[1st Allocated Day]

Part of Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:49 pm on 15th March 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel The Secretary of State for the Home Department 5:49 pm, 15th March 2021

I recall a visit to my hon. Friend’s constituency, and he is right. Many colleagues, and many members of the public through the public consultation, made the point that unauthorised encampments cause misery and harm to those in the local communities affected by them. There have been many discussions with colleagues across the House on this point, and with local authorities, which more often than not bear the brunt of the costs and consequences, alongside the police.

In September, my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor published a White Paper setting out our vision for a smarter approach to sentencing, and now we are introducing legislation to establish this in law. We need a system that is robust enough to keep the worst offenders behind bars for as long as possible, but agile enough to give offenders a fair start on their road to rehabilitation. Sexual and violent offenders must serve sentences that reflect the severity of their crimes, helping to protect the public and give victims confidence that justice has been served. These offences are committed predominantly against women. Through this Bill, rapists and other serious sexual predators sentenced to a standard determinate sentence of four years or more will henceforth serve at least two thirds of their sentence in custody. Rapists sentenced to life imprisonment will similarly serve longer in custody before they are considered for release on licence. The Bill also strengthens the framework for the management of sex offenders. In particular, we are legislating so that courts can attach positive requirements to a sexual harm prevention order or a sexual risk order so that, for example, a perpetrator can be required to attend a behavioural change programme.

The measures in this Bill build on those in the Domestic Abuse Bill, which will return to this House after Easter. Among the changes we have brought forward in the Lords is a new offence of non-fatal strangulation and the criminalising of threats to disclose intimate images. I know that these additions to the Bill will be welcomed by Ms Harman and my right hon. Friend Caroline Nokes. We have had discussions already this afternoon about violence against women and girls and what more we can do; these measures are fundamental to restoring confidence in the criminal justice system.

We also recognise that the reoffending rate for children is high, and that is why we are taking forward measures to provide courts with stronger alternatives to custody. In the Bill, we are providing custodial sentencing options for the most serious crimes, alongside alternatives that will allow youth offenders to be effectively managed and rehabilitated in the community. That will ensure that judges and magistrates are able to make the most appropriate decisions in the best interests of the child and of the public. In recognition of the fact that children now in custody are much more likely to have complex needs, we will introduce measures to enable the trialling of secure schools. They will be schools with security rather than prisons with education, and they will have education, wellbeing and purposeful activity at their heart.

The courts play a fundamental role in our criminal justice system. During the pandemic, we have seen the benefits of enabling participation in proceedings remotely or by live video or audio link. We want to put these temporary provisions on a permanent footing, giving judges better options to support the effective and efficient running of their courts and underpinning the principle of open justice. Our aim is to modernise our courts and tribunals so that there are more opportunities to attend and observe hearings remotely, shorter waiting times and less unnecessary travel. I can assure the House that these advantages will never be taken from the right to a full hearing in court. This will always be available where needed, and where the court considers it to be in the interests of justice. Trials will continue to take place in court. We also want to further improve accessibility to our justice system for people with disabilities.