Criminal Justice Bill
Lord Carlisle of Bucklow (Conservative)
My Lords, I strongly support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, on Amendment No. 217. We have just agreed, as a House, to the setting up of a Sentencing Guidelines Council. It will have great authority; it will have members who are respected, and I am sure their views will be respected. They will issue guidelines. However, there is nothing new in issuing guidelines. The Court of Appeal has been issuing guidelines for many years.
The Bill states specifically that every court must, in sentencing an offender, have regard to any guidelines which are relevant to the offender's case. That is the position at the moment. Yet no one suggests that the passing of guidelines by the Court of Appeal in any way overrules the final discretion of the judge who has tried the case to decide the appropriate sentence. I think, in fact, that the words used by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner,
"the judges' overriding discretion in the individual case to set the sentence he thinks is appropriate"
should be on the face of the Bill when we are setting up a Sentencing Guidelines Council.
The Minister has on many occasions expressed her confidence in the judiciary. She has said that this Bill is in no way an attack on the judiciary. She tells us that her right honourable friend the Home Secretary has an equal confidence in the judiciary and that they have confidence in the way in which the guidelines have been used until now and the way in which the courts have interpreted them. The way in which the courts have interpreted them is by having regard to those guidelines but, in the end, the judge has an overwhelming discretion, based on everything he has seen and heard in that court, to decide what the appropriate sentence is, and the guidelines will not be able to overrule that discretion. I hope very much that the Minister, who has expressed that confidence in the judiciary, will be prepared to accept this amendment.