All 1 Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick contributions to the Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Act 2020

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Tue 28th Apr 2020
Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading

Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill Debate

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Department: Scotland Office

Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill

Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 28th April 2020

(4 years ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Committee of the whole House Amendments as at 3 March 2020 - large print version - (3 Mar 2020)
Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick Portrait Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick (CB)
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My Lords, I remind the House of my interest in the register as founder and chairman of Crime Concern, which gave birth to Victim Support. All of us agree that the Bill is much needed and timely. It may be simple in the paragraphs contained in it, but it is profoundly essential. It is a dignity measure for victims—a measure that strips bare those vindictive and harsh offenders who wish to hide behind their crimes and the mask that an illusion will eventually pass over our concerns. These vulgar and violent crimes cannot and should not be forgotten.

I am conscious that the seriousness and importance of this legislation reflects a great effort on the part of the Ministry of Justice and the Government to tighten the law. We cannot disagree, given the cases involved that have set the boundaries for the Bill, that it is vital and necessary. When the Minister comes to wrap up the debate, will he indicate whether the Government have an interest in bringing forward any further legislation to tighten up other aspects of the law on the release of prisoners? Whether they are appropriate or not, there may be further dimensions for consideration by the Parole Board, or even by those with wider sentencing or probation powers.

Yesterday, we heard in the other place that just 33 prisoners have been released out of the proposed 4,000 in the decision of the Ministry of Justice on 4 April. This would imply that the release procedure has gone wrong somewhere. We know that a few offenders were released and then recalled. It also suggests that the promise of release for good reason, as agreed by many in this House and the other place, as well as by public campaigners, means that sometimes too many people are allowed to languish for too long in our system. That is itself an element of injustice. How will the Government fulfil their responsibility, set out on 4 April, to release prisoners who pose no harm to wider society, in particular as they have done not only for pregnant women prisoners but for those with disabilities, of great age or who are suffering from other illnesses? Can the Minister comment on that aspect or, if it is not in his brief, will he write to the House? This is a matter of dignity. While the Bill is about dignity for victims, the entire criminal justice system needs to have that element of dignity about it.

My noble friend Lord Hogan-Howe, who is not in his place today, and I have been looking at a number of cases involving miscarriages of justice relating to offenders that are of serious concern. We are here to pass a vital Bill because it will place further duties on the Parole Board and on the structure of how considerations of parole and possible release are brought forward. What consideration is the Ministry of Justice now giving to beefing up the need for enhanced legal aid to support those in need of better consideration of their cases? What thought is being given to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which seems to have been consistently weakened over decades so that its ability to bring forward cases of genuine need—to see that justice is done—is now much reduced? In particular, perhaps I may highlight what seems to be the number of IPP prisoners who are languishing while being held in our prison system, given that the current number is around 2,400. They are serving indeterminate sentences with no notice of release.

I am raising these issues because the Bill is about justice for victims but, at the same time, we should not make others the victims of injustice by allowing miscarriages of justice to be disregarded. I hope, as would we all, that as the Bill passes on to the statute book—as it should, so that families, in particular the McCourt family, get some sense of peace at long last because the right thing has been done—we do not allow the wrong thing to continue simply because it does not make for a good headline. I ask instead that justice is comprehensive and that the Ministry of Justice takes account of all those affected by the criminal justice system.