Amendment 100

Victims and Prisoners Bill - Report (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 3:44 pm on 30 April 2024.

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Baroness Brinton:

Moved by Baroness Brinton

100: After Clause 27, insert the following new Clause—“Duty to inform victims and families of the unduly lenient sentencing schemeAfter section 36 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, insert—“36A Duty to inform victims and families of the unduly lenient sentencing scheme(1) The Secretary of State must nominate a government department to inform victims and their families of their rights set out in section 36 (reviews of sentencing).(2) The information provided under subsection (1) must include the type of sentence and the time limit for application, and advise that applications must be made to the Attorney General.””Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment will ensure that victims are aware of the Unduly Lenient Sentencing scheme which presently has a strict 28-day timeframe in which to apply, there being no power to extend the time.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat

My Lords, it is a pleasure to lay Amendments 100 and 101 for your Lordships’ consideration. As we had a considerable debate on them in Committee, I propose to outline only the briefest reasons why I have re-laid these amendments originally laid by the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst.

The whole object of the Bill is to give victims some rights that would at least go some way towards matching the rights for offenders and other participants in the criminal justice system. At present, the permissions for a victim to argue and challenge a sentence for being unduly lenient are completely different from those of everybody else involved in the system. For example, offenders can exceed a 28-day timeframe by exceptionality—all they and their counsel have to do is demonstrate that there really are exceptional circumstances. But, for victims, there is no such exception at all, even if they were not informed by the police or the courts about the sentence itself but were left completely in the dark.

We know from the many stories that were retold in Committee that there is a real sense of injustice. One victim had received notification of the sentence on the 28th day by which she had to apply for a challenge. It was delivered to the Attorney-General’s office, and nobody was there, even though it was within the timeframe. Because it was not opened, she was not permitted to challenge the sentence.

I am very grateful to the Minister for the discussion we have had, and I look forward to hearing him speak from the Dispatch Box. What we seek through these two amendments is to make sure that victims have the right, as everybody else in the criminal justice system does, to say, “Please will the Attorney-General reconsider this sentence for this crime, because we believe that it is unduly lenient?” I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

I am happy to add my name to these two amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. There is no need to speak at length about them; it is essentially about trying to ensure that victims have equality of rights, in this case with prospective prisoners. At the moment, frankly, they are disadvantaged and are put through a series of hoops—if, indeed, they can find out what in theory they are entitled to. I shall say no more than that I entirely support everything the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, has said, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

My Lords, we had a very full debate on this issue in Committee. From these Benches, we are deeply committed to these two amendments. This is a victims’ Bill, and it seems to me that we really need to be doing things to support victims, which is what these two relatively modest amendments do. If the noble Baroness decides to test the opinion of the House, we will support her.

Photo of Lord Roborough Lord Roborough Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, Amendments 100 and 101 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, seek to extend the current time limit for applications under the unduly lenient sentence scheme, which currently must be made within 28 days of sentencing and require a nominated government department to inform victims and families of the scheme, including the relevant time limits.

Having a fixed time limit reflects the importance of finality in sentencing for both victim and offender. While we will keep this limit under consideration, there are no current plans to remove the certainty of an absolute time limit for victims and offenders alike. However, the Government recognise that there is uncertainty over how far in advance of the time limit expiring a victim must ask for a sentence to be reviewed, given the fact that the Attorney-General must refer the case to the Court of Appeal within that fixed time limit. We also recognise that the number of requests made to the law officers and therefore the number of sentences they consider has increased in recent years, due in part to increased awareness of the scheme.

The Government are therefore tabling an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill which will amend the time limit in the unduly lenient sentencing scheme so that, where a request is made to the Attorney-General in the last 14 days of the 28-day limit, the Attorney-General will have 14 days from receipt to consider the request and, if appropriate, make an application to the Court of Appeal for a sentence to be reviewed. This will benefit victims as it will ensure that the Attorney-General will be able to consider requests that are made up until the end of the 28-day period.

As for informing victims about the scheme and the time limits, as I said in Committee, the victims’ code is already clear that victims should be informed about the scheme by the police’s witness care units at the same time as they are told about the sentence. This is expected to be done within six days of sentencing. However, I can go further and commit that when revising the victims’ code, the Government will look at the information about the scheme that is provided to make sure that it is as clear as possible. I hope this reassures the noble Baroness that action is being taken to address the issues she raised very eloquently in Committee and again today. Consequently, I respectfully ask her to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am grateful to all speakers, especially for their brevity. I particularly thank the Minister for outlining details of how the Government are considering changing this, but we are seeking parity of rights between offenders and victims here. Offenders can still appeal outside 28 days in exceptional circumstances, those exceptional circumstances being judged by the Attorney-General. That is not on offer at the moment. There are not going to be floods of victims applying via these amendments if they have concerns about the finality of sentencing, but for a few victims of very serious crimes, this would provide a small amount of discretion. We heard examples that show how rigid the current system is. Under these amendments, the Attorney-General could easily decide, as they do at the moment for offenders, if there are genuine exceptional circumstances. It is true that the 14-day proposals assist the Attorney-General’s office and the CPS; however, the fundamental injustice remains. Victims, and only victims, still have only 28 days to apply. On these grounds, I wish to test the opinion of the House.

Division on Amendment 100 called. Tellers for the Contents were not appointed, so the Division could not proceed.

Amendment 100 disagreed.