On Tuesday 7 November, the government set its legislative agenda for the next Parliamentary session, announcing a total of 21 Bills. Of those, three focussed specifically on the criminal justice system. Below, we set out some of the key measures that were proposed as part of those pieces of legislation. More details about these Bills, and all the others announced in the speech, can be found in the government’s Background Briefing Notes.
The Sentencing Bill brings forward measures across four main areas, mostly implementing announcements already made by the government. Clinks’ CEO, Anne Fox, has recently written about a number of the announcements that will be implemented through this Bill, some of which aim to address the current pressure on the prison population, which sets out Clinks’ views.
Whole Life Orders
The Bill will bring forward measures to mandate courts to impose Whole Life Orders for offences which currently have a Whole Life Order as a starting point, as well as for murder that involves sexual or sadistic conduct. However, the courts will have some flexibility in imposing these Whole Life Orders where there are exceptional circumstances.
Increased time in custody for people convicted of serious sexual offences
The Bill will also make changes to the sentences given to people convicted of “the most serious sexual offences” who receive a determinate sentence. In these cases, people will be required to serve the full length of their sentence in custody. At this stage, we are still awaiting more detail on what this change would mean in terms of supervision for people, following their release from prison.
Presumption against short prison sentences
In addition, the Sentencing Bill will be used to introduce the presumption in favour of suspended sentences for custodial sentences of 12 months or fewer. This was previously announced by the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice in October as part of the package of measures to address the acute pressures on the prison population.
As part of the proposals, judges will retain discretion to impose immediate custody. The government suggests this could be in cases where the person convicted poses a “significant risk to the public” or has previously “shown disregard for court orders”.
Expansion of home detention curfew
The final measure is to extend home detention curfew (HDC) to “suitable” people serving sentences of four years or more. These new plans would mean people in this group could also be considered for the scheme up to a maximum of six months before their automatic release date. The existing exclusions that apply to HDC eligibility around the types of offences that people were convicted of, such as violent offences and domestic abuse, will continue to apply.
Criminal Justice Bill
This is a wide-ranging Bill that contains measures covering areas including prisons, probation, the police, and the courts, as well as creating new offences. Of the measures contained within this Bill, there are several that are likely to be of particular interest to the sector.
Overseas prison rental scheme
The Criminal Justice Bill will introduce the legislation needed to facilitate the previously announced scheme to rent prison places overseas so people in prison can be transferred abroad to serve their sentences. Given the sector’s widespread concerns about these plans, it is disappointing the government has decided to move forward with them. There are still a large number of key questions about this scheme that have not been answered. Read more about Clinks’ and the sector’s views of this plan in the recent blog from our CEO, Anne Fox.
Drug testing on arrest
A number of measures were announced to tackle what the government described as “the crimes and anti-social behaviour that blight communities”. Amongst these measures was a move to expand drug testing on arrest to take “tough action on drugs”.
Following the announcement from the government in the summer, the Bill will contain provisions to compel defendants to attend their sentencing hearing.
The Bill will also give some new powers to probation officers. These include powers to use polygraph tests with people convicted of terrorist or sexual offences in order to “better manage their risk”. In addition, probation officers will gain new powers to increase the multi-agency management requirements placed on people who are convicted of coercive or controlling behaviour.
Victims and Prisoners Bill
This Bill, that began its passage through Parliament in the previous session, will continue in this new session. The Bill includes provisions to support victims of crime and introduce an Independent Public Advocate to work on behalf of victims of major incidents. It also makes changes to the parole system to give ministers greater oversight of the release of people who have been convicted of the most serious offences. The Bill will also prevent people sentenced to Whole Life Orders from being able to marry or form a civil partnership.
Ahead of the Bill’s Second Reading, back in May, the Prison Reform Trust published a briefing, which examines the details of the parole and prisons focussed proposals, and raises a number of key concerns. As this Bill has already been introduced, you can follow its progress on the UK Parliament website.
Over the coming session
With three justice-focussed Bills passing through Parliament over the next year, criminal justice is likely to be very much in the spotlight. Clinks continues to advocate on behalf of the sector with ministers and officials in the Ministry of Justice, as well as across other government departments. The criminal justice voluntary sector has a wealth of experience and expertise, and it is essential that this is heard by the government and feeds into this legislation as it is passed through Parliament.
Clinks is keen to work with others in the sector around these Bills. If you would like to get in touch with Clinks about this, please contact our Influence and Communications team.
Image credit: © House of Lords 2023 / photography by Roger Harris