In legislative terms, 2019 was a pretty quiet year, with parliament being so heavily occupied with Brexit, there was little time for anything else.
2020 promises to be somewhat different, the government has a substantial parliamentary majority, and being ‘tough on crime’ seems once again to be a popular political topic.
The recent Queen’s Speech gives us a good clue to what we can expect over the next few months. As ever, our lawyers will be monitoring all developments very carefully, and history tells us that criminal justice policy is often deficient and can require challenge before the higher courts. If laws are unfair, we will be here to challenge them.
Counter-Terrorism (Sentencing and Release) Bill
The main elements of the Bill are:
● Tougher sentences for the most serious terrorist offenders and a 14-year minimum for some 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.
● 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
● 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.
Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill
● 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).
The last piece of legislation planned by the government in this session of parliament is long overdue, and very much needed:
Sentencing (Pre-consolidation Amendments) Bill
● 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 on 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.
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