New Clause 3 — Service Courts

Sexual Offences Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 5:00 pm on 3rd November 2003.

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'(1) In this Act—

(a) a reference to a court order or a conviction or finding includes a reference to an order of or a conviction or finding by a service court,

(b) a reference to an offence includes a reference to an offence triable by a service court,

(c) "proceedings" includes proceedings before a service court, and

(d) a reference to proceedings for an offence under this Act includes a reference to proceedings for the offence under section 70 of the Army Act 1955 (3&4Eliz.2 c.18) or the Air Force Act 1955 (3&4Eliz.2 c.19) or section 42 of the Naval Discipline Act 1957 (c.53) for which the offence under this Act is the corresponding civil offence.

(2) In sections 92 and 104(1), "court" includes a service court.

(3) Where the court making a sexual offences prevention order is a service court—

(a) sections 104(1)(a) and (4) to (6), 105, 109, 111 and 112 do not apply,

(b) in section 108, "the appropriate court" means the Crown Court in England and Wales, and

(c) in section 110(3)(a), the references to the Crown Court and Court of Appeal are references to the Crown Court and Court of Appeal in England and Wales.

(4) In this section "service court" means a court-martial or Standing Civilian Court.'.—[Ms Harman.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 82, 37, 53, 52, 63 to 66, 68, 69, 111, 67, 87, 88, 124, 125, 89, 90, 126, 91 to 95, 127 to 131, 96, 97, 70 to 72, 98, 132, 99, 73, 100 to 104, 54 to 56, 133, 105, 57 to 60, 76, 77, 112, 78 to 80, 113, 115, 81, 106 to 108, 62, 109 and 110.

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Solicitor General (Law Officers), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

The amendments are minor, drafting and technical.

New clause 3 deals with the powers of service courts—that is, courts martial. It will ensure that references in part 2 to court orders, convictions, findings, offences and proceedings apply to those matters in the context of service courts as well as civilian courts. It makes it clear, for example, that if a person is convicted of a serious sexual offence before a court martial, that person will be subject to the notification requirements. It will also enable service courts to impose sexual offences prevention orders at the time of sentencing in the same way as civilian courts.

Courts martial have jurisdiction to try all offences committed outside the UK, including the most serious, when committed by service personnel, their dependants or other civilians who are subject to service law overseas, such as Ministry of Defence officials posted abroad who are accompanying Her Majesty's forces. If an offender is sentenced to imprisonment by a court martial, he will be sent to a UK civilian prison to serve his sentence in the normal way. If a service court, by which I mean a court martial or a standing civilian court, is satisfied that the test set out in clause 104(l)(b) is met—namely, that a sexual offences prevention order is necessary for the purposes of protecting the public in the UK from serious sexual harm—we consider it appropriate for that court to be able to impose such an order in the same way as a civilian court. The new clause gives a service court the power to impose a sexual offences prevention order only on conviction or sentence, not following an application by the police, as the latter power is not necessary or appropriate in relation to service courts.

On amendment No. 69, schedule 3 contains the sentencing thresholds at which the notification requirements under part 2 are triggered. For some offences, the thresholds include the imposition of a community sentence of at least 12 months. Service courts do not generally have the power to impose community sentences, but they can impose a punishment called service detention. That is considered a lesser punishment than imprisonment, although it deprives the service offender of his liberty, pay and other privileges. However, its purpose is rehabilitative, with the offender undergoing a period of corrective training and then usually resuming his or her career in the armed forces. It can be used in similar circumstances to those in which community sentences are applied in civilian courts.

Taking account of different provisions for sentence calculation, it is estimated that a sentence of 112 days' service detention is equivalent to a 12-month community sentence. The amendment adds 112 days' service detention to the thresholds as an alternative to 12 months' community sentence. That will ensure that offenders who would be subject to notification requirements if sentenced in a civilian court will not escape that because of the different sentencing powers of service courts.

Amendments Nos. 54, 55, 56, 58 and 68 are to clarify drafting or to ensure that appropriate service legislation is referred to. Amendments Nos. 57 and 59 deal with schedule 5A of the Army and Air Force Act 1955 and equivalent naval provisions, which empower standing civilian courts overseas, when punishing civilians who are subject to service law, to award absolute or conditional discharges and community supervision orders. Paragraph 5(1) of that schedule deems such sentences not to amount to convictions. Amendment No. 57 is a drafting amendment to reflect the provisions in paragraph 5(1). Amendment No. 59 applies part 2 to community supervision orders so that an order imposed by a service court will trigger the notification requirements in appropriate cases.

Amendment No. 52 to clause 67 limits the offence of exposing the genitals to the situation where a person intends that someone will see them and be caused alarm or distress.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I welcome the amendment. The naturists on Studland beach will be able to enjoy their time so much more. Obviously, they do not intend to cause offence but they have great concerns when they are aware that there are walkers on the beach who do not know that they are there. I am sure that naturists all over the country will welcome the amendment.

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Solicitor General (Law Officers), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I shall be glad if anybody welcomes any Government amendment this evening, but I have to say to naturists, on Studland beach or anywhere else, that they will be subject to the law. If they intend, by exposing their genitalia, to cause alarm or distress, a file will be sent to the Crown Prosecution Service, who will consider the sufficiency of the evidence and whether it is in the public interest to prosecute. Nevertheless, I welcome the hon. Lady's remarks.

As the hon. Lady knows from her involvement in the proceedings, a number of amendments were made in Committee, including the removal of recklessness, which reassured naturists that they would not be caught by the offence. However, it was clear from the debate in Committee and from the correspondence that we have received that naturists were still worried about this offence. We undertook to look at the clause again, and the amendment is our response. Hopefully, genuine naturist activity, whatever that might mean, does not include the intention to cause alarm or distress, so I hope that now that we have dropped knowledge from the offence and left only intention, naturists will be reassured.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield

I can be very brief. All the Government amendments are acceptable. There is only one that I need positively to welcome because it does more than tidy up the provisions, and that is the amendment on which the Solicitor-General has just touched. That reassures naturists by removing knowledge from the offence, leaving intention. The right hon. and learned Lady will remember the debates in Committee. Clearly this is not a blanket dispensation to naturists to practise naturism wherever they choose. They will have to continue to exercise restraint and show due consideration for other people.

The point that is successfully met by the amendment, which I welcome, is the need to get rid of a situation in which a naturist goes to a remote beach where they legitimately do not expect, and certainly do not intend, anyone to be in any way insulted or distressed, but nevertheless are constantly aware that somebody might turn up unexpectedly. The amendment strikes the right balance, and I hope that it will allow naturists to practise naturism discreetly, freeing them from fear that they might be unfairly prosecuted while ensuring that there is still a robust framework to ensure that the situation is not abused.

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Solicitor General (Law Officers), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I associate myself with the hon. Gentleman's points.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.