Report (5th Day)

Part of Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 20th March 2012.

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Photo of Lord Ramsbotham Lord Ramsbotham Crossbench 6:45 pm, 20th March 2012

My Lords, I speak in support of government Amendment 152ZA and also speak on behalf of my noble friend Lord Rix who unfortunately is unable to be present because of his wife's ill health. I thank the Minister for the extremely productive meeting that we had, which has been mentioned. The points that my noble friend has asked me to raise arise out of the amendment which came after that discussion in support of what was said.

The context of this is the duty of the court to explain sentences in ordinary language, which we raised in Committee. The Minister admitted that the phrase would ensure only that most people could understand an explanation. While we welcome the amendment and believe that it has the ability to extend comprehension of the effect of a sentence on all parties concerned, which is an important development, we are still not certain that it covers the point about ordinary language. On that, we would like some clarification. We believe that the Criminal Procedure Rule Committee could offer a similar safeguard, but we are not sure about where that safeguard extends and how wide it is. Will the Minister clarify how confident she is that the committee will make rules regarding the need to go beyond ordinary language in certain circumstances? Will it actually make these rules? To what extent are the rules made by that committee binding on the court? The concern is that if the rules are merely guidance, they might not be put into practice, despite the best intentions of the Government and the committee.

Will the Minister tell us about the time scales? When will the committee be empowered to make such rules and when might they be enforced? Are we looking at something imminent? Will it depend on when the Bill is passed? Finally, what opportunities will there be for Members of both Houses to scrutinise the implementation of these measures in the future? If they are rules of the committee rather than something in the Bill, it is more difficult for us to monitor them. They have an enormous effect on the people whom we mentioned in Committee and their ability to understand the process of law.