Clause 100 - Minimum sentences for particular offences

Part of Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 10th June 2021.

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Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice) 2:15 pm, 10th June 2021

Yes, that is very much the case. These organisations all make the same point: we are limiting the judges’ discretion. We are limiting the discretion of the individual who best knows the case, as they have actually heard the case, so it is certainly worrying. In fact, in the sentencing White Paper, the Government note that “concerns have been raised”, and that some repeat offenders are receiving too-lenient sentences, but they fall short of naming a single body that supports that view.

In the same vein, rather than presenting the evidence for change, the White Paper highlights only a single statistic in relation to those convicted of a burglary who receive a sentence lower than the minimum three-year term. I am sure I do not have to remind the Minister that that is as single statistic relating to a single offence out of his list of four. I ask him a very simple question: what evidence has he brought to the Committee today to show that judges have been unduly lenient when sentencing repeat offenders in relation to the importation of class A drugs, possession of a knife or offensive weapon or threatening a person with a blade or offensive weapon in public?

The second of the Opposition’s concerns is how the proposed changes to clause 100 will further entrench the already shameful levels of racial disparity in our criminal justice system. As the Minister is all too aware, since the Lammy review was published in September 2017, racial disparity in the criminal justice system has got considerably worse. The statistics speak for themselves. Black offenders are 26% more likely than white offenders to be remanded in custody, while the figure for black women is 29% more likely. Offenders from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are 81% more likely than white offenders to be sent to prison for indictable offences, even when factoring in higher not guilty plea rates. Over one quarter—27%—of people in prison are from a minority ethnic group, despite the fact that they make up 14% of the total population of England and Wales. If our prison population reflected the ethnic make-up of England and Wales, we would have over 9,000 fewer people in prison—a truly staggering figure.

That is before we even begin to touch on disproportionality in the youth system, which is even more pronounced. For the first time, young people from a BAME background now make up 51%—over half—of those in custody, despite that group making up only 14% of the population. The proportion of black children who are arrested, cautioned or sentenced is now twice what it was 10 years ago, and the proportion of black children on remand in youth custody has increased to over a third.

When my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy was asked by the then Conservative Government to carry out his review, he did so in the belief that that Government, and successive Governments, would implement the recommendations he made. Sadly, that was not the case. At the last count, fewer than 10 of the 35 recommendations had been fully implemented. Perhaps the Minister will explain whether that is still the case today and, if so, why the Government have made so little progress on that in the last four years.

The picture emerging from this Government is that they do not care about reducing racial disparities in our criminal justice system, which is not an accusation I make lightly. Statement after statement recognising the disparities and promising change appears to be no more than lip service. Worse still, many of the measures in the Bill will further entrench racial inequality in the criminal justice system—one of them being the introduction of clause 100. It is abundantly clear that the clause will have a disproportionate impact on offenders from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background.

We know from a Government report published in 2016 that for drugs offences the odds of receiving a prison sentence were around 240% higher for black, Asian and minority ethnic offenders than for white offenders. Even the equalities impact assessment that accompanies the Bill acknowledges an over-representation of certain ethnic groups and the increased likelihood of their being sentenced to custody and given a longer sentence. It states:

“We recognise that some individuals with protected characteristics are likely to be over-represented in the groups of people this policy will affect, by virtue of the demographics of the existing offender population.”