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Parole System: Public Protection

Debate between Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Wolfson of Tredegar
Tuesday 5th April 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
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My Lords, the Statement says that

“there is no such thing as a risk-free society; we cannot guarantee that no one released from prison will go on to commit a serious crime. Let us be very clear about that as we have a more honest debate about the assessment of risk”.—[Official Report, Commons, 30/3/22: col. 831.]

Well, let us have an honest debate. In 2020-21, the Parole Board conducted over 6,000 oral hearings and considered over 20,000 paper applications. A record 16,443 cases were concluded, and 4,289 prisoners were released, while 11,437 remained in prison for the protection of the public.

Who made these decisions? The Parole Board consists of over 300 members: 169 independent members from all backgrounds, all jobs and all parts of the country; 61 judicial members such as Crown Court judges or retired judges with a lifetime experience of the criminal justice system; and 68 psychologist members and 35 psychiatrist members with active careers in the prison system. It is, you may think, an experienced pool of people to assess risk.

What percentage of prisoners released by the Parole Board have committed further serious crime? The Parole Board itself said in an earlier report that the percentage of offenders who committed serious further offences in 2018-19 following a release decision or a move to open conditions was 1.1%. Can the Minister give a more up-to-date figure? If that is correct, it suggests that the professional and experienced Parole Board gets it as right as you would expect in its assessment of risk. As the Statement says,

“there is no such thing as a risk-free society”

and it cannot be guaranteed that no one will reoffend.

But the Parole Board, unlike a court or tribunal, is quasi-judicial. That means that politicians can interfere and get their hands on its decisions. That is what is happening here. The Government promise to provide

“further detailed criteria for … the statutory test.”

The statutory test is that the Parole Board

“must not give a direction”—

for release—

“unless the Board is satisfied that it is no longer necessary for the protection of the public that the person should be confined.”

So my second question is: what “further detailed criteria”? Why are we not told today if this is necessary? This Statement, I suggest, is all bluster with nothing thought through.

The Statement goes on:

“In cases involving those who have committed the most serious crimes, we will introduce a ministerial check on release decisions, exercised by the Justice Secretary.”


Well, there have been nine Justice Secretaries since 2005, with an average tenure of 21 months and two of them for less than a year. Five of the nine were non-lawyers. When justice was in the hands of the Lord Chancellor in this House, it was the pinnacle of his career; he did not need to look for further ministerial office. Today, Justice Secretaries move on from their comparatively small departments: consider Liz Truss or Michael Gove, for example, whose political ambitions may not even now have been fulfilled.

The current Justice Secretary is a lawyer. His page on the government website says:

“Dominic started his career as a business lawyer at City law firm Linklaters, working on project finance, international litigation and competition law.”


He later worked in Brussels. You might think that that was not the best training for the assessment of the risk of reoffending by an offender. Let us contrast that experience with that of the Parole Board members, which I have outlined. Has Mr Raab ever been in a criminal court—except to close it down or, if it is new, perhaps to cut the tape—or a prison? Is he the man to second-guess the decisions on risk taken by the highly experienced Parole Board? That is what is being thrust upon us.

The Statement declares that only 5% of the Parole Board come from “a law enforcement background”. Well, they do include a number of retired chief constables and prison governors. What is the Government’s intention? They say it is that members will

“have greater first-hand operational experience of protecting the public from serious offenders.”

The Statement also suggests that one such law enforcement person should sit with two other members on each hearing to form a tribunal. Does that mean that we can now expect a flood of police and prison officers to be appointed? Is the whole purpose of this alleged reform to skew the Parole Board towards negative decisions?

An alternative apparently being considered is that the Justice Secretary should sit as a judge with two assessors when he makes his decision. Is he serious? Personally, I think it would be an excellent use of his time to have direct experience of all the things that he is responsible for: the delays, the listing, the adjournments, the frustrations and the raw emotions of victims and the families of defendants. He would then discover that he is dealing with real people, mostly from disturbed backgrounds—people with problems and illnesses. I think he would then turn for help to psychologists and psychiatrists, and perhaps even to experienced judges. Perhaps he would create his own personal parole board to advise him. “Sit, sit”—I invite him to do so.

So the truth is that this Statement is not oven-ready. It aspires to be half-baked, but the central filling has not been decided on. Still, we are coming up to the end of the Session, and a few headlines for the Justice Secretary are very acceptable when his career has not finished.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Wolfson of Tredegar) (Con)
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Well, my Lords, I do not know whether my career has even begun, but I will respond to the points that were made, dealing first with the questions from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede. I should say first that I am grateful for his broad support for the thrust of what we are seeking to do. As to consultation, the department has consulted extensively throughout the review. We had a public consultation on opening some parole hearings to the public, including discussions with a wide range of practitioners and experts. Round tables and individual discussions with stakeholders with in-depth knowledge and understanding of the parole process were held, and these informed some of the outcomes of the review.

Some of the consultation regarding the victims Bill was also relevant here because it went to the issue of victim participation. Regarding the number of officials who would be working on this, the cost thereof, and the resource points that the noble Lord made, I say that modelling and costs are to be worked through in detail as the legislation is developed. A full impact assessment will be published when the legislation is introduced.

So far as potential unfairness is concerned, a point which I will come back to when I respond to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, one of the issues here is that whichever of the two models to which he referred we end up putting in place, there is always court review. That is built in, to ensure that there is no substantive unfairness and that the system is compliant with our convention obligations, particularly Article 5.4.

Remote hearings were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and in particular the involvement of victims. During the pandemic, the Parole Board made extensive use of virtual hearings and has indicated that it will continue the practice. It has also resumed traditional oral hearings and it will be for the Parole Board to ensure that all representations can properly be made. For example, if there were representations, or the victim wanted to say something either with or without the offender there, it would be up to the Parole Board to ensure that the proceedings were substantively fair to all parties.

I respectfully agree with the noble Lord that being moved to an open prison is indeed a privilege and not a right. They are a valuable resource supporting successful and safe resettlement into the community of prisoners who have been suitably risk-assessed, but only those prisoners identified as being appropriate to hold in lower security conditions should be moved to an open prison. Although in this context the Parole Board makes a recommendation, the final decision is for Ministers. In December, the Lord Chancellor took the decision to require greater scrutiny of Parole Board recommendations on open prison moves and will now oversee the decisions in the most high-risk cases personally, those being offenders who have committed murder, other homicide, rape, and serious sexual offences or cruelty against a child, and in cases where officials do not reject a recommendation from the Parole Board, Ministers will consider the recommendation of the Parole Board.

The final point that the noble Lord made was of the Secretary of State being the final arbiter and whether that meant that there was a reputational risk for the Secretary of State. There are two points. First, as to the ultimate arbiter, this brings into play the fact that there is a court oversight to ensure that the system is procedurally fair, so to that extent the Secretary of State is not the ultimate arbiter as there is court involvement as well. However, I respectfully take the noble Lord’s point about reputational risk. The flipside is that ultimately, it is Ministers’ responsibility to ensure that dangerous offenders are not released on to the streets and so, if I may put it this way, it is quite right that the buck stops with elected Ministers.

I turn now to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. I accept, as the Lord Chancellor made clear in the other place, that the Parole Board has a great deal of experience and generally does a good job. The majority of parole decisions are unproblematic. That is why these reforms apply only to offenders who have committed the most serious offences. However, there have been cases involving the release of the most serious offenders which have given rise to significant public concern and undermined confidence in the system: Pitchfork, Worboys and others. Therefore, this is not a case of politicians interfering, which I think was the verb used by the noble Lord. As I said a moment ago, politicians have a duty to protect the public and it is quite right that they step up, so to speak, and ultimately take responsibility for the system and those very risky or higher-risk decisions.

So far as a test is concerned, the test in legislation was set out in the substantive Statement but is worth bearing in mind. It says:

“The Parole Board must not give a direction”


for release

“unless the Board is satisfied that it is no longer necessary for the protection of the public that the person should be confined.”

However, the courts have interpreted that and, to be fair, one can see why. In particular, in the case of Bradley in 1991, a court judgment stated that the role of the board is to

“carry out a balancing exercise between the legitimate conflicting interests of both prisoner and public”.

Therefore, the statutory test has changed to become a balancing exercise between the rights of the prisoner to be considered for release and the responsibility of the state to protect the public. I suggest that that was not the original intention of Parliament.

We propose to set out release test criteria. The noble Lord asked what they were. I could read them out, but, if he will forgive me, I will drop him a note setting them out, which will then be available, rather than read them all into Hansard, so to speak. I hope that is satisfactory.

Some Justice Secretaries may have political ambitions —I am responding as somebody with no political ambition and very little of a political career—but, as I said, the ultimate decision does not rest only with the Justice Secretary; there is court involvement. There are two models being looked at. The first would be for Ministers personally to take the decisions. In that case, there would be a route of appeal to the Upper Tribunal. The second would be to create a new review panel to take the decision, which would comprise the Secretary of State and two independent panel members. Decisions by this panel could be challenged through judicial review. Either option introduces ministerial oversight into the release decisions of the highest-risk offenders to keep people safe and to give public confidence in the system. Also, either alternative would be lawful under the convention, in particular Article 5(4), which says:

“Everyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings by which the lawfulness of his detention shall be decided speedily by a court and his release ordered if the detention is not lawful.”


We are confident that either model would be consistent with those obligations.

I hope that I have responded to all the substantive points made, but I will check the Official Report and when I write with the criteria, if there is anything I have not picked up, I will add it to that letter.

No-fault Divorce

Debate between Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Wolfson of Tredegar
Tuesday 15th March 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I do not make any apology for the mediation voucher scheme; it is important to encourage mediation in family law, as indeed across the civil justice system more generally. However, we have committed to exploring the financial provision aspects of divorce after the Act comes into effect. I cannot give the noble Baroness a timetable, but I assure her that we will look at this as a matter of principle and will not be bowed down by vested interests, whether legal or otherwise.

Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
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Following the reference made by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, to vested interests, I ask: have the Government had representations from solicitors practising in this lucrative area, or from members of the family Bar, to keep fault as an issue in financial provision proceedings? If so, what was the Government’s response?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I have not had representations from those entities, but I dare say that the department might have done. We get representations, frankly, from all areas of the legal profession, and indeed more broadly, all the time. We will look at this issue on its merits. We have set out that we want to make sure that financial matters are dealt with as amicably as possible. The divorce Act will be a very good start and, as I say, we are encouraging it through family hubs, mediation vouchers and many other ways too.

Judicial Review and Courts Bill

Debate between Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Wolfson of Tredegar
Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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The noble Lord is absolutely right, but I was seeking to make the point more broadly. I will come to the court procedures, but the noble Lord is right: Amendment 38 seeks to ensure that, when people go to pre-court dispute resolution—I think everybody in the Committee wants to encourage that—if the case does not settle in whole or even in part, they can seamlessly transition to the online court procedure. They do not have to repopulate forms or send in new documents. Of course, I emphasise the mediation bit of it remains without prejudice, obviously, that is fundamental to mediation. Amendment 38 is to ensure that there is a set of protocols, essentially, to make sure that we can have that seamless transition. It is part of enabling people to vindicate their legal rights, either by way of an out of court settlement, with which they are satisfied, or by migrating into the online court space.

Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
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May I assist the Minister with an illustration? Four weeks ago, a close relative was owed a significant sum of money and used dispute resolution procedures. He filled in a claim form online, and the debtor filled in a claim form also online. There was a half-hour hearing on the telephone with a judge who reserved his judgment and fortunately found judgment for my relative very quickly after. It shows that it can be done. In that sort of circumstance, it saves days of problems in filling out written documents and attending at court.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Lord for his intervention. Absolutely, this is about enabling people to vindicate their legal rights. The Government are conscious—we put a clause in the Bill specifically for this reason—that we need to safeguard those who cannot get online, either because they do not have proper broadband or proper facilities or because they are incapable for whatever reason of using computers.

I anticipated that it would be the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, who spoke, so I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman for that. She made absolutely the right point. We agree that assistance may well be needed. Although we do not accept Amendment 39, that is because the Bill already places a duty on the Lord Chancellor to arrange for such support. Extensive measures, which I will mention, have been put in place to make sure that assistance is provided to those who need it. We need to distinguish between online procedures, that is, the form-filling applications, and an online hearing. The two things are quite different.

So far as online procedures are concerned, I recognise that some users may find it difficult to use digital services. Therefore, I should make it absolutely clear that there will be no change in the current options to use paper forms and processes. As the noble Lord, Lord Marks, says, the cardinal principle is that nobody will be disadvantaged.

For those who choose to conduct proceedings using paper routes, they will be available in the same manner as at present. At HMCTS, we are improving and streamlining the paper routes and are committed to making sure that the level of service is the same no matter whether litigants are engaging with the justice system through online or offline routes. We will therefore be offering substantial support for those who want to use online routes and who can do so with support.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
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The Minister has said we want coroners’ inquests to remain inquisitorial. In practice, they are adversarial. The ancient position of a coroner does not allow the proper adversarial safeguards to be in place. I would like the Government to rethink that position and consider whether it is appropriate at this time.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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I can accept two points there. I can accept that I and the Government will reconsider it. We certainly will think about it. This is a bit of a chestnut point, if I may say so; it has been discussed on a number of occasions. But the Government’s current position is that we want coroners’ inquests to be inquisitorial and not adversarial. Secondly, I accept, as a consequence of that, that we do not have adversarial safeguards. But that is consequent on the first point; the inquests are not adversarial.

There is a real problem, I would suggest, in changing the nature of a coroner’s inquest to being adversarial. I accept there will be particular inquests where it is appropriate for people to be legally represented. I do not want to mix the groups up, but we will discuss in the next group the issues of legal aid, exceptional case funding, et cetera. But the central fact is that the inquest is there to determine who the deceased is, where he died—I will say he—when he died and how he died, but not why he died. That is an important point.

Criminal Justice: Royal Commission

Debate between Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Wolfson of Tredegar
Monday 7th February 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, since the Queen’s Speech in 2019, there has been the small matter of a global pandemic, which has affected the criminal justice system very substantially. We reacted to that: we put in place particular new ways of working. We have taken a lot of that work forward: there is the Second Reading this afternoon of the Judicial Review and Courts Bill, which contains more reforms to the criminal justice system. I therefore think, with respect, that it is a little unfair to say—in fact, it is inaccurate—that we have no intention of implementing that. As to what I said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, in Committee, I stand by that, absolutely.

Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
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My Lords, in the Council of Europe’s recent report on penal matters, England and Wales scored very high in a number of categories, including prison population, prison density, suicide rates, the proportion of prisoners not serving a final sentence and the rate of admissions per 100,000 inhabitants. It is almost a world-beating record. Will the Minister ensure that the terms of reference of any royal commission that is set up include an in-depth consideration of sentence inflation in our courts?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, one of the other things on which we score extremely high internationally is the quality of our judges. That ought to be mentioned as well. So far as prisons are concerned, we published a prisons White Paper in the last six months, which deals with a number of the matters raised by the noble Lord. As to the terms of reference of any royal commission, of course I have heard what the noble Lord has said.

Social Welfare Law Cases: Legal Aid

Debate between Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Wolfson of Tredegar
Tuesday 1st February 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I am well aware of the noble Lord’s experience and work in this area, and I respectfully commend him for it. If I may say so, I think it is rather unfair of him to say that we are spending peanuts, when actually last year we spent £1.7 billion on legal aid services. I agree with him that access to justice is a fundamental part of any justice system, and our reforms are intended to ensure that people have not only legal aid but legal support at an earlier stage of the proceedings.

Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
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My Lords, The Impact of LASPO on Routes to Justice, by Dr James Organ and Dr Jennifer Sigafoos of the University of Liverpool and published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2018, found that, due to the lack of legal aid and the demise of specialised advice, the high demand for advice on disability benefits means that the almost complete removal of welfare benefits from the scope of legal aid has had a disproportionate impact on disabled people and those with long-term health conditions. The Minister mentioned a number of areas where pilots are being carried out, but will the Government take steps to restore the funding, at least for this important sector of the community?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I note that when it is Justice Questions we always seem to have longer questions. We are starting a pilot in both Manchester and Middlesbrough to focus on the point that the noble Lord makes: to what extent can we divert people away and solve their problems at an earlier stage? I am aware of the report the noble Lord mentioned, and of others, but we are starting a pilot, so that we have evidence of what actually works on the ground.

Competition Appeal Tribunal (Recording and Broadcasting) Order 2022

Debate between Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Wolfson of Tredegar
Tuesday 25th January 2022

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Wolfson of Tredegar) (Con)
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My Lords, the statutory instrument before us this afternoon grants the Competition Appeal Tribunal a permanent power to broadcast its hearings to the public using audio and video technology. I put it in terms of a power because the decision to broadcast in any case is subject to judicial discretion, should the judge have a reason in a particular case not to allow a hearing to be broadcast. The draft order is made under Section 32 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 with the concurrence of the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice. Importantly, this order replaces a temporary order which will expire on 25 March 2022.

For noble Lords who are not intimately familiar with it, the Competition Appeal Tribunal, more generally known as the CAT, is a specialist tribunal whose principal functions are to hear and decide cases involving competition or economic regulatory issues, including appeals to decisions by the Competition and Markets Authority and some other economic regulators. The CAT is sponsored by BEIS, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, but, as the power to make this order is conferred on the Lord Chancellor, it has therefore been drafted and laid before Parliament by the Ministry of Justice.

Noble Lords will be aware that, during the pandemic, our courts and tribunals swiftly moved to holding hearings remotely using audio and video technology. To ensure that open justice was maintained in these circumstances, a temporary provision in the Coronavirus Act 2020 allowed most courts and tribunals to transmit their proceedings to remote observers who had specifically requested access. The CAT was not included in the Coronavirus Act 2020 provisions. So, to ensure that the CAT could continue to hold its hearings and broadcast them, a temporary statutory instrument, under Section 32 of the 2013 Act that I mentioned, enabled the CAT to broadcast its proceedings via a link on its website.

That has worked successfully. In a recent case concerning Newcastle United Football Club, around 33,000 individuals from over 50 countries were interested in watching the hearing, with around 4,000 observers watching it at any one time. Whether that was due to the legal issues in that case or was related to Newcastle United Football Club, I am afraid I cannot assist the Committee.

This current and temporary SI will expire, as I say, on 25 March this year, when the Coronavirus Act 2020 is due to expire. Because the broadcasting in this tribunal has been a success, we want to make the CAT’s ability to broadcast its proceedings permanent.

This instrument reproduces the existing temporary order, with two additional provisions which I should bring to the Committee’s attention. One is provision to revoke the temporary order, which is self-explanatory. The other mirrors provision included in other instruments under this power in relation to the Court of Appeal and Crown Court and requires that any use of the footage of the CAT must be fair and accurate. For example, it cannot be used for party-political broadcasts, advertisements or promotions, light entertainment or, need I add, satire. Additionally, the CAT has guidance accompanying each hearing listed for broadcast containing a warning that it is not permitted for any person to record a live-stream hearing and that breaching this requirement would constitute contempt of court.

I underline the point that this order strengthens the principle of open justice, which is a fundamental principle in this jurisdiction and has been for centuries. It means that those who are interested will be able to watch the CAT’s proceedings from the convenience of their homes or offices, or anywhere else. Importantly, it retains ultimate judicial discretion over the actual broadcast in any particular case. I commend this instrument to the Committee.

Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD)
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My Lords, the Liberal Democrats have always supported open justice and continue to do so. Therefore, we very much support this instrument. During the lockdown periods, I watched my daughter-in-law, who is a judge of the First-tier Tribunal, conduct her hearings online. She has done so consistently in providing justice in the north-west. I have been very impressed with the way in which justice has been seen to be done in that area. I have nothing further to add.

Non-fatal Strangulation and Suffocation

Debate between Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Wolfson of Tredegar
Thursday 8th July 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, of course we need all agencies to be aware of their responsibilities. I have already spoken about the police. To pick another example, judicial training in domestic abuse is included in family law and criminal courses run by the Judicial College; it is prioritised for induction and continuation training. All judges get that training before they hear family cases and are therefore on top of domestic abuse issues.

Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD) [V]
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My Lords, may I underline the point made by the noble Lord at the beginning of this session? My daughter-in-law did a thesis on the connection between violence, domestic abuse and sporting events. It is clearly a considerable problem. He is right to remind us of that.

The New Zealand Law Commission advised that the offence should require proof of strangulation but not proof of injury, on the basis that so many of these strangulation incidents do not cause visible physical injury. Is that the approach that the noble Lord is taking? Where does consent come into the new offence?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I will take the point about visible signs of injury first. A visible sign of injury is not needed: the offence requires the Crown to show beyond reasonable doubt that the person strangled or otherwise did something to affect another person’s breathing. You do not necessarily need visible signs of injury. The consent point raised by the noble Lord is a huge legal point. I summarise it by saying that it effectively follows the decision of the House of Lords in R v Brown that you cannot consent to serious harm. To say any more would, I am afraid, exceed the time allowance.

End-to-end Rape Review

Debate between Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Wolfson of Tredegar
Tuesday 22nd June 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD) [V]
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I congratulate the authors, researchers and statisticians who have contributed so much to this comprehensive and excellent review. I trust that the Government will fully resource its recommendations, but agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, that there is no sign of it so far.

I focus on one of the review’s findings—namely that, in 57% of all adult rape cases, the victim feels unable to pursue their complaint. Given that in 90% of cases the victim knows the perpetrator—as a member or friend of the family, fellow student or worker, friend or acquaintance—that may not be too surprising. I strongly suspect that very few of those withdrawals concern the small minority of cases where the perpetrator is unknown. I am interested to know whether the Minister has a figure for the percentage of withdrawals in cases of stranger rape.

So, what are the reasons for disengagement by the victim? First, there is delay. Giving evidence is always a stressful experience, as I know well. Standing exposed in a witness box with one’s honesty, accuracy of recollection and motives challenged is not pleasant. Giving evidence about intimate sexual encounters must be agonising and overwhelmingly stressful. Only those with a high degree of courage and persistence can be expected to stay the course without considerable support. I very much welcome the pilot schemes for the recording of evidence and cross-examination early, well before trial. How soon can those pilots be evaluated and rolled out? Months, if not years, of waiting for a trial must disincentivise victims pursuing their case.

Secondly, there is the intrusion into privacy. In January 2018, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, introduced a debate on this topic. I suggested an algorithm which would require the defence to co-operate by setting out their case in a defence statement and, at that point, indicating keywords for the search of mobile phones. The revised Attorney General’s Guidelines on Disclosure, published in 2020, set out such a system and it is now operational. The review recognises the importance of privacy by its requirement that mobile phones be returned within 24 hours. If that is done, I hope this disincentive to reporting rape will be removed.

Thirdly, we come to sentencing. I am not convinced that longer and longer sentences have any benefit. The review points out that the minimum sentence guideline is now six years and that the average term served for rape is nine years. This increase in sentencing coincides with a decrease in convictions. So many cases depend upon consent, without these days, in England and Wales, any need for corroboration. The lack of consent by the victim must be proved beyond reasonable doubt, and that is the highest degree of proof.

A victim, already oppressed by delay in bringing a case to court, must generally also contemplate the destruction of the life of an offender whom she knows and may even love. That may also be a potent reason for her to disengage from the case. That there should be a substantial and significant sentence of imprisonment for rape is not in doubt, but excessive increases year on year may have unexpected consequences to the detriment of justice.

Ultimately, the jurors are the judges. Acquittals reflect societal attitudes. At the moment, judges seek hard to dispel the myths and prejudices of the past, with lengthy exhortations and directions to the jury—but attitudes begin in the classroom, and we must train teachers to inculcate respect for others and, above all, the meaning and parameters of consent.

In the last few years, we have developed teams of specialised investigators and prosecutors, special measures for court hearings and victim support services. All these are steps in the right direction but have manifestly had no impact on the rate of convictions. We must try harder. We will support the Government further in implementing the policies that are set out in this review.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Wolfson of Tredegar) (Con)
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My Lords, I turn first to the points raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton. First, I should repeat the apology that the Lord Chancellor gave in the other place yesterday, setting out by reference the reasons why he gave it, given the time.

As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, said, it is not right to criticise the Government’s response to the rape review for lacking in ambition. On the contrary, we have set out clear ambitions for rape cases with the police and the CPS, and we have set out actions against which they, and we, can be held to account. We want to return the volume of trials for rape to pre-2016 levels, with corresponding expectations for police referrals and cases charged. We want to ensure that no victim is left without a phone—noble Lords will appreciate how important the data found on phones these days can be in these prosecutions—for more than 24 hours. We should not underestimate how difficult it can be for a victim to hand over her—it is invariably her—phone and to know that it will be looked at. We will also publish updates every six months, detailing our progress against our expectations, with scorecards monitoring progress against key metrics, including timeliness and victim engagement in each part of the system. That will enable us to provide information on a regional and local level, to see where things are working well and where there is room for improvement.

I turn to the other substantive point that the noble and learned Lord made, about Section 28 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act, which enables people to have their cross-examination recorded in advance. The pilots of this provision have focused on complainants for sexual and modern slavery offences. We are extending them from three to six Crown Courts. I want to increase the availability of Section 28, but we need to do this properly. This is a radical departure from the normal court process, where evidence is given at the same time, in front of the jury. The pilots enable us to understand the impacts of this way of giving evidence—not only the impact on the evidence itself but the operational impacts on the courts, because they have to set out, and set up, a bespoke hearing for such evidence to be given.

Although we have some experience of this working for vulnerable victims, primarily children, victims who can be intimidated or are subject to distress, such as victims of rape and sexual violence, are in a different category. That is why we need to look at the pilots and see how it works in practice before we roll it out nationally, if that is what we do.

I turn to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. The reasons for complainants’ withdrawals are complex, regardless of whether the victim knows the perpetrator. I do not have specific data for withdrawal in stranger-rape cases, but what we do know is that in all cases, good-quality support is a key factor in maintaining victim engagement with the process. That is why we are funding more ISVAs, and we will consider putting that on a statutory basis. As for delay and prerecording cross-examination, I think I have dealt with that point already.

As I said earlier, we recognise that a lack of privacy can be a deterrent and that having your phone gone through can be a very distressing process. We want to ensure that the focus is on the alleged perpetrator and investigating them, rather than on investigating the alleged victim. That is why we do not want to see victims without their phones for long periods of time, and only information that is necessary for an investigation will be asked for. In addition to new guidance for police and information for the public, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will clarify the power used to extract information from victims’ devices and will include privacy safeguards.

As to sentencing, I must disagree with the point made by the noble Lord. Rape is a very serious offence and merits a significant sentence. I take issue with his proposition that there have been excessive increases. On the contrary, I suggest that the sentences for rape, which ultimately are a matter for the judiciary, are entirely appropriate for the very serious nature of that crime.

However, I agree with the noble Lord’s point about the importance of education. A tackling violence against women and girls strategy is forthcoming. It will focus on prevention, recognising the importance of education for preventing violence against women and girls. If I may say so, from my own knowledge of what is being taught to my children in secondary school today, the education given to children today in areas such as consent and sexual relationships is far improved and much better than it was years ago. That is a very important part of the process, and I agree with the noble Lord that education is a key component in this debate.

On that note, I echo another point that the Lord Chancellor made yesterday in the other place: we will work across party lines when it comes to this issue. I therefore welcome the noble Lord’s concluding remarks, in which he indicated that he too would be prepared to work on that basis.

Independent Review of Administrative Law Update

Debate between Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Wolfson of Tredegar
Monday 22nd March 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, on the first point, I respectfully disagree with the comments of Sir Jonathan, whom I respect very much. In conclusion 7, particularly the first two sentences of that paragraph, it seems to me that the panel is clear that there are cases where the courts have gone beyond a supervisory approach.

On the question of potential injustice for those who have suffered, if one is going to have a suspended quashing order or a prospective remedy, as I have made clear, that is something that we are interested in consulting on. Indeed, I would welcome the noble Lord’s involvement in that consultation.

Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD) [V]
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My Lords, the Statement says that

“the Government would like to go further to protect the judiciary from unwanted political entanglements and restore trust in the judicial review process.”

First, is the political entanglement referred to the Prorogation of Parliament, and is referring an unlawful abuse of the royal prerogative to the court unwarranted? Secondly, who has lost trust in the judicial review process? Is it unsuccessful applicants whose applications have been refused, or is it the Government whose actions have been found so often to be unlawful? Thirdly, what does a presumptive decision mean? If it is that an appellant who is successful has no remedy or that the decision applies only to future decisions and not to him, why would anybody bother with a JR at all? So the Government want to go further; the review obviously has not gone far enough for them—oh, what a shame.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, on the first point, the words used by the Lord Chancellor are straightforward; I do not think they need any glossing from me. On the second point and as to trust in the judicial review process, it is important that the process does two things. It enables Governments to govern; equally, it enables them to govern well. Judicial review is important for Governments because it makes sure that they govern well, and within the law. That is why we are particularly focused not only on the recommendations of the panel; we want to go to consultation on other matters as well.

On the last point, as to prospective remedies, with great respect, the noble Lord is simplifying what is a more complex matter. It is far from the case that a prospective remedy gives no remedy to the particular litigant in that case. It all depends on how the prospective remedy is furnished and how people affected by the decision can be compensated or otherwise dealt with during the intervening period. That is precisely why we want to go out to consultation: because the current cliff edge of either no remedy or a remedy ab initio, and a quashing from the moment of the decision, leads to unfortunate consequences. That is as the panel has said, as the Government have responded, and indeed, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, explained in his minority judgment in Ahmed.

Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill

Debate between Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Wolfson of Tredegar
Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar
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My Lords, I apologise for the short break in proceedings while I came back to my place. I am afraid that the convention of not moving while the Chair is standing, and social distancing, do not go too well together.

This rather technical amendment to Clause 48 clarifies that the provisions of the Bill have UK-wide extent in so far as they are applied by the Armed Forces Act 2006. That is the burden of proposed new subsection (4A). The amendment also rectifies an oversight in the original drafting of the Bill, to make Section 384 of the Armed Forces Act 2006 apply to provisions in the Bill if they amend or modify the Act, and when they are applied by that Act. This means that they will extend to the Isle of Man and the British Overseas Territories, except Gibraltar, and can be extended to the Crown dependencies. That is the burden of proposed new subsection (4B). That ensures that the same version of the Armed Forces Act 2006 will be in force in all the jurisdictions to which that Act extends.

I apologise for the fact that this amendment has not been brought forward until now. That was an oversight, but I hope that noble Lords will accept that it was an understandable one, given the number of issues that the Bill deals with, and their frequent complexity. The interrelationship between sentencing provisions and armed services issues adds a further element of complexity. The amendment itself, as I have said, does those two things, in proposed new subsections (4A) and (4B). I beg to move.

Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD) [V]
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My Lords, Clause 48 deals with the extent of the Bill. It provides that

“A provision of this Act which amends, repeals or revokes an enactment has the same extent within the United Kingdom as the enactment amended, repealed or revoked.”


Under subsection (2), provisions that do not amend, repeal or revoke an existing enactment extend to all four nations—England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland—save for two limited exceptions, in that Clauses 21(2) and 44(2) are of a limited nature, referring to retrospectivity.

It is not easy to extract the purpose of Amendment 26. Someone in the Ministry of Justice has concluded that there are problems under the Armed Forces Act 2006. Proposed new subsection (4A) suggests that, in the context of jurisdiction under the Armed Forces Act 2006, all the provisions of the Bill extend to all four countries. This is so even if an amendment repeals or revokes a provision of an existing Act that does not have that extent.

Under proposed new subsection (4B), the provisions of the Act extend outside the United Kingdom to the extent set out in Section 384(1) and (2) of the Armed Forces Act. That section applies to the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and overseas territories excluding Gibraltar. British Overseas Territories do not include Cyprus, Belize or Gibraltar itself, which is specifically excluded. Those are all venues where I, as chairman of the Association of Military Court Advocates, know that courts martial take place.

Those are three places, and I am sure there are more, where courts martial take place—not to mention Germany, where the facilities have ceased. Courts martial can, of course, take place anywhere in the world, if properly constituted, and if charges for service offences are brought against anyone who is subject to the Armed Forces Act.

Terrorism exists outside the overseas territories. I would very much welcome clarification as to what happens if a court martial is held outside the United Kingdom, but not within those overseas territories to which the Armed Forces Act applies. I cannot help feeling that I am missing something, but the statement attached to the amendment is not at all clear—even though it states that the purpose of the amendment is to clarify the position. I look forward to the Minister doing so.

Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill

Debate between Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Wolfson of Tredegar
Committee stage & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 9th February 2021

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 42 to 65 inclusive and to Amendments 69, 71, 72, 74 and 76. I make four very short points. First, the hour is late and getting later. Secondly, these are all technical and consequential amendments. Thirdly, we have placed an explanatory note for each of them, which I am sure Members of the Committee will have looked at. Fourthly, I propose to set out in a letter, which I shall place in the Library, a more detailed analysis of the admittedly somewhat arcane and, in many cases, technical and consequential nature of these amendments. I hope that in those circumstances, I can draw my remarks to a close there. Obviously, if noble Lords have specific questions, I will attempt to answer them now, but otherwise, I beg to move.

Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD) [V]
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My Lords, since requests to speak after the Minister are delivered to the Deputy Chairman of Committees by forked stick, perhaps I might comment on the earlier group concerning the review. Mr William Shawcross’s report on compensation for Libyan-backed terrorist atrocities in Northern Ireland was discussed on Monday. It was received by the Government last May but not published, as we have discussed. I hope that any review or report in the field that we have been discussing will not similarly be kept clutched to the Government’s bosom.

I have considered the government amendments to this schedule, and I am satisfied that they are consequential to amendments to legislation made necessary by this Bill and do not contain in themselves any questions of principle. I would not be surprised, given the complexity of the Bill, if other amendments emerged in the course of time.

Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill

Debate between Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Wolfson of Tredegar
Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 26th January 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill 2019-21 View all Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill 2019-21 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 129-I Marshalled list for Committee - (21 Jan 2021)
Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I will also speak to Amendments 3, 17, 18, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 73, 74 and 75. I will also signal my intention to propose the removal of Clauses 33, 34 and 35.

Clause 33 was intended to provide explicit provision so that Scottish Ministers might impose a polygraph condition as a licence condition for specified released terrorist offenders. Clause 34 was intended to provide explicit provision so that the Northern Ireland Department of Justice might impose a polygraph condition as a licence condition for specified released terrorist offenders. Scotland does not currently have express provision for polygraph testing, but Scottish Ministers have broad powers to set licence conditions under Section 12(1) of the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993. Northern Ireland does not currently have express provision for polygraph testing, but the Department of Justice has broad powers to set licence conditions under Article 24 of the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2008 and Rule 3(2)(e) of the Criminal Justice (Sentencing) (Licence Conditions) (Northern Ireland) Rules 2009.

Through discussions on the legislative consent of the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly on the provisions of the Bill, it became apparent that while this clause would enable a fully comparable UK-wide approach to polygraph testing on licence, pursuit of this provision in Scotland and Northern Ireland was not strictly necessary and could result in Scottish and Northern Irish Ministers withholding their consent for the Bill. The Government remain of the view that polygraph examinations are a useful additional tool in supporting the effective management of terrorist offenders, and we hope that the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly will see the demonstrable benefits of its introduction in England and Wales.

This Government will continue to legislate on reserved matters but, as an expression of our respect for the existing powers of the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Assembly in relation to the setting of licence conditions, and as a demonstration of this Government’s reasonable approach to those discussions, we have now agreed to remove the provision on the clear understanding that, should this Scottish Parliament or Northern Ireland Assembly or a future one change its view on polygraph testing, it will be able to implement the measure without additional legislation being required.

Clause 35 was intended primarily to provide supplementary provisions to Clauses 33 and 34 that would restrict the circumstances in which the devolved Administrations could impose mandatory polygraph examinations as a licence condition for certain terrorist offenders. As a result of the removal of Clauses 33 and 34 from the Bill, Clause 35 is no longer needed. The clause was intended to ensure that regulations could be made to ensure that polygraph conditions were confined only to those offenders’ licences where it was necessary and proportionate to do so, to ensure standards for the examinations and that appropriate records and reports kept in relation to testing were consistent across the UK. Polygraph examinations are already carried out on sexual offenders in England and Wales. The conduct of those polygraph examinations is governed by rules made under Section 29(6) of the Offender Management Act 2007. Amendments 2, 3, 17, 18, 21 to 26 and 75 are consequential on the removal of Clauses 33 to 35.

Amendment 73 is necessary to ensure that the measures that permit introduction of polygraph testing in a licence condition for terrorist offenders in England and Wales are commenced two months after the Bill receives Royal Assent. Previously, when explicit provision was sought and set out for Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as for England and Wales, we had agreed that the provision should be commenced via regulation to allow sufficient time to develop the relevant infrastructure in those jurisdictions. As explicit provision is no longer made for those jurisdictions through this Bill, and polygraph testing is already used by the probation service for sex offenders in England and Wales, the same delay is not now required. As such, the usual commencement of two months after Royal Assent is appropriate. I beg to move.

Lord Thomas of Gresford Portrait Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I have many reservations about the value of polygraph tests. They rely on measuring several physiological processes—pulse rate, blood pressure, perspiration and so on, the changes that may take place in the course of questioning. However, the emotional and physiological responses recorded may arise from such factors as simple anxiety about being tested or fear of being judged deceptive, or a host of things—perhaps the state of one’s digestion after food. There is an inherent ambiguity in the physiological responses. The reluctance to use polygraph evidence is precisely because the response may mimic the response expected of a person seeking to deceive.

What is meant by “failing” the polygraph test? Failing the test means exhibiting a certain physiological response to a question. What is truth? The examiner cannot know whether that response means that the answer is a lie. However, there is no punishment for failing the test—whatever that means—or for exhibiting that response. That does not breach the terms of the offender’s licence. The individual will not be returned to prison. Alterations may, however, take place in the conditions of his licence, and those could be onerous.

The irony is that, in the course of questioning, the person being questioned may provide information truthfully that will have an adverse effect on him. He has not failed the test because his body does not react to his telling the truth, but he has provided information that may lead to his punishment. He has of course lost his right to silence, a right first developed in the late 17th century as a check to arbitrary rule. It has been regarded over centuries as fundamental to the fairness of the criminal law in this country and in the common-law countries all over the world.

Faced with the terrorist atrocities that we have seen in this country, the loss of the right to silence may seem a worthwhile price. Obviously that is not the immediate view in Scotland, nor in Northern Ireland. Let us face the dilemma: the proposals for England and Wales do not involve imprisonment for a lie but possible imprisonment for telling the truth or, since it is mandatory to answer the questions, even for remaining silent. Faced with legal and moral issues such as this, the drafters of the Domestic Abuse Bill, which is proceeding this week here also, as the Minister will know, decided that it was appropriate to proceed with a three-year pilot before finally rolling out the use of polygraphs generally in that field. Why is a different approach taken in this concurrent Bill?

It is interesting to note that the case studies in the MoJ memorandum on these proposals indicate that the information provided led to warrants being issued and physical evidence obtained in the offenders’ respective homes to contradict what they had said. However, there is no indication how often that has occurred or how many times such activity has proved nothing, and nothing has come of it. Will the Minister deal with that in his reply?