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I am rather open-minded about it. This is a Committee stage and I have some doubts in my mind as to the best way to proceed. Being conservative with a small “c”, a strong argument commends itself to me—if the current system has worked well dealing with such issues of fact in the past, should we be getting too worried? There is a good argument for saying, “Let us leave the current situation as it is.” Judges have always been able to deal with the issue and ask the jury a supplementary question if a real issue arises in a trial about the facts on which the ultimate sentencing will take place. So far as a Newton hearing is concerned, where there is a guilty plea, the judiciary in my experience have managed fairly well to come to conclusions when the facts are placed in front of them. They usually listen very carefully to the evidence put before them.
That is one argument. The alternative argument is to say that that is all very well in the context of the sort of decisions that used to have to be taken. However, the anxiety is about the growing consequence of the aggravated offence, which would start to create penalties that bear little relation to what one would expect to be imposed if the offence was not aggravated. That is what I would ask the Committee to consider. I await the Minister’s response with interest—but before I hear from the Minister, I give way.