HL Deb 26 January 2000 vol 608 cc1547-8
The Earl of Longford

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to introduce new procedures for the fixing of tariffs for all those sentenced to detention during Her Majesty's pleasure; and whether they will give an undertaking that legislation will be introduced within six months of the judgment in the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Thompson and Venables.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton)

My Lords, the Government are currently considering the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in this case. We shall, of course, announce our intentions as soon as we practicably can.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I hope my noble friend the Minister will forgive me if I say that that was the Answer I expected. I expected him to duck it. However, does he agree that the crucial issue is whether, in future, in the case of young offenders—that is, young people who are convicted of crimes that merit life sentences—the decision should rest with judges rather than the Home Secretary? Is my noble friend ready to say anything helpful about that?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, my view is that we must consider the implications of this case very carefully. Of course, the ECHR judgment will have a strong bearing on the question of the treatment of juveniles in the future. It will have a tremendous bearing and effect on the treatment of juvenile offenders who are processed through the Crown Court system. That is one of the most complex issues at the heart of the matter.

Lord Goodhart

My Lords, in the ca se of very young children who are sentenced during Her Majesty's pleasure, does the Minister accept that what is appropriate is not so much a fixed term as a sentence which is dependent on the moral and psychological development of those young people?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, the noble Lord speaks with great wisdom on this point; indeed, that is something very much at the heart of these issues. But the judiciary must take into account the seriousness of the crimes involved. 'This was a very serious crime and the court must take that very firmly into consideration, as well as the feelings of the public, witnesses and victims.

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