Report (5th Day)

Part of Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill – in the House of Lords at 9:00 pm on 20th March 2012.

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Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Shadow Spokesperson (Justice) 9:00 pm, 20th March 2012

My Lords, I can be very brief because the speeches that have been made set out the case very well indeed. Proper caution has been taken in the way in which the amendment has been worded. We all know that the people whom we are talking about have committed the most terrible offences and in many cases-in practically every case, I suggest-it may well be, given the caution included in the wording of the proposed new clause, that these people will stay in prison for the rest of their lives. All that the noble and learned Lord is asking, as a matter of principle, is that for anyone after they have served-this is the caution- 30 years of a sentence,

"it shall be the duty of the Secretary of State, after consulting the Lord Chief Justice"- of the day, presumably-

"and the trial judge if available, to refer the case to the Parole Board".

Surely we have trust and faith in the Parole Board. The Parole Board has to be satisfied that,

"it is no longer necessary for the protection of the public that the prisoner should be confined, and ... that in all the circumstances the release of the prisoner on licence would be in the interests of justice".

My argument is that the Parole Board has to make hard findings in any case, particularly in cases of this kind. Even if the Parole Board is satisfied on these matters, the amendment says only that it "may direct his release under this section".

The amendment is extremely cautious, but it is humane, in the way that has been described, for people who sometimes may seem not to deserve the protection of a humane state. However, we live in one, and surely the point of the penal policy is for it to be humane when it can be.

I listened carefully to what the Minister said in response to this matter in Committee and it seemed to me then that the Government's real case is-I put it crudely-that the Daily Mail would not like it. If that is really the level of the argument that the Minister is going to put again today, it is quite unsatisfactory for a matter of principle of this kind. I hope that, if the Minister opposes the amendment, he will find a better argument than that.