HL Deb 24 January 2005 vol 668 cc38-9WS
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

On 4 April 2005 the majority of the new sentences introduced in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 will come into force. The key provisions are: public protection sentences for dangerous offenders; the new community order; custody minus; and the new release and recall arrangements for all custodial sentences of 12 months and over.

These new sentences are a key part of the Government's tough and effective sentencing framework which targets resources where they are needed. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 is the most significant piece of legislation in this area for over a decade. It introduces wide changes to sentencing principles and the sentencing powers of the courts.

The public must be protected from dangerous criminals. That is why the Criminal Justice Act created new public protection sentences aimed specifically at sexual and violent offenders. Offenders convicted of specific sexual and violent offences will be assessed by the court as to whether or not they pose a serious risk to the public. Those who are considered to be such a risk will be subject to the provisions for dangerous offenders.

These new sentences will ensure that dangerous sexual and violent offenders are subject to assessment by the Parole Board. They will not be released from prison until and unless their level of risk to the public is assessed by the Parole Board as manageable in the community. If the risk is not reduced to a safe level, they may never be released.

For other sentences of 12 months and over, if prisoners have not been classed as dangerous by the courts, they will be released into the community under licence conditions halfway through their sentence but supervision in the community will continue to the end of the entire sentence, rather than to the three-quarters point as now. Recalls to prison following breach of licence conditions will take place under the new scheme outlined in the Act and will no longer need to be authorised by the Parole Board.

The new community order will allow sentencers a much greater degree of flexibility in putting together tough community sentences that will be tailored to the needs of offenders and the seriousness of their offence. The full range of community punishments will be available for all offenders whose offence is serious enough to merit them and not just for imprisonable offences as is the case now. Powers to deal with offenders who breach are also stronger: courts will have the option of making the requirements more onerous, revoking the order and re-sentencing the offender, or if the breach is wilful and persistent, imposing a custodial sentence even if the original offence was not imprisonable.

Custody minus is a new suspended sentence, which allows the court to impose community requirements together with a suspended custodial sentence which is activated if the offender breaches the community period. This new suspended sentence will be much more demanding than current suspended sentences. Not only will an offender be required to refrain from committing another offence during the period of suspension; he or she will have requirements to fulfil in the community, as with a community sentence.

Offenders can be brought back to court during a custody minus sentence for a review hearing. The new power of review will allow sentencers to play a more active role in determining what is needed, not just at the point of sentence but also during its course. As the review process for the drug treatment and testing order has shown, better information about the outcome of their decisions will improve sentencers' decision- making, as well as benefit the offender's rehabilitation.

The new sentencing framework will help to cut crime through effective punishment; protection of the public; reparation to communities; and the prevention of re-offending.