My Lords, I share the anxieties and concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. I declare my interests as set out in the register, including as a former magistrate and, at present, a life member of the Magistrates’ Association.
I appreciate that the criminal justice system is currently experiencing—as the noble Lord mentioned—“downstream pressures”, as manifested in Operation Safeguard. Indeed, as has already been said, Ministers have said that this pause gives them time to review this measure, assessing relevant data across the CJS, with a view to reinstating powers should this be supported by the evidence. Ministers, however, have also been clear that the increase to sentencing powers is not the only factor behind this pressure, and that the data on the impact is still limited. In the light of this, therefore, I question whether it can be justified for this change to be made, given the impact it will have on magistrates delivering speedier justice. Surely it would be better to make this change only if the data clearly suggested that it was a significant factor behind the increased pressure we have seen.
As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, has stated, this change has ramifications for slowing down the justice system for victims, witnesses and defendants, not to mention the hours of training by sitting magistrates. I would be grateful to hear from my noble and learned friend the Minister more on this, specifically regarding the process, what evidence and data are needed and when this review will be concluded.