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 Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 2:15 pm, 10th June 2021

Let me respond to some of the questions and points that the shadow Minister raised in his speech. First, I should be clear that in forming the proposals the Government have considered carefully, in accordance with the public sector equality duty under the Equality Act 2010, the impact that these changes in the law might have on people with protected characteristics, including race. The full equality impact assessment was published alongside the draft legislation, and I can confirm that it is publicly available should anybody want to scrutinise it.

The shadow Minister asked why these measures are being introduced, and he asked for the evidence base for doing so. He mentioned evidence that appeared in the original White Paper published last September. I gave a statistic in my speech introducing the clause about the proportion of cases where the minimum is disapplied for the burglary offence. I said it was over a third. I should add that those are unpublished figures. They have not gone through the usual verification process, but it is clearly over a third. That is a single further bit of evidence demonstrating that judges are departing quite a lot.

It is important to specify that departures should be exceptional rather than simply particular, because Parliament has taken the time and trouble to specify these minimum sentences. It has done so after careful and due consideration. It is very unusual, as we might debate later, to have minimum sentences, even for repeat offenders. Having given the matter such careful consideration in the past, it seems reasonable to expect judges to implement that, unless there are exceptional circumstances. We are simply talking about somewhat elevating the test before judges depart.

There is still residual judicial discretion; if a judge thinks there is an exceptional circumstance that means that the minimum is not appropriate, the judge can still not give the minimum—their hands are not completely tied. This is just about making it clear to those handing down sentences that this should be exceptional rather than more routine. There is data that shows that the departures are quite widespread. I have mentioned some, and the shadow Minister referred to the White Paper. But beyond the data there is also the point of principle I mentioned a moment ago about making sure that Parliament’s intent is reflected in the sentences that are, in practice, handed down.

On racial disparity, these measures will in some sense mitigate against any implied systemic bias, which I do not, by the way, accept exists in the sentencing context. They actually make the application of the sentence more mechanistic; they just specify, almost as a formula, that if a particular set of circumstances is met, a certain sentence follows. That makes the system almost automatic and reduces the discretionary element. If someone does not want to have the minimums applied to them, they should not commit the offence in the first place.

But there clearly are issues that the Government want to address. This is a broader topic, and I do not want to dwell on it, because it is probably out of scope. There are obviously wider issues of racial disparity in the criminal justice system, which the shadow Minister referred to. A very good and comprehensive statement was made on this topic by the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend Alex Chalk, a few months ago. I strongly commend his statement, because he went through the recommendations resulting from the Lammy review—I am probably allowed to say that, given that it is the name of the report, and I am not referring to a colleague by their name—demonstrating in each of the various cases what concrete action was being taken to address the concerns that the review uncovered. As the shadow Minister said, the Government do want to take action to make sure the justice system is always fair and is seen to be fair.