Amendment 174

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - Committee (7th Day) – in the House of Lords at 1:00 pm on 10th November 2021.

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Lord Paddick:

Moved by Lord Paddick

174: Clause 80, page 75, line 1, leave out subsection (8)Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment removes the subsection which allows the maximum number of hours attached to the unpaid work condition and the attendance condition to be amended by regulations.

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

My Lords, I will also speak to the other amendments in this group. The Committee has already considered these issues, so I can be brief. I apologise for not recognising that some of the amendments in a previous group covered similar issues.

In that previous group, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, suggested that the maximum number of hours attached to the unpaid work condition and the attendance condition, and the maximum fine that could be attached to a caution, should be set in the case of the fine and varied in all cases by regulations and that those should be amended only by the affirmative resolution procedure. The noble and learned Lord previously said in Committee that this was not an ideal solution, as regulations could not be amended and that this House was reluctant to use the “nuclear option” of praying to annul regulations, which is the only option available if it disagrees with a statutory instrument. Even with the affirmative resolution procedure in place, in practice, if the House disagrees with an increase to the maximum number of hours of unpaid work—or any of the other conditions attached to police cautions—there is little that it can do about it, unless changes are made through primary legislation.

I grant that the value of money is eroded over time by inflation and periodically the maximum fine capable of being attached as a condition to a caution may need to increase accordingly, but surely not the amount of time to be spent in unpaid work or subject to the attendance condition. There is a question of principle. If an offence is so grave that greater punishment is required, that should be a matter for the courts and not for a police officer to decide. There is precedent in our legal system for this principle. If magistrates want to impose a harsher sentence, they must refer eligible cases to the Crown Court, where a more senior judge can make a decision with more serious consequences.

When I joined the police service in the 1970s, the police performed the role of both investigator and prosecutor. Parliament then decided that prosecution decisions should be made by an independent body, the Crown Prosecution Service, for very good reasons that I do not need to rehearse here, while punishment of the individual has primarily been a matter for the courts, supported by reports from experts on the medical, social and criminal antecedents of the accused, in many cases, and considered by highly trained and experienced judges who are obliged to follow sentencing guidelines. In the proposals contained in this part of the Bill, the police are investigators, prosecutors and sentencers. There must be limits on the extent to which they should be allowed to carry out all three functions in relation to a case and those limits should be set out in primary legislation, on the face of the Bill. That is the purpose of these amendments and I beg to move Amendment 174.

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

My Lords, I listened with interest to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. As he says, in this part of the Bill the police are investigators, prosecutors and sentencers. They also decide whether the matter should be sent to the CPS, with the people charged and sent into the court system. Of course, once the case gets into the court system, magistrates are judge, jury and sentencers. There are different roles at different stages of the system. The burden of the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, is in some way to codify, limit and guide the police when they are doing this pre-court intervention with the type of cautions set out in the Bill. I look forward with interest to the Minister’s response.

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

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for putting forward this group of amendments. If I can put it this way, the noble Lord realistically recognised that we have covered some of this ground before—not this particular issue but the conceptual underpinning on which it is based. I hope, therefore, that the Committee and the noble Lord will not take it amiss if I reply relatively briefly, because we have covered some of the points before.

Amendments 174, 176, 182 and 185 relate to the delegated powers contained in Part 6. The amendments propose to remove the clauses that allow the maximum amount of the financial penalty and the maximum number of unpaid work and attendance hours to be specified in regulations and would replace that by putting the details in the Bill. Amendments 175, 183 and 184 set out that the maximum penalty attached to a caution would be fixed at £200 and would make it explicit that an offender’s ability to pay must be taken into account.

The Bill contains powers to set and amend the amount of the maximum financial penalty and to amend the maximum number of unpaid work or attendance hours by regulations via secondary legislation. As I explained on a previous occasion, it was drafted that way to ensure maximum flexibility when responding to the needs of operational practitioners. Any changes to these regulations will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny in the normal way, but removing the delegated powers in their entirety, which is what Amendments 174, 176, 182 and 185 would do, would mean that there is no flexibility to amend either levels of financial penalty or the number of unpaid work hours. If we have the maximum financial penalty on the face of the Bill, to change it or update it, whether because of inflation or anything else, we would have to have to come back to primary legislation. I respectfully suggest that that is not a great use of parliamentary time.

Finally, as to the matter of whether the offender’s ability to pay should be explicitly set out in statute, of course it is a relevant factor, but we believe that this—alongside a range of other relevant factors around giving a financial penalty, the amount that it is set at and how quickly it is going to be paid—is better set out in detail in a statutory code of practice rather than in the Bill. With apologies for taking that a little shortly, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

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

My Lords, I thank the Minister for saying something. The whole point of not allowing it to be in regulations is that it is an important question of principle that once a crime gets to a certain level requiring a certain punishment, it should be for the courts to administer that punishment, in the same way that if a magistrate decides that the punishment they are able to give is not sufficient, they have to refer it to a higher court. These are the people with the experience, training and background properly to assess both the individual and the circumstances, and to apply the penalty. Therefore, it should be dealt with in primary legislation.

This should not be about providing maximum flexibility for operational partners. It should be about consistency and certainty, and citizens knowing that above a certain level of unpaid work, attendance at a training course or a fine imposed by the police, they cannot go without referring the matter to the courts. That is the whole point. I completely accept that the Minister has explained why it is in regulations and not in the Bill. However, he has not addressed at all the argument that it should not be that flexible.

Why is the accused’s ability to pay important? I was talking to my noble friend Lady Randerson about this amendment earlier today; like the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, she is an experienced magistrate, now retired. She said, “It is so important to take into account the accused’s ability to pay, because if you impose a fine, say, of £200 on somebody who has little or no income, it will almost guarantee that they commit a crime in order to get the £200 to pay the fine.” That is why that seemingly innocuous addition, which should be in the Bill, is in fact absolutely important. In the light of the Minister failing to engage with the heart of the amendments, we will return to this issue on Report, but in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 174 withdrawn.

Clause 80 agreed.

Clause 81: Financial penalty conditions

Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal Baroness Garden of Frognal Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

If Amendment 176 is approved, I cannot call Amendment 177 by reason of pre-emption.

Amendments 175 to 177 not moved.

Clause 81 agreed.

Clauses 82 to 85 agreed.

Clause 86: Application of Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984