Amendment 11

Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill - Committee (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 26th January 2021.

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Lord Falconer of Thoroton:

Moved by Lord Falconer of Thoroton

11: Clause 27, page 24, line 5, at end insert—“and the prisoner was aged 21 or above at the time of their conviction”

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Attorney General

These are three simple amendments dealing with the sentencing framework for England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Bill as drafted removes the chance of parole for anybody, irrespective of their age, if they have committed a dangerous terrorist offence. As I have made clear, we on this side of the House are keen that there be strong penalties, because the aim is to prevent terrorism. However, we do not think it right that the possibility of parole be removed altogether for those people convicted when they are under the age of 21.

There are three reasons for that. First, the possibility of change must be higher when you are under 21. We are not starry-eyed about this, but that possibility should be there. Secondly, it will make prisoner management easier, as all prison governors attest. Thirdly, you avoid the possibility of the detention of someone over a very long period of time, and the sense that that person has served his sentence will create a recruiting sergeant in certain communities.

Each case has to be looked at on its merits; release would occur only when the Parole Board was satisfied. Occasions when mistakes have been made are all too well known and, indeed, have inspired this Bill. But if the aim is to provide as much security as possible for the community as a whole, then removing the chance of parole for anybody under 21—and it is only a chance of parole—is a mistake. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Gresford Lord Thomas of Gresford Liberal Democrat Shadow Attorney General

The law has always distinguished between the adult and the young offender in many ways. Policy has always been to make every effort to rehabilitate the young before they become hardened criminals. It is even more important not to turn them into hardened terrorists.

“What works?” asked the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton—the Scottish wing of the strike force. A large incentive when persuading offenders to amend their ways is the fact that they have their chance, before the Parole Board, to have release if it is appropriate and safe.

The outcome of prison is the person who walks out of the gate at the end of the sentence. What has happened to him inside? Has he been radicalised or rehabilitated? Some go in with no particular ideology and are radicalised. Others go in radicalised and must be given the opportunity to change their lives. They should be managed with the personnel and tools described by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart.

Young people can rehabilitate if they are given the courses and programmes that exist to enable them to gain skills to support themselves outside the prison environment. The longer the sentence, the more difficult that is. Prisoners convicted of terrorist offences provide a further problem. Have they retained the beliefs that got them into trouble in the first place? Or are they still radicalised? I was pleased to hear of the theological and ideological interventions that are promised to deal with problems such as those.

I support these amendments, because I believe we should continue that long-held view that young people should be treated differently and given a chance to turn their lives in a different direction.

Photo of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Lord Wolfson of Tredegar The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 5:00 pm, 26th January 2021

My Lords, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, explained, Amendments 11, 13 and 14 are intended to retain the current release provisions for under-21s sentenced to an extended determinate sentence for a serious terrorism offence. As has been mentioned, the Fishmonger’s Hall and Streatham attacks revealed the devastating consequences of releasing terrorist prisoners too early. In the Bill, we are changing the release arrangements for all offenders convicted of serious terrorism offences to ensure that the most dangerous and serious terrorist offenders serve their full custodial term, essentially for two reasons—first, to reflect the severity of their crimes but, secondly and perhaps more importantly, the intention to preserve lives.

The amendment seeks to draw a distinction in release policy between those aged over 21 and those younger. However, the Bill will introduce changes to release for both adult and youth offenders sentenced for serious terrorism offences. The extended determinate sentence already operates in the same way for adults and youths in every other aspect, and because the nature of the offending and the threat posed is so severe, these changes should align with that pre-existing approach.

For those aged under 18, instances of terrorist acts occur, although, thankfully, they are rare. I shall come back to that point later. Among those under-18s are some who are capable of extremely serious offending and present a real threat to the public. They are the dangerous few youth offenders that these provisions aim to capture. This measure, therefore, is about offenders who have been deemed dangerous by the court. That also means that, when sentencing the offender to an extended determinate sentence, the judge would have already taken into account age and other relevant factors.

In that context, I turn to the points raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. As to the possibility of change, one has to remember that this measure is about public protection and applies only to the most serious young offenders who have committed terrorist offences that carry a maximum sentence of life and have been deemed dangerous by the court.

We are alert to the point on prisoner management and have carefully considered it. There are a number of programmes within prison to make sure that the sentences proposed here do not adversely affect prison management within the institution. Although, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, correctly said, the prisoner is likely to end his sentence as an adult, the fact is that even when sentenced at the time, the nature of the offences mandate the sort of sentence we now propose.

As to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, on radicalisation in the prison system, there are, as my noble and learned friend Lord Stewart pointed out, a number of interventions in the prison system designed to prevent radicalisation. They are extensive. I will not go over the points that he made earlier but I repeat and endorse them. As I said—I said that I would come back to this point—the number of young offenders in this regard who have been radicalised in prison is extremely small. We are alive to the noble Lord’s point, but do not believe that that is a reason not to proceed in the way in which the Bill is currently drafted.

Finally, and only because I wish to reassure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, that I read all his amendments with extreme care, these seem to be technically defective, given that the wording is to be added after the close of quotation marks and, on the face of it, would appear to apply only to new Section (2A)(iv), and affect only the provisions related to service personnel. However, I hope that I have approached his amendments on their merits. For those substantive reasons that I have set out, I respectfully invite the noble and learned Lord to withdraw or not move his amendments.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Attorney General

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, for the careful way in which he dealt with my amendments. I fully accept and am guilty of the technical error he identified. He was kind to deal with the merits of the three amendments. I very much hope that the Government will reflect on what I and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, said because it is a considerable mistake to treat the under-21s the same as those who are 21 or over, particularly with regard to public safety. We will return to this matter at a later stage. With the leave of the Committee, I will withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 11 withdrawn.

Photo of Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Deputy Chairman of Committees

We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 12. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in the debate.