Amendment 172

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - Committee (7th Day) – in the House of Lords at 12:42 pm on 10th November 2021.

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Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe:

Moved by Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe

172: Clause 79, page 74, line 2, after “offence,” insert “and the details of any financial costs they incurred as a result of the offence,”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment provides the victims with the opportunity to register their financial losses and seek compensation.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Labour

My Lords, in moving Amendment 172, I will also speak to Amendments 173, 177, 179, 180 and 186, to be inserted after Clause 79. These are about victims’ financial losses, which can often arise as a result of an assault on their person, their property or their belongings. The amendments seek to ensure that the authorities and the perpetrators are made available of these costs and that, in turn, where possible, there might be some restitution for these innocent people whose property and goods have been attacked.

I bring the issue to the Committee’s attention based on a most unfortunate and regrettable experience of a friend of mine, Mr James McAra, who lives just outside Scunthorpe. He was at home watching television on the evening of 13 September this year in his house at Ashby. He was alone—he is a widower, aged 78 years, who has lived there for 55 years. He has brought up his family; they have all flown the nest and he is left alone. At 10 pm, his life was changed. There was a terrific crash outside the house, then suddenly his windows were smashed in and his front door was crashed down. Five masked, armed men with sledgehammers appeared in the house. He confronted one of them, who then gave him a push and shouted to his accomplices, “Oh fuck, it’s an old man. We’ve got the wrong effing house.” With that, they turned around, ran out and left him in a terrific state of shock. In the event, it turns out that the noise outside had been the smashing of his car with sledgehammers. It was so badly damaged that it has had to be written off.

As noble Lords can imagine, this is a most distressing experience—an attack and assault—for a man of such an age. The police arrived promptly; by all accounts, they were excellent and knew straightaway what had happened. The two houses next door had been raided on numerous occasions over the last two years in relation to drug dealing, and only two months earlier a young man had been found dead in one of them. The police believed that the attack on his property was intended for one of those houses, related to the ongoing drugs problem. This couple of houses, with numerous instances of anti-social behaviour, has made this once peaceful street a nightmare to live in. As a consequence, James is now considering moving because of this sickening experience and attack.

I turn to the amendments. To compound matters, Mr McAra is well out of pocket from this experience. The car insurance in no way covers the cost of the replacement car he has had to get. Then he has had to pay the excesses on the house insurance for new doors and new windows, and he has now been told that his future insurance premiums on his car and his property—the lot—will go up next year. Where is the justice for a victim of this kind?

I suspect that the chance of getting some reparations from the attackers, if they could be found, arrested and convicted, is quite a long shot. However, we have been disturbed to learn that it is not always understood by the authorities what the total cost has been and that there is no formal request for a record of the costs that might arise, in a variety of different ways, when someone is attacked in this way. Obviously, a requirement for conversations with the victims is laid down and victim support is offered, but financial losses are not necessarily recorded. I believe, and I am sure noble Lords share this view, that they should be. They should be taken into account in determining punishments and, if it is possible to get restitution, they should be known factors taken into account for that purpose.

Having heard this story, I am sure that noble Lords, like me, feel that it is time for some changes to try to give further assistance to victims. Mr McAra’s constituency MP is Holly Mumby-Croft, a Conservative MP who knows all about these facts and has been as supportive as she could be in the circumstances. She has been advised that these amendments will be put before the Committee today and, in due course, we are hoping they will be adopted and go back to the Commons. I think she is hoping that she can look for a sympathetic hearing from the Front Bench today. For positive action, in adopting these amendments, which will cost little to implement, we must go some way towards actually making changes. The amendments before us would facilitate such changes. On behalf of victims affected in this way, particularly Mr McAra, I have great pleasure in moving this amendment.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, has relayed to the Committee clearly a very distressing case of mistaken identity and anti-social behaviour generally in that street, apparently to do with drug dealing. If the perpetrators of this terrible crime were found, I am not sure that they would be given a caution, and I thought this part of the Bill was about police cautions—but I accept the general point that victims need to be protected. Although a caution would not be applicable in this case of the break-in at the home and the damage to the car, there might be one in respect of the general anti-social behaviour in the street. It is absolutely essential that the needs of victims are taken into account by the police, including for the financial losses that victims have suffered.

As I said on a previous group, out-of-court settlements have a high victim approval rating already. These amendments, in so far as they apply to police cautions, would ensure that they remain high, and to that extent we support them.

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, I agree with the points that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, just made. I also think that Mr McAra should be very grateful to my noble friend Lord Brooke for raising the points about the lack of a formal record of the cost of the incidents. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that it seems very unlikely that anyone would get a caution for this sort of offence. Even if it got to court, there would be an obligation on the sentencing court to consider compensation, because one has to consider this whenever one sentences an individual. Nevertheless, my noble friend has raised an interesting question and I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Crossbench

I hope I can be forgiven for intervening slightly out of order. I have been thinking as I listen to this debate about the very troubling case which the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, raised, but I am not sure that what he is looking for is germane to this clause. However, there is an issue of general principle about unrecovered, uninsured losses arising from a serious crime of violence which does not cause considerable personal injury.

If there is an injury that would attract damages of £1,000 or more, some ancillary costs are payable under the criminal injuries compensation scheme. This raises in my mind that perhaps the Government should look at something like the Pool Re reinsurance scheme, which applies to claims which are uninsured as a result of terrorism events. The underinsured or uninsured person can go to this entity, which has been set up jointly by the public and private sectors, and recover the cost of damages for what has occurred outside the insurance scheme. I suggest to the Minister, who is an extremely experienced lawyer, that perhaps the Government should look at the criminal injuries compensation scheme and the Pool Re scheme and try to produce something which would deal with quite a significant number of cases which probably do not involve a massive amount of money, but in which people who are not very well resourced suffer a great deal, and disproportionately, as a result of the kind of offence that the noble Lord described.

Photo of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Lord Wolfson of Tredegar The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, this group of amendments, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, seeks to require that reasonable steps be taken to obtain and take into account details of any financial costs incurred by the victim as a result of the offence when deciding on the conditions to attach to a caution and when deciding on the amount of the financial penalty.

I will begin with the particular instance that the noble Lord set out. Both he and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, used the word “distressing” and I agree with that entirely. I would go further and say that it was appalling; it is a horrific set of circumstances and I am sure everyone in the Committee would share that approach. I extend deepest sympathies to Mr McAra. I am very pleased to hear that his local MP has been helpful and supportive; I was also pleased to hear that she is a Conservative, although one of the glories of our parliamentary system is that all MPs from all parties extend that sort of support to their constituents. It is very good to hear that the system is working.

I also tend to agree that this would be unlikely to be a caution case. I am hesitant to say any more, because prosecuting decisions are independent and a matter for the CPS. I defer in this regard to the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, but it sounds to me as though this would be more than a caution case.

The Bill states that both the diversionary and community cautions must have conditions attached to them. Those may include rehabilitation and reparation conditions, financial penalty conditions or conditions related to certain foreign offenders. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, that I give this amendment and the points that he made a sympathetic hearing, as he wanted, but I will explain why as a matter of principle we cannot accept it. This is not because we disagree with the point that underlies it but for the reasons which I will set out. The starting point is that Clauses 79 and 88 already provide for the authorised person to make reasonable efforts to obtain the views of any victim of the offence and take those views into account when deciding on the conditions to be attached to a caution. This includes obtaining their views on financial costs incurred and any decisions on seeking compensation.

Under the current cautions regime, the code of practice for conditional cautions makes clear provision for this in specifying that financial compensation may be paid to a victim. In addition, where the offending has resulted in damage to community property—I appreciate that in the case we have discussed the damage was to personal property—reparation may also take the form of repairing the damage caused, reparative activity within the community more generally or a payment to a local charitable or community fund, which might be more helpful if an offender does not have the financial means to pay. The current code also states that compensation for the victim should be prioritised ahead of other costs or financial penalties.

As is the case with the current code of practice for conditional cautions, the code of practice for the new diversionary and community cautions is the appropriate place to set out further detail on how the conditions attached to a caution may be decided. Again, that will include obtaining and considering any financial losses and requests for compensation. The code will be drawn up under the delegated powers in the legislation. We will consult widely, as the noble Lord would expect, and it will be laid under the affirmative procedure.

Consulting victims goes beyond just cautions. It is a key principle of the victims’ code, point 6.7 of which says:

“Where the police or the Crown Prosecution Service are considering an out of court disposal you have the Right”— that is, the victim has the right—

“to be asked for your views and to have these views taken into account when a decision is made.”

As I have sought to explain, that will encompass the financial circumstances as well.

Finally, without wishing to be too particular on the drafting but just for the record, I point out that, although the parts of Amendments 177 and 186 relating to Clauses 81 and 90 share the same underlying intention, those clauses relate to financial penalties paid to a court, which are punitive and are not the same as the rehabilitative or reparative conditions, which I know are really the focus of the noble Lord’s amendment.

Before I sit down, I will briefly pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew. He raised an interesting point of principle, which I am happy to look at and consider. My immediate reaction is that there may be a principled distinction between these cases and cases of terrorism, for which it is difficult to obtain insurance at all. There may be a difference in principle between an uninsurable risk and an uninsured risk or the cost of insurance going up. That said, I am happy to look at the point; no doubt we can have further discussions on it. I am conscious that it might be another government department that has responsibility in that area.

I hope that I have responded fully to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke. For the reasons that I have set out, I respectfully ask him to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Labour 1:00 pm, 10th November 2021

My Lords, I am grateful to everyone who has contributed. As noble Lords probably gathered, I was looking for a peg on which to hang my hat. I am pleased that I found a peg and I found someone who was prepared to cast a hat on it as well—I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, for finding a possible solution.

There is a problem and it should be addressed. People should not be out of pocket. The cost is not just in respect of the one year when they have the incident. If an insurance policy goes up, it goes up and it stays up; it is an ongoing cost to the individual. I am grateful to the Minister for saying that he will have a look at this, so if there is an opportunity to find a way through I am happy to leave it for now and see if we can have a conversation to find a way for victims to be given the proper compensation for the problem that they have encountered. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 172 withdrawn.

Amendment 173 not moved.

Clause 79 agreed.

Clause 80: Rehabilitation and reparation conditions