Amendment 137

Part of Victims and Prisoners Bill - Committee (6th Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 26 February 2024.

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Photo of Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Justice) 5:30, 26 February 2024

My Lords, I agree with every word uttered by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Burnett of Maldon. I am sure that the same words, or words to similar effect, would have fallen from the lips of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. They echo the sentiments of a number of those who have briefed noble Lords on these issues relating to the Parole Board.

I will be brief. There is one overriding principle, which is that the Parole Board should be, in effect, an independent, quasi-judicial body. A number of concerns have been expressed about the prospect of the Secretary of State having the power to refer decisions of the Parole Board to another body. One reason for the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lady Hamwee, to which I will turn shortly, is that concern.

The idea that this jurisdiction to consider referrals by the Secretary of State should be a matter for the Upper Tribunal, which is not a body involved with the prison system at all—it has, as the noble and learned Lord pointed out, no relevant chamber—and is not concerned with the sentencing, treatment or release of offenders, is an odd one. That decision should plainly be, we would suggest, the decision of a court used to dealing with criminal justice and with the sentencing and imprisonment of offenders. Loosely stipulating that it should be the High Court, without the division named, or the Upper Tribunal is wrong.

The Divisional Court is plainly, as the noble and learned Lord has said, the appropriate body for the task. I invite the Minister to explain why the Bill, as drafted, allocated these cases to another body with no relevant experience or expertise when there is an obvious court to decide these cases—a view powerfully endorsed in these amendments by two former Lord Chief Justices with a great deal of experience and expertise in precisely this area.

In addition to my support for the noble and learned Lords’ amendments, I note that my noble friend Lady Hamwee has tabled amendments to Clauses 44 and 45, in relation to the whole question of the referral of release decisions by the Secretary of State to a court or the Upper Tribunal for life prisoners and fixed-term prisoners respectively. My noble friend is now here but both those amendments and the consequential amendments in her name would provide that the clauses should not come into force until the Secretary of State has laid a report before Parliament regarding their implementation.

Our suggestion is that this is a new process or procedure, which has not been adequately researched. It breaches the fundamental point: that the Parole Board is, in effect, a quasi-judicial body exercising an independent jurisdiction, whereas if the Secretary of State is going to have the power to refer it should be to a Divisional Court, as we have suggested. Before these clauses are brought into effect, there should also be a report laid before Parliament which it can consider. This departure would be delayed until that report had been laid and considered.