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Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:33 pm on 11th February 2020.

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Photo of James Daly James Daly Conservative, Bury North 3:33 pm, 11th February 2020

It is an honour to take part in this debate, in which I have heard one of the finest speeches since I have been here. Conor McGinn articulated for us all the emotion, the feeling and the motivation behind the long campaign that his constituent has waged on this issue. I have been a criminal defence solicitor for 16 years. This legislation should have been on the statute book 16 years ago: it has been far, far too long. It is reasonable, it is proportionate, it is morally correct, and it is a matter of blinding common sense.

In the short time that I have, I want to make two points and pick up on a comment made by Luke Pollard regarding Vanessa George’s case. Two things dominate criminal proceedings, whether it is a less serious offence or the most serious offence. The first is public protection. Vanessa George could not be released by the Parole Board unless it felt that there was not an issue of public protection. The Parole Board somehow came to the conclusion that a lady who was withholding the names of victims was not a threat to the public. That defies logic and common sense. The Parole Board could have held Vanessa George in custody but chose not to, and these are the issues we are talking about.

Public protection and the protection of victims are central. When I used to stand up in the magistrates court and a defendant pleaded not guilty, I made bail application after bail application, some successful and some not. The reason why some were not successful was that the courts prioritise the interests of victims—they prioritise the public interest, and that is what the Bill does.

The second point I would like to make is about rehabilitation. We can all say warm words about the concept of rehabilitation, but sadly, in my experience— certainly for the vast majority of those whom I represented —I cannot say that rehabilitative sentences worked, nor had the impact of custodial sentences. I agree with the discretion provided for in the Bill. We cannot have a situation where defendants with mental health issues or suchlike can be judged on events that happened a long time ago. But if there is evidence to suggest or to state quite categorically that somebody who has received a substantial custodial term is aware of where their victim’s body is, or is aware of a child victim, it seems obvious to me that that person is not rehabilitated. If they are not rehabilitated, they continue, in my view, to pose a threat to the public. These matters should be at the forefront of the Parole Board’s decision-making process. I agree with my hon. Friend Lucy Allan that we should review how the Parole Board discharges its functions, but this is a good Bill and a much needed one, and I am glad to be part of this debate.