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More than 1,200 individuals and organisations contributed to the consultation on the Green Paper, “Breaking the Cycle: Effective Punishment, Rehabilitation and Sentencing of Offenders”. Numerous criminal justice organisations commented on the remand proposals in the Green Paper, both in relation to restricting the availability of remand in custody and to new arrangements for defendants under 18. The latter were also discussed in a series of consultation events that the Youth Justice Board undertook following publication.
What the hon. Gentleman has to understand is that in magistrates courts 10,098 people were remanded into custody, a very substantial number of whom did not receive a custodial sentence, so we have to deal with that reality.
We believe that victims and witnesses should be at the heart of our justice system, and that they are crucial to its effective functioning. Victims groups have expressed alarm about the proposals in clause 73 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, and there is a concern that judges will be forced to prejudge cases prematurely, which could lead to the remanding on bail of people—offenders—who might interfere with witnesses, and could reoffend or fail to attend court. The Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses is against the plans as well. Does the Minister understand that the proposal could deter witnesses and victims from coming forward?
No. What the shadow Secretary of State needs to understand is that if there is any doubt about the issue, it will be up to the judge or the magistrate to make the appropriate decision on remand. The only factor that will be considered is whether imprisonment is at all likely in a particular case. If those other factors are in play, they will come into effect. We have listened during the consultation, and even if those other factors are not present, it will still be possible to remand in custody people in domestic violence cases.
It is not just the shadow Justice Secretary who does not understand the proposals: the Council of Her Majesty’s Circuit Judges is “wholly opposed” to them, and the Sentencing Guidelines Council, the Magistrates’ Association, the senior presiding judge of England and Wales and the vice-president of the Queen’s bench division have all responded to the consultation and are against them. The Minister has given no evidence to the House to justify the change other than the cost savings, involving 1,400 prison places and £40 million, so will he take this opportunity to explain why he is limiting judges’ and magistrates’ discretion?
Because we need to restrict the availability of custodial sentences on remand when there is no real prospect of the defendant being sentenced to imprisonment if convicted—[ Interruption. ] Thousands of people who are remanded in custody and then convicted do not receive a custodial sentence—and in the case of those whom magistrates remand, the numbers are very significant indeed.