HC Deb 13 February 2004 vol 418 cc230-1W
Mrs. Curtis-Thomas

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the sentencing arrangements in the Criminal Justice Act 2003. [152849]

Paul Goggins

The Criminal Justice Act 2003 introduced wide changes to the sentencing powers of the courts;

For the first time, we have made explicit the purposes of sentencing and put them into statute. They are: public protection, punishment, crime reduction and reparation and the reform and rehabilitation of offenders.

We have also put in place key principles to guide the Court when determining the seriousness of the offence and the severity of the resulting sentence. The most important of these is that previous convictions (where they are recent and relevant) should be treated as an aggravating factor when determining sentence severity.

The courts must treat offences as aggravated, for sentencing purposes, where the victim's race, religion, sexual orientation or disability has been a contributing factor.

The Act establishes a new Sentencing Guidelines Council whose role will be to promote consistent sentencing and which will be responsible for issuing guidelines on sentencing for the range of criminal offences.

Magistrates will be able to sentence offenders for terms of imprisonment of up to 12 months instead of the current six months maximum.

The Act provides a new indeterminate sentence for dangerous offenders, which means such an offender can be kept in custody until the Parole Board assesses him as presenting a risk which is manageable in the community.

We are transforming the structure of short prison sentences so that they will be more effective at addressing the needs of offenders. New custodial sentences of less than 12 months will consist of a short 'custodial period' of between two weeks and three months followed by a 'licence period' of at least six months.

The Act introduces intermittent custody for low risk offenders where the term of imprisonment is between 28 and 51 weeks duration. Intermittent custody allows for the sentence to be served either during weekdays or weekends, so that offenders can maintain jobs and relationships that contribute to rehabilitation.

The generic community sentence will allow sentencers a much greater degree of flexibility in putting together tough community sentences that will be tailored to the needs of offenders at any level of seriousness. Where a court decides to impose a community sentence this can be tailored to fit the individual and may include an order to perform unpaid work or specific activities. It may also include exclusion orders or orders for treatment for drug or alcohol abuse.