New Clause 8

Part of Counter-Terrorism Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 15 May 2008.

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Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 2:45, 15 May 2008

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I rather regret that my hon. Friend the Member for Newark is not here, because this was very much his new clause. I have not discussed new clause 8 with him, so I do not entirely know what was in his mind, and these are rather more my observations than they are his.

Subsection (2) is of course in accordance with judge-made law as it is, namely that defendants who plead guilty at the earliest possible opportunity can achieve a discount in their sentence. In my view, that is wholly right. The maximum is about one third for the earliest possible indication of a plea of guilty. I think that that is right and should apply to terrorist offences as to any other.

Subsection (1) could apply not just to a terrorism Bill, but to any criminal justice Bill, because there is considerable merit in allowing pre-trial plea bargaining. As a matter of fact, pre-trial plea bargaining has existed for a very long time and still exists—and a very good thing too. There is very frequently discussion between defence and prosecution counsel as to what plea might be acceptable. Very often, too, one can go to the judge and gain an indication as to what would be the appropriate sentence on the basis of an agreed set of facts.

There probably is merit in some statutory or quasi-statutory framework, and there are one or two things that have to be provided for within such a framework. First, there must be some provision whereby a defendant’s interests cannot be prejudiced. I have known of a number of cases where defendants have been advised of the desirability of pleading guilty, have indicated a willingness to do so, and then start ratting on the deal. Everybody is rather shafted by that process, so one does have to address it so that the defendant is not misled and, incidentally, other people are not prejudiced by the defendant subsequently ratting.

It is also very important to ensure that there is an agreed basis for the plea, and the process has to be worked out. If necessary, there may have to be what is referred to as a Newton trial or a Newton process to determine the basic facts. That needs to be provided for in the regulations, as does a process whereby the judge is brought into the discussion so that he can give a fairly binding indication of what the appropriate sentence would be. Those matters all have to be addressed by the regulations, and other criteria too may need to be incorporated, but that there should be a process of pre-trial plea bargaining seems quite plain. I see no reason why it should be confined to terrorism, and it is probably a good thing to give it a quasi-statutory basis, and I commend the motion to the Committee.