HC Deb 15 January 1997 vol 288 cc413-4
Mr. Beith

I beg to move amendment No. 36, in page 26, line 13, at end insert— '(2A) Where a court orders a person to be disqualified for holding or obtaining a driving licence under this section, the degree of punishment inflicted by the order, or by the combination of the order and any other order or orders made in respect of the offence, shall be such as in the opinion of the court are commensurate with the seriousness of the offence.'. The Bill contains the novel principle that someone can be disqualified from driving for an offence that had nothing to do with motor cars. There are, to be sure, related principles in, for instance, the salmon legislation. A person's car can be confiscated if he drives a car to carry out a salmon poaching offence, but in this case a person might travel to an offence on a bus and yet be disqualified from driving his motor car.

I do not oppose the idea in principle but I wish to raise a concern expressed by the Magistrates Association and the Justices' Clerks Society about proportionality in relation to the use of driving disqualification as a penalty for offences unconnected with the motor car.

Driving disqualification has a completely different effect on different people. For someone who hardly uses the car it may be of almost no consequence; for someone whose livelihood depends on it, it could mean a difference of thousands of pounds.

Many pieces of legislation, including the Criminal Justice Act 1991, set criteria requiring a sentence to be commensurate with the seriousness of the offence. The Minister has no difficulty with the principle at stake; indeed his view in Committee was that an amendment was unnecessary because the courts have a general duty to take account of the seriousness of the offence when passing sentence. Obviously the Minister does not have much confidence in the courts' ability to carry out such duties; otherwise he would not have introduced the legislation compelling courts to pass mandatory sentences.

It seems odd that, with this novel penalty, the Minister should have departed from the widespread practice of imposing a statutory requirement for proportionality. The amendment seeks to import precisely that proportionality.

Mr. Llwyd

I support the amendment, but I have reservations about the new form of penalty in any event. As I understand it, the Justices' Clerks Society was not consulted when the idea was first discussed. I acknowledge the need for proportionality, but it represents quite a departure from the usual criminal law to impose a wholly unconnected penalty for such offences. Indeed, it might have a detrimental effect and hamper the rehabilitation of an offender who, on release, might not be able to get employment as a result.

I believe that the punishment must fit the crime, but this is not the right approach. It is laughable to think that the professional criminal will in any way be deterred by the fear that he might lose his licence.

Mr. Maclean

I do not consider the amendment necessary, in view of the established principle of sentencing which already ensures that its aims are met. It is a fundamental principle of sentencing that the punishment should fit the crime. The courts must consider the nature of the offence and any aggravating or mitigating circumstances before deciding what sentence to impose. The sentencer must also have regard to the particular circumstances of the offence and of the offender.

Consequently, a court will not impose disqualification from driving unless satisfied that such a penalty is appropriate to the nature and seriousness of the offence.

The penalty will be introduced by way of pilot schemes; we cannot consult on every single change we wish to make. In this case we have chosen to run pilots before we finalise the scheme. The pilot process will identify the implications before we go for national implementation. The pilots will also identify any need to produce guidelines for the courts, such as those produced in other circumstances by the Magistrates Association. Therefore, as we will have pilot schemes, and in view of the fundamental principle that all sentences must at all times have regard to the particular circumstances of the offence and the offender, the amendment is unnecessary.

Mr. Beith

The Minister's argument is unconvincing. He repeats what he said in Committee. This bit of the Bill is odd, but it is not one of principles on which we would wish to go to the stake. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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