HC Deb 16 June 1981 vol 6 c951 10.15 pm
Mr. John Morris

I beg to move amendment No. 9, in page 5, line 25, leave out from 'fit' to 'impose' in line 26.

Mr. Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to take amendment No. 10, in page 5, line 27, leave out '£500, or both' and insert '£50'.

Mr. Morris

I shall be brief. I commend the two amendments, because the Home Secretary seeks to ensure that fewer people are sent to prison and in that climate it is offensive to find a provision for sending people to prison when a lesser penalty—even smaller than the financial penalty proposed—would seem sufficient.

The Attorney-General

The penalty provisions in clause 13 were carefully considered before the introduction of the Bill. I see no reason to depart from the maximum specified in subsection (2). We started with paragraphs 36 and 37 of the Phillimore report, where it was noted that magistrates' courts dealt with about 98 per cent. of all criminal cases in England and Wales, sometimes in difficult conditions in crowded courts. There have been incidents where disorderly conduct has brought proceedings to a standstill. For those who are minded to disrupt proceedings, the existing power to remove offenders from the court was not, in Phillimore's assessment, a sufficient deterrent. Moreover, it is difficult to reconcile the absence of realistic powers in England and Wales with the position in Scotland, where the lower courts have for long had powers to commit to custody and to fine those who disrupt business.

Against that background, the penalties of commital to custody for a specific period not exceeding one month or a fine not exceeding £500 were arrived at on the following basis. We took the various assessments everywhere else and ended up with these figures. In my view, if we have anything less than that as a maximum there will not be a sufficient deterrent if there is a bad case of deliberate disruption of proceedings in a magistrates' court.

Mr. Morris

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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