Clause 56

Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 22 November 2007.

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Allocation of offences triable either way etc.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of David Burrowes David Burrowes Shadow Minister (Justice)

The clause provides a good opportunity to highlight previously expressed concern about the amendment of unimplemented legislation. It is consistent of us to welcome the extension of discretion, given that we have argued in debating other clauses against its removal from magistrates courts, and the clause is welcome. The Government have decided to remove an unimplemented measure in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 that would have limited magistrates’ discretion to send to the Crown Court cases in which the defendant pleads guilty before a venue. The discretion will now be extended back to the original position before the 2003 Act—magistrates will have wider discretion to commit offenders tried summarily to the Crown Court for sentence.

The concern is best summed up by the Magistrates Association, which welcomes the reversal but considers

“the legislative situation to be confusing. The Bill amends an unimplemented part of an earlier Act, which in turn altered another Act which is still in force—the effect appears to be to retain the status quo. Less legislation and better thought out provisions would avoid such confusion.”

I would welcome the Minister’s comments.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

I understand and accept the hon. Gentleman’s point about the undesirability of the confusion that can be caused by amending unimplemented legislation, but I do not think that one should put it at the top of one’s list of things to chase after, as a Minister. However, I take on the chin the points made by the Magistrates Association and others.

Clause 56 introduces schedule 13, which changes schedule 3 to the 2003 Act, as the hon. Gentleman explained. In mitigation, the original purpose in the 2003 Act—it was before my time in the Department—was that custody plus, the 12-month sentencing power and the procedural reforms in schedule 3 should be implemented at the same time. As the Committee knows, custody plus is not being implemented at present, but there is certainly a lot of support for it. A review last year found a consensus on sentencing among criminal justice agents that replacing the committal procedure with a sending procedure offers benefits. It makes sense to consider bringing schedule 3 into force by itself, hence the clause and schedule 13.

I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point that it is not entirely desirable to amend unimplemented legislation. We should certainly try to avoid it, and I undertake to do so in future. I hope that he will accept that I have listened to what he said. It was an issue worth raising. The Magistrates Association itself said that although clause 56 might create a certain amount of confusion, it does not oppose the clause as part of the whole picture, and that it is probably a good thing. On that basis, I commend clause 56 to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 56 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Section 13 agreed to.