Clause 2 - Penalty notices

Part of Criminal Justice and Police Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 7:00 pm on 6th February 2001.

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Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 7:00 pm, 6th February 2001

I am afraid that it is me again. The amendments would enable the Secretary of State to set a level of compensation that could be awarded to the victim in addition to the fixed penalty. My preferred option is not to have criminal damage in clause 1(1). The Minister knows that we feel strongly about that, because we argued about it a good deal. The fact that we voted against clause 1 standing part of the Bill was substantially for that reason: I do not think that victims should be deprived of compensation rights in such circumstances.

Fixed penalty notices will be used in cases involving damage of a low value, typically under £200. Victims will not want to go to civil courts to recover such damage, as the cost in terms of time would outweigh the advantage. For those victims, the awarding of compensation on conviction is simple and straightforward. They can rely on it. They may have to wait a little to receive their money, for the reasons that the Parliamentary Secretary gave, but the compensation will still be there and paid first.

I do not want to hark back to my personal experience all the time, but I have worked on many criminal cases, and compensation claims are always considered important by the CPS and the prosecution. When one takes part in a case in court, the prosecution brief always reminds one not to forget about the compensation claim. It would be wrong for us to trample down that state of affairs because we are introducing a new system. A fixed, perhaps low, level of compensation might be necessary. I can see that the fixed penalty would—obviously—be fixed, but at least a constable could decide, when the amount was higher than specified in the regulations, that it would be necessary to charge the person concerned, because compensation would be unacceptable. In some instances, the damage to the property would come to slightly less than the amount fixed. Perhaps the order could provide for some element of recompense for the distress caused by the offence.

A simple system is necessary. It might be possible to find a way to provide compensation through the fixed penalty notice system. If that is not possible, I still argue that it is wrong to deny compensation to victims of criminal damage simply because an officer exercises his discretion to opt for a fixed penalty notice. I shall take a lot of persuading that I am wrong about that. All too often, victims have not been given the consideration that they deserve. Criminal damage is a nasty, mean offence and we should not deprive its victims of compensation.

I imagine that the Minister will tell me that the amendments are technically defective. We did our best. If he can come up with a way of dealing with the thorny problem that we have identified, we shall be happy to think about that.