This is an extremely wide-ranging Bill. I have raised in the House a number of times the reform of rehabilitation. This Bill will give the courts powers to give alternatives to custody for youth offenders, by piloting changes to youth rehabilitation orders. For adult offenders, a “problem-solving court approach” will be piloted for certain community and suspended sentences. This aims to ensure that there is more tailored, intensive and structured support to rehabilitate offenders in the community. Employment opportunities for reformed offenders will also be improved by the Bill.
The Bill outlines several measures that will allow the courts to return to normal as soon as possible and cut into the backlog. Virtual juries were trialled with huge success on four occasions last year by the international fair trials organisation Justice, most notably in Wimbledon. “Wimbledon juries”, as they should perhaps become known, were subject to research and authentication by the University of Oxford, and the trials proved that they were, in many ways, as effective in executing their responsibilities as juries in courtrooms. They can be inexpensive and can return juries to their historic origins, based in communities.
The Bill also makes changes to police powers over protests. I have been looking carefully at those parts of the Bill, and I know that they will be examined in greater detail in Committee. However, it is clear, especially with the background of current covid legislation, that those who enforce this legislation need to be clear as to its framework.
The language of clause 59(2) is central. The language of “distress” and “loss of amenity” is familiar to the courts, but “serious annoyance” and “serious inconvenience” are unfamiliar to the courts. I know that “annoyance” has been used in public order Acts in Ireland, I think in Austria and perhaps elsewhere, but I would welcome a very clear definition here. We need to help our police decide what these words mean, and we need to let those that they will cover know what they mean. Similarly, “noise” from a protest that could
“result in serious disruption to the activities of an organisation” needs to be more clearly defined so that it does not catch the sort of chanting that one would normally expect at a protest.
Finally, I welcome that the Home Secretary has instructed Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to investigate the policing at the Clapham vigil. I welcome confirmation from her that there are aspects to be investigated and that she intends the extended consultation to ensure that the justice system provides confidence for the victims. Therefore, one should look at this Bill in the whole and it should be supported.