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What does the Queen’s speech promise on criminal justice?

Details of six of the new criminal justice Bills outlined in the Queen's Speech and news of a Royal Commission.

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As readers will know, today was the second time this year (well, second time in 2 months) that we have had a Queen’s Speech setting out the government’s plans. This post provides brief details of six of the key criminal justice Bills outlined in the speech:

  1. Counter Terrorism (Sentencing and Release) Bill 
  2. Sentencing Bill 
  3. Serious Violence Bill 
  4. Sentencing (Pre-consolidation Amendments) Bill 
  5. Police Powers and Protections Bill 
  6. Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill
The Domestic Abuse Bill which was derailed by the general election campaign will be re-introduced and there will aslo be a Royal Commission on the Criminal Justice Process. We don’t have any details about this new Role Commission yet, the Government will need to publish terms of reference sometime in the New Year, so it is not yet fully clear if there is a specific political agenda driving the review or just an acknowledgement that the current system has become increasingly inefficient.

The details set out below are reproduced directly from the government’s official briefing for the speech.

The Counter Terrorism (Sentencing and Release) Bill 

“New sentencing laws will ensure the most serious violent offenders, including terrorists, serve longer in custody”

The purpose of the Bill is to ensure that the most serious terrorist offenders stay in prison for longer. 

The main benefits of the Bill would be:

  • To give the public greater confidence that the sentences served by terrorists reflect the severity of their offending and the risk they present.
  • To ensure the most serious and dangerous terrorist offenders spend longer in prison before they are released on licence.

 

The main elements of the Bill are:

  • Tougher sentences for the most serious terrorist offenders and a 14-year minimum for the worst terrorist offenders.
  • Removing the possibility of any early release from custody for dangerous terrorist offenders who receive an Extended Determinate Sentence (EDS).
  • Moving the earliest point for discretionary release by the Parole Board from half-way to two thirds for terrorist offenders who are not deemed “dangerous” and therefore do not receive an EDS.
  • Measures to strengthen licence supervision for terrorist offenders.

Sentencing Bill

“New sentencing laws will ensure the most serious violent offenders, including terrorists, serve longer in custody.”

The purpose of the Bill is to:

  • Ensure that the most serious violent and sexual offenders spend time in prison that matches the severity of their crimes, protecting victims and giving the public confidence.
  • Tackle repeat and prolific offenders through robust community sentences which punish and also address offenders’ needs.

The main benefits of the Bill would be:

  • To protect the public and give greater confidence to victims by ensuring that serious violent and sexual offenders spend more of their sentence in prison and are properly rehabilitated.
  • To give the public greater confidence that community sentences will be robust and flexible enough to punish offenders appropriately, whilst addressing offender needs where required.

The main elements of the Bill are:

  • Changing the automatic release point from halfway to the two-thirds point for adult offenders sentenced for serious violent or sexual offences, bringing this in line with the earliest release point for those considered to be dangerous.
  • Aligning how life tariffs are calculated with the extended release points for serious violent and sexual offenders.
  • Tougher community sentences that include longer curfews and more hours of unpaid work.
  • Extending the range of circumstances where the starting point for the sentence in cases of murder is a whole life order. This will particularly focus on those who have murdered children.

Serious Violence Bill

“New laws will require schools, police, councils and health authorities to work together to prevent serious crime.’’

The purpose of the Bill is to:

● Create new duties on a range of specified agencies across different sectors, such as local government, youth offending, and health and probation, to work collaboratively, share data and information, and put in place plans to prevent and reduce serious violence within their communities.

● Amend the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 to ensure that serious violence is an explicit priority for Community Safety Partnerships, which include local police, fire and probation services, as well as local authorities and wider public
services.
● Ensure the police have the powers they need to keep weapons off our streets.

The main benefits of the Bill would be:

  • A multi-agency approach to tackle the root causes of violent crime by placing an emphasis on intervention with young people and acknowledging that law enforcement alone cannot tackle violence.
  • Complementing the Government’s investment in Violence Reduction Units in the areas most affected by serious violence by ensuring that agencies work effectively together.
  • Deterring people from carrying weapons, by introducing new court orders to target known knife carriers, to make it easier for the police to stop and search those convicted for knife crime offences.

The main elements of the Bill are:

  • Placing duties on relevant public agencies and bodies to work together to prevent and reduce serious violence.
  • Providing sufficient flexibility so that the relevant organisations will engage and work together in the most effective local partnership for any given area, whether that be a Community Safety Partnership or other multi-agency partnership such as local safeguarding arrangements. Statutory guidance will also be published that will set out the likely implications on a sector-by-sector basis.
  • Amending section 6(1) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which sets out the strategies Community Safety Partnerships must formulate and implement, to explicitly include serious violence.
  • New court orders to target known knife carriers, to make it easier for the police to stop and search those convicted for knife crime offences. The power will apply only to those convicted of a knife related offence.

Sentencing (Pre-consolidation Amendments) Bill

The purpose of the Bill is to:

Make technical changes to the law which pave the way for the Law Commission’s Sentencing Code, which will consolidate the law on sentencing procedure in England and Wales. 

The main benefits of the Bill would be:

  • Assisting judges and legal professionals in identifying and applying the law and helping the public to better understand the sentencing process. 
  • Increasing trust, transparency and efficiency across the criminal justice system, as a result of bringing greater clarity to sentencing law, reducing errors and delays.

The main elements of the Bill are:

  • Introducing a technical device called the ‘clean sweep’ which will allow judges to apply the new Sentencing Code to all sentencing decisions. Courts currently have to establish which provisions apply for each particular offender,
  • depending when the offence was committed. This is a complex exercise which can lead to error and unlawful sentences being passed in consequence.
  • Amending existing legislation that will be consolidated by the Sentencing Code, via “pre-consolidation amendments”. These pre-consolidation amendments to the law are generally limited to correcting minor errors and streamlining sentencing procedural law so that it can be consolidated in the Sentencing Code.
  • Neither this Bill nor the Sentencing Code introduce any new sentencing law, or alter the maximum penalties available for an offence. Substantive reforms in a future Sentencing Bill are distinct from the important task of making sure that sentencing procedural law is clear and accessible to those that need to use it.

Police Powers and Protections Bill

The purpose of the Bill is to:
Recognise the bravery, commitment and sacrifices of police officers and empower them with additional powers, support and protection.

The main benefits of the Bill would be:

  • To implement the Government’s commitment to establish a Police Covenant on a statutory footing and ensure that Parliament has the opportunity to scrutinise progress made against the Covenant.
  • To allow special constables access to the representation and support afforded to Police Federation members, for example when a special constable faces disciplinary proceedings.
  • To ensure that the law provides highly trained police drivers with the necessary legal protection when driving in accordance with their training when pursuing suspects and apprehending criminals on the roads.
  • To strengthen the powers available to the police to allow them to tackle unauthorised encampments, including consideration of broadening the existing categories of criminal trespass.

The main elements of the Bill are:

  • Introducing a statutory requirement for the Home Office to report annually on progress made against the Police Covenant.
  • Measures to allow special constables (fully warranted volunteer police officers) to join the Police Federation so that they can benefit from the additional protection and support afforded to members.
  • Introducing a new test to assess the standard of driving of a police officer, so that their skills and training can be taken into account should there be any subsequent investigations into their actions.
  • Potential measures to criminalise the act of trespassing when setting up an unauthorised encampment in England and Wales, and the introduction of new police powers to arrest and seize the property and vehicles of trespassers who set up unauthorised encampments.

Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill

“Legislation will be brought forward to support victims of crime and their families.”

The purpose of the Bill is to:
Ensure that where an offender who has been convicted of murder, manslaughter or taking indecent photographs of children refuses to disclose certain details about their offences, that is considered by the Parole Board as part of their assessment as to whether that offender should be released. 

The main benefits of the Bill would be:

  • Putting in statute, and therefore beyond doubt, the Parole Board’s established practice of considering a failure by an offender to disclose specific information in these cases.
  • Making this established Parole Board practice a legal obligation so families and victims will know that such issues must be taken into account as part of the Parole Board release process.

The main elements of the Bill are:

  • Amending the life sentence and the extended determinate sentence release test to direct the Parole Board to take into account circumstances where an offender, who has been convicted of murder or manslaughter, has not disclosed the location of a victim’s remains.
  • Amending the extended determinate sentence release test to direct the Parole Board to take into account circumstances where an offender, who has been convicted of taking or making indecent photographs of children, has not disclosed the identities of the child or children in the image(s).

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