HC Deb 20 November 1986 vol 105 cc679-80
6. Mr. Sims

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received proposing legislation to require judges to consult lay people before passing sentence in respect of crimes involving violence.

Mr. Mellor

None, Sir, though I am aware of the suggestion made by Lord McCluskey in his recent Reith lecture.

Mr. Sims

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his reply. Does he recall the report earlier this week of a case where a man of 25, with 100 convictions behind him, was found guilty of beating up in her bed an old lady to such an extent that she was unrecognisable, for which he received four years' imprisonment, which will, of course, attract remission? Is this not an example of the sort of case of which we have had too many recently, which is undermining confidence in the judicial system? If it is considered appropriate for lay people to be involved in magistrates courts in deciding both guilt and sentence, and if lay people serve as jurors in higher courts and decide guilt, should not lay people be involved also in the sentencing process?

Mr. Mellor

I appreciate my hon. Friend's ingenious formulation of a supplementary question, and I note his experience as a Member of this place and as a justice of the peace. He will understand that I am constrained in commenting from the Dispatch Box on the merit or otherwise of individual sentences. I say exactly what I said when the other place defeated a proposal to allow these sentences to be considered by the Court of Appeal. I said that the problem will not go away, and it has not. That is why we have reintroduced a constitutional and sensible proposal whereby my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, on a matter of public interest, will be able to refer an allegedly lenient sentence to the Court of Appeal. I hope that that sensible proposal will commend itself to both the House and the country.

Mr. Cockeram

Will my hon. Friend recognise that lay people are involved in sentencing in the magistrates courts, which account for 98 per cent. of the criminal prosecutions, and that there is still much criticism of the sentences that are imposed in those courts?

Mr. Mellor

And so there is, Sir. I think, however, that the magistrates courts system is one of the ornaments of our criminal justice system. I pay tribute to its role in dealing with over 90 per cent. of the criminal cases in Britain.

Mr. Meadowcroft

Is the Minister aware of recent experiments in confronting the perpetrators of crimes of violence with their victims in certain circumstances—something which appears to be having some success in changing the perception of these appalling crimes on the part of the perpetrators? Is this not something which at least endeavours to get away from the idea that we can deal with these crimes by suppression?

Mr. Mellor

I am not sure from the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question whether he thinks that he is telling me something new. He will know that these reparation—

Mr. Kaufman

The Minister is being offensive.

Mr. Mellor

If the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) says that I am being offensive, that is a compliment coming from that source.

Reparation schemes have been supported by the Government and we are awaiting anxiously a final evaluation of them to ascertain whether some of the Initial rather promising reports can be substantiated.

Forward to