Sentencing Act 2020 (Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Powers) (Amendment) Regulations 2023 - Motion to Regret

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:15 pm on 16 May 2023.

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Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green 8:15, 16 May 2023

My Lords, considering that we deal with a lot of very big Bills here in your Lordships’ House, this is quite a small issue, but for me, it encapsulates the panicky and misguided way in which the Government constantly tackle big problems such as our prison population and the justice system. It is an example of their wanting a quick fix for something that they have damaged over the last 13 years of austerity and incompetence.

I cannot comment on whether six months or 12 months is right—I do not have a magistrate’s training—but I can say that we have too many people in prison and we have to stop sending so many people to prison, particularly women. We also have to be clear, of course, that people coming out of prison need help if they are not going to reoffend. You cannot fix these big problems with tiny little tweaks such as this.

I do not understand why such knee-jerk reactions happen all the time with this Government. Where is the overview or the long-term planning? Where is the coherence for dealing with these big problems? This Government have tried to fix the whole justice system on the cheap. It has not in fact been cheap, of course, because it is very expensive to keep people in prison and train magistrates, while not giving people the support they need when they come out of prison, so they go on to offend again. Why not have a longer-term plan?

This Government have got, one supposes, another year. Please could they get some expert advice on this sort of thing and not keep flailing around? One minute it is six months, the next it is 12 months and then it is back to six months again. This is not good government; it just does not make any sense to do things like this. The court system is at breaking point and the prisons are way over full, so the Government should really now be thinking about how to solve these two problems. This, I would argue, is not the way to do it. The Government have broken our justice system and are now doing tiny little tweaks to try to fix it, which simply will not work.