6 Lord Woodley debates involving the Ministry of Justice

Prison Officer Pension Age

Lord Woodley Excerpts
Monday 18th March 2024

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, on the first question, the Treasury has overall responsibility for setting pension arrangements for the Civil Service; that is not an MoJ responsibility, and my noble friend correctly makes that point. As for “lock until you drop”, can we please distinguish between the age at which you get a full pension and the age at which you can retire, which is something quite different? A prison officer does not have to work to the age of 68 to qualify for any pension; he can retire earlier on a smaller pension and then, unlike most situations in the armed services, he can return to work—in a less front-line role, typically. He will continue to work and earn a pension, as well as the other pension he has already accrued. It is not at all clear that prison officers under the present scheme are worse off than they would be if they were in the armed services, especially given the higher contributions the latter have to make.

Lord Woodley Portrait Lord Woodley (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, prison officers are, unfortunately, banned from taking industrial action and the Government are, in my opinion, exploiting this unjustifiable restriction. Lifting the pension age to 68 is a classic example of this, and looking after violent, overcrowded and understaffed prisons is not a job for older workers. Does the Minister agree that this policy, which is “lock until you drop”, is reckless, dangerous and plain wrong?

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

The Government are unable to agree with the somewhat colourful language used by the noble Lord. The Government have the highest regard for our prison officers, who stand on the front line in prisons and are some of our finest public servants.

However, it is as well to remember that the pension contributions paid by prison officers are much lower than those paid by other uniformed services—between 4% and 6% for prison officers, as against 12% to 15% for other services. These days, if you are a young person in your 20s or early 30s entering the prison service, you are not necessarily thinking about what you are going to get when you are 68. You may be more than satisfied with a lower pension contribution now.

It is also quite a palaver to secure an affirmative order; it is not that simple and there are a lot of processes to be gone through. Also, it would require a one-hour debate in your Lordships’ House. Assuming any change was desirable, it might be simpler to use a suitable Bill to effect any change needed.
Lord Woodley Portrait Lord Woodley (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, I support this group of amendments. I support of all the IPP amendments debated now and later this evening. First, I express my sincere regret for being unable to speak at Second Reading, as this is a subject, as colleagues know, that is very dear to me and of great interest to me and I have raised several times in your Lordships’ House.

I had the humbling experience of meeting and listening to former IPP prisoners, who had served from five to ten years more than their minimum sentence, and family members of prisoners who have served more than 15 years over tariff. I have to tell the Committee that it was a heart-breaking occasion, knowing that there was no end to their injustice in sight, no hope for the thousands of prisoners and family members who are treated so inhumanely, not enough courses to help them to apply for a review and not enough opportunities within the justice system to even give them a review.

As has been mentioned, IPPs were abolished over a decade ago, so how on earth can it be that so many people—almost 3,000 of them—are still living through this never-ending nightmare? I agree with the Justice Select Committee and the UN special rapporteur on torture that resentencing represents the only way forward for resolving the IPP scandal and for justice at long last to be done.

Importantly, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, mentioned, we must not forget the psychological effects of IPPs on prisoners and families alike, as the Justice Committee’s report so vividly highlighted and has been further demonstrated by the high number of suicides that we have tragically seen. Likewise, the UN special rapporteur, Dr Alice Jill Edwards, describes IPPs as “psychological torture” and says it is

“tragic that so many mental health challenges appear to have been caused—or at least aggravated—by the uncertainty of indeterminate sentences”.

I agree with that. This is a miscarriage of justice on an industrial scale. It may not presently have the profile of the Post Office scandal, but nevertheless it is a cruel injustice that has gone on for far too long.

I understand—as, again, has just been mentioned—that both Front Benches have previously been resistant to resentencing on the grounds of public safety. Of course, in an election year no one wants to look soft on crime. However, to quote Dr Edwards:

“It is the responsibility of the UK government to protect public safety, but citing this as the reason not to review IPP sentences is misleading. The UK, like any society with a strong rule of law, has measures to protect the community after prisoners are released. Locking people up and ‘throwing away the keys’ is not a legal or moral solution”


to this terrible problem. I agree, but if either Front Bench is still in need of more political cover to do the right thing, I suggest that Amendment 167C in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, which we will come to soon, fits the bill. That amendment would delay resentencing until the chief inspector was satisfied that the Probation Service could adequately protect the public following any resentencing exercise. The long- overdue release and justice for IPP prisoners should not be blocked over the excuse that the Probation Service cannot cope, but Amendment 167C might be the compromise needed to unlock that puzzle—a pathway out of this political impasse. I sincerely hope it is.

I urge the Committee to summon the post-war spirit of 1945 and back Amendment 167C from the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox. I know that IPP prisoners and their families are watching us here, hoping but also fearing what might be coming round the corner. Our Parliament must strike up the courage to act and correct the injustices that we can all see if we just open our eyes.

Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick Portrait Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick (CB)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I too support this array of amendments on IPP, both the current amendments and the ones that will follow. As the Committee will know, I am a regular visitor—twice a month—to prisons across the UK, and I will visit another one tomorrow morning. On a regular basis—two a month—I meet many incarcerated men and sometimes women, and many who have left prison over the last 10 years, and I have found relentless IPP tragedies around every corner.

I shall refer to one story from a meeting in December, when a man came up to me and said that he had been released from an IPP sentence 14 years ago but was recalled back to prison in September after he forgot to inform his then probation officer that he had gone on holiday with his wife in August for two weeks to Spain. This is just sheer stupidity, let alone the fact that this system is organising to persecute people compared with recognising their renewal. In his case, and not just because I have now met him twice, he does not deserve the taxpayer to spend nearly £50,000 for an extended period to make sure that he is further detained and punished.

I hope the Minister will gather up all his strength and either accept this array of amendments in one gulp or go back to the Lord Chancellor and determine to bring back an effective set of government amendments that will allow us to end this appalling stain of injustice and unfairness. Another man I met eight years ago from a prison in Kent had been recalled three times. From an initial sentence of seven years, he had done over 24. The persecution of this man’s mental abilities was blatantly obvious; he was no risk to anyone. I can tell noble Lords that since we campaigned for his release, and he has been released, he is an honourable citizen paying his taxes. That is how we should treat many of these men—they are largely men—to see that they are given the opportunity to prove their new life.

Imprisonment for Public Protection

Lord Woodley Excerpts
Tuesday 16th January 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, that is, in effect, the present position. The Government have no interest in holding these prisoners, especially given the pressure on the prison system generally. The Government’s fear, worry and concern is public protection, for the reasons I have given.

Lord Woodley Portrait Lord Woodley (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, the special rapporteur, Dr Alice Edwards, whom I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting last month with the Justice Unions Parliamentary Group, stated forcefully that:

“The UK, as a society with a strong rule of law tradition, has measures in place to protect the community after individuals are released”.


Why then does the Minister think that these measures will be ineffective in the case of IPP prisoners?

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

The Government replied in detail to the learned special rapporteur with a letter of over 13 pages on 23 December, to which I refer your Lordships. I look forward to further debate and discussion on this matter when we are dealing with the Victims and Prisoners Bill.

Joint Enterprise: Young Black Men

Lord Woodley Excerpts
Thursday 19th October 2023

(7 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Asked by
Lord Woodley Portrait Lord Woodley
- Hansard - -

To ask His Majesty’s Government, further to the remarks of Lord Bellamy on 14 June (HL Deb col 1990), what steps they are taking to address concerns that joint enterprise case law operates in a harsh way against young black men.

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

My Lords, joint enterprise case law is primarily a matter for the judiciary. The CPS applies that case law and race plays no part in individual charging decisions. Recognising concerns about possibly disproportionate use of the joint enterprise case law, the CPS has piloted the collection of data on joint enterprise homicide prosecutions. Informed by the results of that pilot, published on 29 September last, the CPS aims to commence a full national monitoring scheme early next year.

Lord Woodley Portrait Lord Woodley (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

The new data that the Minister mentioned confirms, unfortunately, that young black men are disproportionately affected in joint enterprise prosecutions, as campaigners such as me have warned for many years. Black people are 16 times—I repeat, 16 times—more likely than white people to be prosecuted for homicide or attempted homicide under joint enterprise laws. It is absolutely shocking, as I am sure your Lordships all agree. Does the Minister therefore agree that this proves indisputably that joint enterprise is being used in a racist way by prosecutors, and basically as a dragnet to hoover up black urban youth?

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

My Lords, if I may respectfully say so, the results so far of the pilot prove nothing of the sort. The pilot showed a high number of black males in joint enterprise cases in the 18-24 age group and a high proportion of white males in the 30-59 age group. Those figures, taken alone, do not establish discrimination; disparity on its own does not establish discrimination. That is why, to get to the bottom of this, the CPS will build on the pilot and the national monitoring scheme will commence next February, together with other measures that the CPS is taking.

Miscarriages of Justice

Lord Woodley Excerpts
Wednesday 14th June 2023

(11 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Asked by
Lord Woodley Portrait Lord Woodley
- Hansard - -

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to prevent miscarriages of justice.

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

My Lords, miscarriages of justice occur relatively rarely within our justice system. In criminal cases, the Criminal Cases Review Commission will investigate possible miscarriages of justice and, if necessary, refer the case to the Court of Appeal. The Government have recently increased legal aid for such cases. The Law Commission is also currently conducting an independent and wide-ranging review of our appeals system to ensure that it is operating effectively.

Lord Woodley Portrait Lord Woodley (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, I appreciate the Minister’s Answer, but honestly, I am increasingly concerned that, whether through joint enterprise, guilt-by-association sentences or IPP sentences abolished a decade ago but not retrospectively, there are still thousands of prisoners who are rotting away with little or no hope of finding justice. It seems to be going nowhere. So, what is the Minister doing to correct these obvious miscarriages of justice, particularly as the Government have already accepted, at least on joint enterprise, that BAME groups are disproportionately affected?

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

My Lords, first, on joint enterprise, it is a long-standing principle of the criminal law that persons who go together to commit a crime are jointly liable, irrespective of whoever threw the brick or fired the shot. There is a great deal of jurisprudence on this subject, and it is true that there is some concern that the existing case law does operate in a harsh way on certain young black boys and men. The CPS, to which I would like to pay tribute, is engaged in a six-month pilot, which started in February 2023, to review joint enterprise cases in several CPS areas. It has also established a joint enterprise national scrutiny panel to review the interim findings of the pilot and several finalised joint enterprise cases. At the end of September this year, the results of that review will be published. This, I understand, will also be considered in relation to the Law Commission’s investigation into the appeals process.

Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, those who have been present for the last group will inevitably experience déjà vu, for which I make no apology. The implications of this legislation for the people upon whom obligations are being placed is clearly an important aspect of the Bill. It is not about the principle, where our position has been made clear; it is about the inadequate thought and consideration that has gone into preparing this legislation.

These clauses are a form of conscription—compulsory enlistment for state service, typically but not necessarily into the Armed Forces. Requiring transport workers, going about their normal work, to undertake state service—additional responsibilities mandated by the Government—constitutes a form of conscription. I will not take this too far but, for seafarers, it is effectively a return of the press-gang.

As the Minister alluded to in his remarks on the previous group, for transport workers there are already provisions for this sort of activity in the immigration Acts. People get deported in accordance with the law when they have no right to remain in the country. That raises the question: if it is already happening, why are these additional powers required?

I would argue that there is a highly significant difference between the existing practice and that proposed in the Bill. There is no dispute about that difference. The front of the Bill states that the Minister is

“unable to make a statement that … the provisions of the … Bill are compatible with the Convention rights”.

That is the human rights convention. This makes an enormous difference when we come to the imposition of additional responsibilities on employees. It is clearly a matter of concern to transport workers that they will be required to undertake actions when the Government cannot provide an assurance that, in doing so, they are not impinging on an individual’s human rights.

It therefore behoves the Government to take extra care when preparing such legislation. It is perfectly clear that this care has not been taken. There is a total lack of any assessment of the consequences and a failure to undertake any meaningful consultation with those who will be directly affected by the legislation or even their employers. With these amendments, I am asking the Minister to take the opportunity to review the provisions in this part of the Bill that impact on individual workers before it returns on Report.

I turn to the amendments specifically. They would simply delete those provisions that are of serious concern to rail staff and seafarers—as expressed by their trade union, the RMT—and to employers across the transport industry, where I understand there has been little or no consultation about their practicalities.

Amendment 57B would amend Clause 7 by deleting subsections (12) and (13). Here we have the powers for the Home Secretary to require train “owners”, as the Bill puts it, to “make arrangements” to deport individuals who fall foul of the legislation. It gives immigration officers the power to instruct people employed as train guards, for example, to detain and even restrain someone the Home Secretary is seeking to remove from the UK on passenger rail services. In effect, guards on passenger rail services will be turned into prison guards, acting under the direction of the Home Secretary and not that of their employer.

It is worth reminding the Committee that transport workers are routinely advised not to put themselves in situations of conflict when performing their contractual duties. They signed up to provide a transport service, not to act as untrained and inexperienced prison guards. This approach of lack of confrontation was uppermost in people’s minds around the enforcement of face mask wearing and other aspects of the Government’s Covid-19 response. Why is this situation, which is more extreme, any different? I understand that the RMT has tried to contact, and spoken to, transport Ministers and employers in the industry to seek their support in opposing these provisions.

I turn to seafarers. The captain of a ship will also be subject to these provisions. In practice, that would mean immigration officers directing the ship’s captain, who would then be obliged to instruct the ship’s crew to detain and even restrain people, subject to the Bill’s provision.

When the Immigration Act 1971 and other legislation to which the Minister has referred already contain significant powers to control migration, why are these additional powers required?

Amendment 58A would delete Clause 9(1) and (2). These provisions add rail employees to the list of transport workers subject to fines—criminal penalties—of up to £5,000 under Section 27 of the Immigration Act 1971, in relation to the removal process. This rush to legislate has been undertaken with scant regard to, and certainly no consultation with, workers on their responsibilities, even when they could be prosecuted if someone being transported in accordance with the instructions of the Secretary of State were to “disembark”, as the legislation puts it, or were not removed from the UK. In effect the Government are threatening transport workers, particularly rail and shipping staff and their employers, with criminal sanctions if they fail to impose custodial conditions on people submitting a claim for asylum in the UK. Once again, the Government do not appear to have undertaken any impact assessment of these proposals, particularly what they mean for individuals.

Amendment 71B would delete part of Clause 11(1). There are already significant powers in the Immigration Acts for an immigration officer to instruct the captain of a ship or aircraft to detain a person being removed from the UK if they have not been granted leave to remain or have attempted to enter the UK illegally on a ship or aircraft. But Clause 11(1) significantly amends paragraph 16 of Schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971.

The effect of this provision is that the Secretary of State, rather than the courts, will determine what is a reasonable period to detain an individual for, for the specific statutory purpose. If the Secretary of State does not consider that the examination, decision, removal or directions will be carried out, made or given within a reasonable period, the person may be detained for a further period that is, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, reasonably necessary to enable arrangements to be made for release.

The concern is that the Bill appears to give the Home Secretary much broader powers to require the detention of people on ships and aircraft for long periods of time. This is likely to mainly affect services chartered by the Home Office or the Home Secretary, but clarification is needed on the impact on the ships’ crews, who will potentially be stuck in port for an indeterminate period of time under the instruction of the Home Secretary.

As with the concerns I have raised over the contents of Clauses 7 and 9, the provisions in Clause 11(1) put seafarers and other transport workers in positions of conflict and potential harm at the instruction of the Secretary of State.

Given these concerns, I press the Minister to answer the following questions. First, will transport workers be prosecuted if they do not detain asylum seekers in line with the provisions of the Bill—actions clearly outside their contract of employment?

Secondly, what impact assessment have the Government conducted of these amendments, which bring transport workers and their employers into the scope of the legislation with the threat of criminal sanctions? If they have made an assessment, will they reveal it?

Thirdly, what consultation have the Government conducted with employers across the transport industry regarding these powers? I asked a question in relation to the previous group. I would have pressed the Minister at the time but, since I have this second bite at the cherry, I raise it now: what consultation has taken place? If there has been none, will they swiftly organise some? Will they include the results of such discussion in the fondly awaited impact assessment?

Fourthly, what discussions have the Government had with the devolved Administrations in Wales and Scotland over the effect of these requirements on Transport for Wales, ScotRail and cross-border rail operations?

Lord Woodley Portrait Lord Woodley (Lab)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

My Lords, as we can see, there has been an inevitable crossover between this group of amendments and the previous ones, as the noble Lords, Lord German and Lord Balfe, mentioned. I rise in support of this last group of amendments put forward by my noble friend Lord Davies.

For workers, there can be no doubt: it is somewhat disgraceful that Ministers are seeking to make transport workers responsible for detaining and even restraining asylum seekers. The TUC says that this idea shows “total disregard” for these workers’ ethical views and legal obligations. As has been mentioned, the RMT has put this in even starker terms, as did my noble friend Lord Davies a few seconds ago: these proposals will turn train guards into prison guards. Think about those words for a moment; it cannot possibly be right.

Clause 7 risks putting transport workers in situations of conflict, while Clause 9 increases their exposure to criminal sanctions and drags train managers and others into the removal process. This is surely completely unacceptable and unnecessary. The legislation is vindictive and inhumane. It seeks to exploit boat crossings in the channel to stoke resentment against refugees and migrants seeking asylum in this country.

These amendments are probing in nature and designed to draw out the Government’s reasoning behind these appalling proposals. They would protect transport workers from the terrible burden that Ministers seek to place upon them.