Section 43 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 and statutory sick pay provision in Northern Ireland. I noted the correction that he highlighted, which I am happy to take as read; I do not want to go into that any further.

As I opened, we support this statutory instrument. It is a technical measure as provisions within other Bills come into place. Nevertheless, I think the Minister should say something about the seriously bad figures that were produced in BBC programmes and made headline news today.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his contribution and the spirit in which he framed his remarks, acknowledging the justification for this measure to extend the powers brought in under the peculiar and unique circumstances of Covid and the value that they had. As always with the noble Lord, he speaks from a position of expertise and experience of the value of such measures from his position as a magistrate—or, rather, his position as a magistrate informs his remarks.

The noble Lord posed a question on the figures. He sought an answer on the bottleneck and advanced a number of potential causes for it. I can tell the Committee something of the scale of the investment that the Government are making in the criminal justice system over the next three years. The sum of £477 million is to be invested in the system overall, which will allow us to reduce the Crown Court backlog to an estimated 53,000 by March 2025.

To provide additional capacity in the Crown Court, we are extending the sentencing powers in the magistrates’ courts from six to 12 months’ imprisonment for a single triable-either-way offence to allow more cases to be heard at that level in the magistrates’ court and drive down the backlog of cases over the coming years.

The figures we have indicate that these measures are already having a beneficial effect in that the case load in the Crown Court reduced from around 61,000 cases in June 2021 to around 58,500 at the end of February 2022. As a result, we expect to get through 20% more Crown Court cases this financial year than we did pre-Covid. The figures would be 117,000 in 2022-23, compared to 97,000 in 2019-20.

Power of Attorney

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Excerpts
Wednesday 2nd February 2022

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Lord for his question, and I can answer it by saying that in England it is a function of local government to carry out those tasks.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I too would like to acknowledge the lifetime’s work done by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross. There are things we take for granted until we no longer have them: our ability to choose; our ability to make decisions; and our ability to express ourselves. When these abilities fade, we need to have confidence that legal processes will protect our interests. We are all bombarded by attempts at fraud, almost on a daily basis, and more vulnerable people are more vulnerable to those attempts. The Government’s stated aim is to create a lasting power of attorney service for the digital world. My stepfather is 97. He does not live in the digital world. How will his interests be protected?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with everything the noble Lord outlined, and I can assure the House that a paper means of setting up these mechanisms will continue, even after digitisation.

Rape Trials

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Excerpts
Tuesday 25th January 2022

(5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Asked by
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to increase the proportion of rape allegations that go to trial.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Stewart of Dirleton) (Con)
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My Lords, the rape review action plan has committed to transforming the criminal justice system to tackle systemic failures on rape. In that, we demonstrate our commitment to transparency and public accountability throughout. Our aims are to improve victims’ experience of the criminal justice system, to increase the numbers of victims who stay engaged in the process and to build better and stronger cases so that more people are charged and, ultimately, more rapists go to prison.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. I will just remind the House how appalling the statistics are: only 1.6% of reported rape allegations result in a court case. As the Minister said, the Government’s response has been to put in place the rape review action plan. On 22 January the CPS published its latest statistics regarding the handling of rape. Five categories of data were published; they showed either a flatlining of the data or a modest improvement. Is the Minister happy with that improvement, or does he think he should put in place some targets?

Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments (2005 Hague Convention and 2007 Hague Convention) (Amendment) Regulations 2022

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Excerpts
Tuesday 14th December 2021

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I am obliged. This draft instrument is made under the Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Act 2020, which I will refer to as the PIL Act. The Act currently gives force of law to these conventions and ensures that they are read together with any reservations and declarations made at the time of approval. It also sets out, in new schedules to the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act 1982, the text of the conventions. To ensure that the information is complete and readily accessible, this instrument will insert the text of the reservations and declarations alongside the convention texts in new schedules to the 1982 Act.

This draft instrument is technical in nature and does not alter the UK’s status as a party to either the 2005 Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements or the 2007 Hague Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance. It also brings into domestic legislation the texts of the UK’s reservations and declarations to those conventions. The UK has participated in the 2005 and 2007 Hague conventions since 2015 and 2014 respectively. Previously, we were bound by the conventions by virtue of our membership of the European Union—a status that continued to apply throughout the transition period in accordance with the withdrawal agreement. In September 2020, the United Kingdom took the necessary steps to join the two conventions as an independent party, as part of preparation for leaving the EU. This included depositing the necessary instruments of accession and ratification.

To be able to make this instrument, the PIL Act requires the Secretary of State to consult with such persons as they think necessary. To meet this requirement, the Ministry of Justice, on behalf of the Secretary of State, consulted key stakeholders in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as legal practitioners, academics and judges specialising in private international law, with whom the Ministry of Justice engages regularly. No objections to this instrument were received. In addition, as this instrument will apply to all UK legal jurisdictions, the consent of Scottish Ministers and the department of the Northern Ireland Executive has been obtained.

When rejoining these conventions as an independent party, the declarations and reservations by which the UK had been bound as a member of the European Union were not amended. This instrument will not make any changes to those reservations and declarations. While the existing reservations and declarations have been retained, this will not prevent the United Kingdom from changing them to either or both these conventions in future or withdrawing reservations to the 2007 Hague Convention if at any time it should to Parliament seem appropriate so to do.

Overall, as I have noted, this instrument is technical in its nature and will not alter the application of the conventions, nor their respective declarations and reservations. None the less, it is important to have the text of these declarations and reservations readily available in domestic legislation and alongside the text of the conventions for ease of reference for practitioners. I hope that the Committee will join me in supporting these regulations.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, in his introduction, the Minister said that that was his maiden speech in the Moses Room. I remember having a discussion upstairs about a year ago on some similar legislation, also to do with reciprocal enforcement of maintenance orders—the 2007 Hague Convention, to which I shall refer later in my contribution. As the Minister says, this instrument is technical in nature. We on our side support the Government on it.

The 2005 and 2007 conventions were transferred to domestic law as part of the package of the private international law Act last year; this instrument seems to transfer the definitions within the conventions over to UK law. I open with what may be a simplistic question to the Minister: will the definitions under the 1996 Hague Convention be transferred by secondary legislation in the new year? Is that an additional piece of process that we should expect?

The 2005 Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements ensures the effectiveness of exclusive choice of court agreements between parties to international commercial transactions. These clauses are common, particularly in high-value commercial contracts. The UK previously participated in the 2005 convention by virtue of EU membership, as we have heard; the EU ratified the 2005 convention, and it entered into force from 1 October 2015. On 28 September 2020, the UK deposited its instrument of accession to the 2005 convention to ensure that it continues its independent participation in the convention. The Minister set all that out in his introduction to today’s debate.

The 2007 Hague Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance provides for rules for the international recovery of child support and spousal maintenance. Both the 2005 and 2007 conventions ensure legal co-operation across jurisdictions to provide certainty and fairness for those involved in cross-border litigation. The Labour Party supported the transfer to domestic law of both conventions during the PIL Act 2020, as referred to by the Minister.

Finally, I return to my personal issue—I remember that the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, was there last year when I raised it; I see her nodding her head—with my hat on as a family magistrate. One of the most excruciating things that I do in that role is try to enforce the reciprocal enforcement of maintenance orders. The Minister wrote me a letter, which I have in front of me, in which he fairly set out the legal processes whereby reciprocal enforcement should be done. I accept that my assertion—that there are insufficient powers to enforce maintenance orders reciprocally—was wrong.

The point I wanted to make to the noble and learned Lord is that, whether I was right or wrong, it is still an excruciating process. It is very difficult to do. Very often the reciprocal enforcement of maintenance orders fails. I accept the point that he makes in his letter that it is not because of a lack of powers; maybe it is a lack of administrative will. It is absolutely an excruciating process for me as a magistrate and with the administration process around it. The parties we see in court are often in despair about trying to resolve these issues.

Nevertheless, I understand that we are talking on a more general basis today. I welcome the instrument that the noble and learned Lord has put forward. I am also in direct contact with the relevant Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, on the family court, so he does not need to introduce me to him. I will fight my own battles on this front.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his contribution. I well remember the opening of my account in the Room upstairs. I also remember the noble Lord’s close questioning, informed, as today, by his valuable experience on the Bench of magistrates in the family area of law, if I might put it like that.

The noble Lord posed a question about the 1996 Hague convention. The United Kingdom joined that instrument in its own right rather than through the European Union, so as I understand it no further action on that convention will be necessary.

I note with concern the noble Lord’s observations concerning the excruciating nature of the treatment of these matters in his capacity as a magistrate. I will do what I can, along with my noble friend Lord Wolfson in the Ministry of Justice, in order to assist.

At this stage, I register my appreciation and that of the Government for the assistance we received from stakeholders who engaged in consultation with us in the preparation of these instruments, and for the co-operation of our colleagues in the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive. With that, I commend the instrument to the Committee.

Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
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My Lords, I am disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, did not refer to the opinion of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale, in the case of J. She dissented—notwithstanding Lord Bingham’s inability to change the law—in these words:

“In short, the 1956 Act was a mess when it was enacted and became an ever greater mess with later amendments. It is not possible to discern within it such a coherent Parliamentary intention as to require it to be construed so as to forbid prosecution for a “mere” act of sexual intercourse after 12 months where that act properly falls within the definition of an indecent assault. Although we do have to try to make sense of the words Parliament has used, we do not have to supply Parliament with the thinking that it never did and words that it never used.”


I think we can see which side the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale, was on in that case.

The restriction has had an interesting history. Non-consensual sex was, and is, of course, rape, but consensual sex was a different matter. A girl was protected until the age of 10 under Queen Elizabeth I, to the age of 12 under George IV, 13 in 1875 and finally 16 in 1885. The time limit for bringing proceedings was at first within three months in 1885, which was increased to six months in 1904 and to nine months in 1922, and a provision of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1928 increased the time limit to 12 months. It was anomalous then, and it is anomalous now, and I fully support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley.

Amendment 292C in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, seeks to extend normal time limits imposed on summary proceedings in the magistrates’ court and suggests that an offence of common assault may be brought within a period of six months from the date of reporting, rather than the date of the incident, with an outside limit of two years where it comes within the ambit of domestic abuse. This is an issue that might well have been discussed in the recent passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill. Summary proceedings are really intended to be summary. Assault and battery are attacks or threats of attack on the person. If significant injuries are caused, they should be tried on indictment in the Crown Court as ABH—assault occasioning actual bodily harm. So where is the dividing line between common assault and ABH?

The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, referred to the CPS guidance Offences Against the Person, Incorporating the Charging Standard, dated 6 January 2020, which states that common assault is charged

“where injuries amount to no more than … Grazes; Scratches; Abrasions; Minor bruising; Swellings; Reddening of the skin; Superficial cuts.”

By contrast, ABH includes

“damaged teeth or bones, extensive and severe bruising, cuts requiring suturing”

and injuries

“that result in loss of consciousness.”

ABH is appropriate where

“the victim is vulnerable or intimidated”,

including

“a pattern of similar offending against the victim”,

and if a person suffers mental stress, that can also be seen as ABH. Your Lordships will appreciate that if the case is brought for ABH on indictment, this procedural limitation of the magistrates’ court does not apply.

Therefore, it is arguable that injuries of the nature that require interfering with the customary time limit applied in summary proceedings may not demand a change. I think the protections which are contained in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 should deal with the problems in the area referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. If a domestic abuse protection order is issued, breach of it is a criminal offence, which can be triable either way. A summary conviction may lead to a sentence of 12 months’ imprisonment, while conviction on indictment may lead to a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years.

This is the important point: a protection order can be made where the court is satisfied on the balance of probabilities. The prosecution does not have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the victim has suffered. It is on the balance of probabilities for a protection order: simply that the person concerned has been abusive towards a person aged 16 or over to whom he or she is personally connected, where it is necessary and proportionate to protect that person from domestic abuse or the risk of domestic abuse. No time limits are set. I think we have moved on from common assault at common law in this field, and it may well be that this amendment is unnecessary.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I support both these amendments. My noble friend Lady Kennedy of Cradley is seeking to get rid of time limits relating to having sex with girls aged between 13 and 16 before 1 May 2004. As she said in her comprehensive introduction to the amendment, it is not known whether this anomaly, which a number of noble Lords have described, affects thousands of girls or fewer. It is simply not known. Nevertheless, from my understanding of the way she presented the case and the other comments on the amendment, it clearly seems to be a loophole which could be closed.

The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, explained why common assault is different in domestic abuse cases from general common assault. As I think I have said in other Committees, I fairly regularly sit in domestic abuse courts in magistrates’ courts, and I have to say that I disagree with the concluding comments of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, that we seem to have moved on from common assault with domestic violence protection orders. Certainly, the way I view them, and I do those courts as well, they are very different because they are dealing with the civil standard. You can have cases where people have simply been abusive to each other and you are dealing with a very different type of case, in my experience, from common assault cases which you see in a more standard domestic abuse court.

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Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD)
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My Lords, I have put my name to this amendment for all the reasons put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, in opening. She has campaigned for this change for a long time and has a great deal of knowledge and experience on the subject. We have also heard from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds, the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, and my noble friend Lord Thomas, who still supports this reform despite the success of his experience with the Polish testator. I will therefore add little.

There is an answer to the points made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, about the availability of interpreters and the need for speed in getting them to court, and by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, about there being enough registered interpreters. I accept, as I expect would the noble Baroness, that there would be a need to transition the introduction of these proposals and to take steps to ensure that there were enough registered interpreters. We also have to consider the availability of interpretation in the very unusual languages that she mentioned.

This amendment is important. The duty of an interpreter in courts and tribunals is limited and specific. It is a duty to act as a conduit and only as a conduit; accurately to convey the meaning of the court’s proceedings to the non-English speaker; then, if and when that non-English speaker gives evidence, to convey the court’s and counsel’s questions to that non-English speaker; and lastly, and most importantly, to convey the non-English-speaking witness’s evidence to the court. That all demands accuracy, and to provide that accuracy requires a great deal of skill.

However, it is a duty to act as a conduit only, the aim being to overcome the language barrier. It is decidedly not to render assistance of a more general kind to the non-English-speaking participant in legal proceedings, still less to provide some kind of informal independent advice service. Yet, in spite of those very clear principles, many of us who have practised in courts and tribunals have seen how interpreters, often motivated by the best of intentions, can fail in their task. The inadequacies have been extensively and well highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins.

There are two main reasons for such a failure. The first is that some set out to act as interpreters when they lack the necessary linguistic skills and they simply get the translation wrong. Sometimes the inaccuracy is noticed by someone in court who understands and speaks the language concerned who can then ensure that the witness’s meaning is further explored, but on other occasions it is not, and when it is not then injustices occur.

The second problem is that some interpreters overreach themselves. Again, often they are not motivated by an improper wish to intervene in the proceedings with ideas of their own, yet they do precisely that. They discuss evidence with the witness and act as assistants and advisers as well as interpreters. The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, pointed out that on some occasions the integrity of the witness and of the proceedings is called into question. That is wrong, and it subverts the proceedings of the court or tribunal concerned. The way in which we must deal with these issues is quite simply by training and minimum standards, and that is exactly what the amendment seeks to achieve.

I add this final point: I hope that, in order to maintain registration, it would be necessary to have adequate programmes of continuing education. Interpretation is a difficult skill that requires specialist and professional training and needs constant maintaining. I hope the Government will bring a positive response to this amendment.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, this has been a very interesting debate and I thank the noble Baroness for moving her amendment; in general terms we support it. The question marks would be about the standards, which she dealt with very fully, whether emergencies could be covered, and the potential costs. As the noble Lord, Lord Marks, said, there needs to be a transition to harmonising and raising standards in general.

I want to pick up a couple of points made by noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe expressed surprise that there was not already a common standard and I was surprised as well. He went on to talk about there being written records in courts, but that is not the case in magistrates’ courts; they are not a court of record. As a sitting magistrate, I regularly have interpreters in court. In the 14 years I have been a magistrate I can think of three or four occasions when the magistrate colleagues I have been sitting with have told me that the interpretation was wrong. They knew the language and were able to inform us, and we were able to deal with the situation. But, as other noble Lords have pointed out, that will not always be the case. It is not that unusual for interpretations to be wrong.

I want to make a more serious point, which the noble Lord, Lord Marks, also made, about interpreters overreaching themselves. As I mentioned in an earlier group, I regularly sit in the domestic abuse court and I have done various bits of training on that. One of the points the training makes is that you have to be careful with interpreters and translators when dealing with domestic abuse cases in minority languages. It has been recorded that the interpreters overreach themselves and what the witness or the victim is saying in court will get back to that minority group. It is something that the court needs to be very aware of and handle sensitively to prevent that happening—and it does happen. Nevertheless, in general terms, we support this amendment.

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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My Lords, Amendment 280 would restrict the Ministry of Justice to appoint in our courts and tribunals only interpreters who are registered on the national register of public service interpreting—the NRPSI—and possess a level 6 diploma in public service interpreting, or who comply with the NRPSI’s rare language status protocols.

The Ministry of Justice commissions the services of interpreters for our courts and tribunals in England and Wales through its contracted service providers, thebigword and Clarion Interpreting. These interpreters are sourced from the Ministry of Justice’s register, which is audited by an independent language service provider, the Language Shop. All interpreters are required to complete a justice system-specific training course before they are permitted to join the register.

The contract has a clearly defined list of qualifications, skills, experience and vetting requirements interpreters must meet, which have been designed to meet the needs of the justice system. It covers a vast range of assignments, from simple telephone interpreting to deal with a user query to the facilitation of interpretation in a complex criminal trial. The qualifications and level of experience required will depend on the complexity of the assignment and the highest complexity level has qualification criteria comparable to those set by the national register of professional service interpreters.

It is in dealing with that vast range that the noble Baroness’s rhetorical analogy broke down. Of course I would expect my heart surgeon to have the relevant qualifications and experience to fulfil that role. At the same time, if my car developed a minor technical fault, I would not necessarily want to pay out for a consultant engineer to fix it, as opposed to taking it to the local garage.

Complaints about the quality of interpretation or the professional conduct of interpreters are carefully monitored and independently assessed by the Language Shop. The complaint rate remains low at less than 1%.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Marks, set out his amendments clearly, and concentrated on the fact that the decision about a terrorist connection is made by a judge at the sentencing stage, not by the jury when they are assessing guilt or otherwise.

The noble Lord said that prior to the Bill, a limited number of offences were included. Those were serious offences, so his argument was that it did not make that much difference if there was a terrorist connection. He gave the example of ABH, for which the maximum sentence is seven years’ custody, although the penalty for low-level ABH may be some type of community order. His argument was that putting a terrorist connection on a wider range of lower-level offences would have a much larger effect on the likely sentence.

The noble Lord also spoke about activating notification requirements, and early release provisions. He prayed in aid the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, who previously raised the possibility of Newton hearings. I am much more sympathetic to that possibility than that laid out in the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, which would mean that either somebody admitted in open court that there was a terrorist connection or there would be a trial of the issue.

Surely that determination should be made by the judge. A judge could make a determination that a Newton hearing was the right way forward. Perhaps the Bill should be amended to enable the judge to make a determination for a Newton hearing, or to take it on himself or herself to make a determination of whether there is a terrorist connection. For that reason, we will abstain on these amendments—but if, at a later stage, amendments along the line that I have just suggested, giving the judge discretion to order a Newton hearing, are tabled, we may well be in favour of those.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who spoke in this short debate. The amendment would require a trial of the issue as to whether there is a terrorist connection to an aggravated offence. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Marks, for the way in which he set out his amendment, but I am afraid we feel that it would represent a fundamental departure from existing processes—a significant divergence from practice within the wider criminal justice system—and it is therefore not an amendment that the Government consider necessary or appropriate.

It may be helpful if I first briefly recapitulate why the Government are making the changes that we propose in the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord McCrea, gave a good summary. Clause 1 will expressly require the courts, in cases where it appears that any non-terrorism offence with a maximum penalty of more than two years was committed in the course of an act of terrorism, or for the purposes of terrorism, actively to consider whether the offence was committed with a terrorist connection and should be aggravated as such. At present only specified offences can be so considered. Closing this loophole will make for more effective and flexible legislation, reflecting the fact that terrorist offending takes a wide variety of forms.

The noble Lord, Lord Marks, gave some examples of offences that are and are not covered. It might be helpful to include further examples. Various offences under the Firearms Act 1968 are not currently covered, including possessing a firearm with an intent to endanger life; as are offences under the Criminal Damage Act 1971, including destroying or damaging property with an intent to endanger life, and arson. There are many more, but I hope that provides an illustration of some of the offences that we think ought to be considered, if needed.

These changes will also ensure that the consequences of a terrorist connection are applied consistently to all offenders. The identification of a terrorist connection by the courts has a wide-ranging impact, as the noble Lord noted. It must be treated as an aggravating factor when sentencing, helping to ensure that terrorist offenders receive punishment befitting the severity of their offending and the risk that they pose to public safety. It will also result in offenders being subject to the registered terrorist offender notification requirements following their release from prison, which supports the police to manage their risk more effectively.

Finally, under the Bill, these offenders will be subject to a minimum of 12 months on licence following their release and will be eligible to have certain licence conditions imposed on them to assist in the effective management of their risk. I emphasise that both the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Jonathan Hall QC, and the Crown Prosecution Service expressed their strong support for this change. In fact, Mr Hall stated in his oral evidence to the Public Bill Committee in another place that this change, out of all the measures in the Bill, would make the most substantial difference to public safety.

Having set out the background, I will address the substance of the noble Lord’s amendment, which proposes a significant change to the process by which the courts in England and Wales, and in Northern Ireland, determine a terrorist connection at the point of sentencing. This process is well-established, having been in successful operation for more than a decade since the provisions of the Criminal Damage Act 1971 came into force. It is also consistent with the wider criminal justice system.

Under the existing process, courts are required to apply the criminal standard of proof—beyond reasonable doubt—when determining whether an offence has a terrorist connection. The court will make this determination on the basis of the usual information before it for the purposes of sentencing—that is, the trial evidence or evidence heard at a Newton hearing, if necessary, following a guilty plea—and take into account any representations by the prosecution or defence, as well as any evidence heard.

Furthermore, in England and Wales, and in Northern Ireland, it is the standard approach for the judge, rather than the jury, to determine the presence of aggravating factors as part of the sentencing function. To provide one example, Section 66 of the Sentencing Act 2020 requires the court to aggravate a sentence for an offence if it was motivated by hostility based on certain protected characteristics, such as race or sexual orientation. The judge will determine such a finding as part of the sentencing. The terrorist connection provision works in exactly the same way. This very issue was debated by your Lordships’ House in 2008, when the terrorist connection provisions were first enacted. It was concluded then that the existing process is appropriate and the reasons that I will now outline still stand.

During the passage of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008, the then Government set out that, as part of their consultation on that Bill, they considered whether the determination of a terrorist connection should be made by the jury, rather than the judge at sentencing. That included discussing the option with experienced prosecutors in this area. It was concluded, however, that there were significant practical issues in taking that approach. For example, having to prove the terrorist connection as part of the trial would lead to lengthy diversions, were the defence to argue that the action of the suspect did not fall within the definition of terrorism. Such an approach would divert the prosecution from its primary aim to secure swift justice for the substantive offence—that is to say, securing a conviction or freeing the individual on trial—and would unnecessarily create significantly longer terrorism trials.

Alternatively, if the jury were to be responsible for determining whether there was a terrorist connection as part of a sentencing exercise after the trial, it would have to be summoned to make such a determination following a guilty plea. This would be entirely novel and run counter to well-established sentencing procedure. We therefore strongly believe that it would not be right to put it in the Bill. It was concluded then, as we maintain now, that sentencing is properly a function for the judge.

That is why the Government cannot accept the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Marks: it would impose unusual requirements on the finding of a terrorist connection, deviate significantly from well-established practice and, in doing so, put that process out of kilter with the courts’ considerations of other similar aggravating factors. The current system provides adequate safeguards against the erroneous finding of a terrorist connection. A judge who has determined that the offence was committed with a terrorist connection is required to state in open court that that is the case. That determination is capable of being appealed to the Court of Appeal. For the reasons outlined, despite the noble Lord being minded to do otherwise, I hope that he will see fit to withdraw his amendment.

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Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD) [V]
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My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, particularly given his deep and long experience in counterterrorism and the legislation in this area, along with his wide experience of the workings of the Parole Board.

Clause 27 was the subject of considerable controversy in Committee because as it stands, it would remove the role of the Parole Board from the determination of whether, and at what stage, a terrorist offender should be released from custody. Without wishing to repeat the arguments that were canvassed in the debate on the clause at that stage, many of us felt then and continue to feel strongly that the Parole Board has had, and should continue to have, an important part to play in determining whether and at what stage even dangerous terrorist offenders should be released on licence.

The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, refers to prisoners who are serving extended sentences and applies after they have completed their custodial term, thus changing the architecture of extended sentences, as he has put it. Such prisoners’ release would be contemplated only after the custodial term, at which stage their cases would be referred to the Parole Board for consideration, as they then would on every further anniversary of the completion of that custodial term.

As the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, has explained, before the board could direct release, it would have to be satisfied that two important conditions had been met: first, the prisoner did not represent a grave risk to the public, and secondly, it was no longer necessary for the protection of the public that the prisoner should be confined. We would have preferred that the amendment went further and applied more widely for the reasons that we expressed in Committee, but we regard the work of the Parole Board, whose members are specialists in the field, as extremely valuable. We are firmly of the view that a full hearing before the Parole Board is the best way to determine whether a prisoner should be released after a suitable minimum custodial term, having regard to the elimination of the threat that the prisoner posed to public safety and to such progress as might have been made in the prisoner’s deradicalisation, rehabilitation and reform.

I should emphasise that throughout our approach to this Bill, we have maintained the position that hope of rehabilitation should always be part of the process of punishment, even in severe terrorist cases, and that sentences which offer no hope are counterproductive. We recognise that all prisoners are likely to be released one day and that rehabilitation is more achievable in the context of a release on licence than it is in the context of continued incarceration. That is a position that was rightly taken and recognised by the experts who briefed a number of Peers at the Joint Extremism Unit drop-in session that was arranged for us by the Ministry of Justice. Those who attended found it to be interesting and informative, and we are all very grateful. For my part, however, I confess to remaining perplexed that the Government have decided to cut the role of the Parole Board in the way set out in Clause 27. This amendment would reduce the impact of that particular cutting axe, and I therefore support it.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, Amendment 2 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, sets out an alternative possible architecture for assessing terrorists and the possibility of extending sentences. In speaking to the amendment, the noble Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Marks, expressed their faith in the Parole Board and the view that it should play a much fuller role in assessing terrorist prisoners who are coming towards the end of their sentences. I too joined in the very useful expert panel held last week with presentations from Home Office experts as well as senior psychologists who have an overview of this work.

The probation service itself employs around 350 psychologists, some of whom are specialists in this work. The message I got from that meeting last week is that it is very complicated work and there is no guarantee of success. However, that does not mean that there should not be efforts—indeed, very strenuous efforts—made to try to rehabilitate these offenders.

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Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD) [V]
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My Lords, Amendments 24 and 25 struck me as setting out a number of concerns that we would like to have seen in the Bill now. I agree very much with what the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, had to say, except that I do not think that they amount to post-legislative scrutiny. Both highlight concerns that we expressed at an earlier stage, although not all those concerns. My noble friend’s Amendment 12 is rather different in that after a year’s experience of the Bill—an Act, as it will then have been—it would assess its impact. Like him, I have had a similar impression: a kind of inconsistency between the words that we see on paper in the Bill—the impression that is given about responding with even tougher sentences, which is supported by some of the debate that we have had—while privately we have had much more nuanced conversations which have encouraged me, even though I am somewhat depressed by this legislation.

I want to say a word—well, several words—about Amendment 13, which would provide for a review of the use of polygraphs. The amendment came out of amendments in Committee, not our own but those proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, when he called for a pilot and a report to Parliament, including on specified matters. I understand that, with a relatively small number of terrorist offenders to whom the polygraph condition will apply, it is quite hard to undertake a useful pilot, but that does not negate the importance of an assessment of the polygraph condition which is published in the public domain.

Crucially, the review that we propose in Amendment 13 would be an independent review. Its report would include data, as set out in the amendment’s subsection (3), on the number of terrorist offenders subject to the polygraph condition and on the number of terrorist offenders recalled to custody following a test. I should mark those sentences as copyright of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer—I think I lifted them wholesale. It would also cover regulations, rules and codes of practice, and make recommendations regarding those, and the report would be made to Parliament. We have included the caveat that any material that the Secretary of State considered might prejudice public safety should be omitted.

The review would be within three years of the Section 32 polygraph condition coming into force. I understand, though I could not quite pin it down, that the Government are intending a review after a couple of years, which would essentially be the same; after two years is more or less the same as within three years.

I take this opportunity not only to argue for a review but to ask the Minister to confirm what is planned by the Government. not only as to the timing but as to the four elements that I have listed.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I have one amendment in this group, Amendment 25, and my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton put his name to Amendment 24. I was very pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, said that she had read our amendments and that they seemed sensible; I think that is a good start. The general point made on this whole group is that there is an appetite for reviewing different aspects of this legislation, and the amendments referred to go into particular aspects of that.

I want to make a slightly more general point. It is important that the general case for this sort of legislation is made regularly. I have had the opportunity in recent days of talking to young people who are becoming more politically active and engaged. They are very interested in terrorism legislation as a whole, particularly in how Parliament seeks to review it, change it and make it more effective. Particularly in our House, we have a duty to make sure that those arguments are remade and heard by the general public.

The specific amendment that I have put my name to concerns looking at particular impacts on prison capacity, the National Probation Service and offenders convicted of terrorist offences, as well as levels of bad behaviour in prisons—a point that I made on an earlier group. Also within my amendment are financial matters, because there is a very significant financial impact of the review of extended sentences and licence periods.

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, this has been an extremely brief debate and quite a blunt one. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, was very clear: during the passage of a previous Counter-Terrorism Act this House voted for a deadline and this current legislation is seeking to remove it. The Government commissioned an independent review back in January 2019, which has been repeatedly delayed and postponed, and the initial statutory deadline of 12 August 2020 will now be missed. The Government have said that they intend to have a report ready by summer 2021. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said, he has been very generous by putting in his amendments a deadline of the end of this current calendar year.

In the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, to this short debate I noted a tone of exasperation, and I do not blame him or the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for using such a tone. I really do not see why the Government cannot reaffirm their commitment to a deadline and I will be very interested to hear the Minister’s response to both noble Lords.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, this amendment, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, would add a new statutory deadline of 31 December this year for the completion of the independent review of Prevent. I am happy to say once again that we share the noble Lord’s and noble Baroness’s commitment to a successful independent review and the opportunity that it provides to learn lessons from what is and is not working—as well as to listen to a wide range of voices about how best to safeguard those who may be vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism.

The review restarted on 26 January, with the appointment of William Shawcross as the new independent reviewer. As I undertook to do in Committee, I am pleased to say that my noble friend Lady Williams of Trafford has had a conversation with Mr Shawcross about the timescale for his review. He certainly agrees with the need to complete it as swiftly as possible, while affording it the consideration that it requires. He hopes to complete his work well before the end of 2021, and of course there will then need to be time for a government response to be prepared and laid before Parliament. However, it is out intention to set out the date of his report and, indeed, the Government’s response in the revised terms of reference, when they are published shortly.

The noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, referred to the remarks of my right honourable friend James Brokenshire, made in his first stint as Security Minister, about government responses being swift and timely. I hope the greatest reassurance to the noble Lord is the fact that my right honourable friend is back in that important post, albeit currently recuperating from his operation, from which we all wish him a speedy recovery. I am sure his remarks then stand now, as they do for my noble friend Lady Williams of Trafford, who is covering while he recuperates.

We all agree that it is necessary to have a thorough, evidence-based review that engages communities and sees Prevent delivery in action and that has practical recommendations for improvement at the end of it. We fear that, at a time when fleetness of foot is vital, a statutory deadline could limit this. We referred in Committee to the ongoing pandemic; alas, it continues now we are on Report, and I hope noble Lords will all be mindful of the need for flexibility in light of it.

Mr Shawcross is keen to proceed at pace, as I say, but reintroducing a statutory deadline for the completion of his independent review would mean that, if he encountered a challenge to his timeline because of the pandemic, we would have to revisit the legislation or he might be forced to compromise in how he meets his objectives. Of course, we hope that there will not be any difficulties, but there remains a risk of further or ongoing restrictions, with all the unpredictabilities of the pandemic and the implications that that could have for Mr Shawcross, his team and those who wish to provide their input into the review. As such, we think that that remains sensible.

We believe that it is achievable for Mr Shawcross to complete his work quickly, while undertaking a thorough and robust piece of work—but it is important for the legislation to retain the flexibility for the reviewer, should he need it, to ensure that the valuable work of his review is not undermined. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, will agree and, therefore, withdraw his amendment.

Divorce

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Excerpts
Wednesday 6th January 2021

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con) [V]
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The noble Lord’s question addresses aspects of detail as well as recent case law. I do not have the detail and the material with me to permit me to provide the noble Lord with a satisfactory answer. Again, I shall ensure that I correspond with him and put down in writing the answer to his question.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, in November, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, Cafcass, triggered its prioritisation protocol in South Yorkshire and the Humber region, which means it is allocating only the highest priority cases there due to severe understaffing. The trade union Napo has described this as a crisis. What steps is the Minister taking to prevent this prioritisation protocol being triggered in other areas, and what estimate has he made of the extra resources necessary to stabilise Cafcass in this region and to prevent a similar protocol being triggered elsewhere?

Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con) [V]
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The question covers some of the ground posed by an earlier question but I am happy to answer it. Approximately £3.5 million of additional funding has assisted Cafcass in increasing staffing levels. Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service has recruited approximately 900 additional support staff across jurisdictions and around 700 further appointments are currently sought. Your Lordships will be aware that Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service has established 17 Nightingale courts across England and Wales. These give 32 additional courtrooms to alleviate the pressure on courts and tribunals. These courts are hearing, as well as family cases, civil, tribunal and non-custodial criminal work. I can advise that judicial sitting days in the family court have been increased. Current projections are that a level of nearly 96,000 sitting days for 2020-21 may be accomplished—5,000 more than allocation—and the courts sat for record numbers of days in June and July 2020.