Committee (9th Day) (Continued)
Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill
Lord McNally (Minister of State, Justice; Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, perhaps I may clarify the point raised by my noble friend Lord Dholakia. The two-thirds release point applies only to the new extended sentence. The court must specify both the custodial term and an extended licence period when it imposes an extended sentence. The offender is released or can apply for release at the two-thirds point of the custodial term. The extended licence will start when the custodial term is concluded, so offenders will receive an appropriate licence period regardless of the point during the custodial term at which they are released. I listened to my noble friend's idea about discretion. This is not something that courts would have discretion on. They will decide on the appropriate custodial term plus an appropriate extended licence. Yet, as always with suggestions from my noble friend, I will ponder this one between now and Report.
The impact assessment of our reforms anticipated that, in the long term, 2,500 fewer prison places are projected than in the current statute. That of course presumes that we will make progress in clearing the IPP numbers. As we heard, there have been numerous issues with IPP sentences, and we have proposed a replacement regime. A key element of that regime is the new extended determinate sentence-the EDS-for dangerous offenders. This sentence will apply where an offender commits a sexual or violent offence that merits four years' imprisonment or more, or has very serious previous offending, as with the current IPPs and EPPs, and the court finds that he is dangerous. The court will set a custodial term, some of which may be served on licence, and also a further extended period of licence set by the court. The offender will always serve at least two-thirds of the custodial term in prison. In the most serious cases, release will not be automatic: the offender will have to apply to the Parole Board for release. This may mean that they stay inside until the end of the term.
My noble friend Lord Dholakia proposed that the minimum time in prison that offenders on the new extended sentence should serve is one half of the custodial term rather than the two-thirds that the Bill provides for. It is true that the current extended sentence has release at the halfway point, as do ordinary determinate sentences. Headline sentences should be equivalent to ordinary determinate sentences, whereas an IPP tariff is half the equivalent determinate sentence. These offenders will have a longer minimum time in prison than they would had they received an IPP or ordinary determinate sentence. However, in June last year the Government committed to introducing a tougher determinate sentencing regime to replace IPPs.
A key part of that tougher regime is that those on public protection sentences, now that they are no longer liable to receive IPP sentences, will spend more of their determinate sentence in prison. That is needed to enhance public protection and deliver public confidence. It will provide more time for offenders and NOMS to work towards rehabilitation. Overall, offenders who receive the new EDS sentence will have a finite, rather than a possibly indefinite, time in prison. That may be to the end of their sentence, before release. On that basis, it is justifiable for prisoners who have committed such dangerous offences to serve two-thirds of the custodial term in prison.
We will also step up rehabilitative support for dangerous offenders to help them to progress to release as soon as it is appropriate. We are introducing compulsory intervention plans for these offenders while they are in prison so that they are supported to change their ways and rehabilitate themselves. Sentence plans will include appropriate interventions, assessed as necessary, to address the risk that the offender presents. Offenders who engage with these requirements should be able to demonstrate reduced risk. I hope, therefore, that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.