On Tuesday when Parliament re-opens it will be seven weeks since the 23rd of February when Rob Butler who is the Aylesbury Conservative MP introduced a very important private members Bill called Youth Courts and Sentencing Bill. That Bill is supported by MPs from both Labour and Conservative which is a very good start. It is intended to ensure that young people who commit crimes are treated as young people when they finally get to Court. This is vital because in far too many cases the long delays in the Court and investigation system mean they have become adults and the current rules mean that they get treated as if they were adults when they broke the law. I first wrote about that Bill here soon after they carried out the first reading on the 23rd of February and so far there has not been a second reading. Two weeks after Rob Butler and his colleagues introduced the Bill for the first reading the Government introduced its own Bill for its first reading called “Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill”. That took place on the 9th March and within less than a week the second reading took place on the 15th March. In some respects one might hope that the Government would take on board the very positive aspects from Rob Butler and add them into their own Bill as it would be a very good match based on its title. Tragically the Government are using the Bill to achieve a number of themes that they want to focus on and they are equally ignoring a number of other vital issues that have been recognised by many people. As Rob Butler next to Priti Patel in the image stated on 15th March
I would welcome the Government giving further consideration to one anomaly that I highlighted in my recent ten-minute rule Bill: that children who commit an offence as a child but turn 18 before getting to court are treated as adults at both trial and sentence. The risk of this happening has been exacerbated by delays caused by covid, and those delays vary greatly between different parts of the country, resulting in a postcode lottery that is fundamentally unjust and yet can have lifelong consequences. Although there has not been time to incorporate my proposal into the Bill at this stage, I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor for meeting me to discuss how, with appropriate safeguards, some of its aims might be achieved. I hope that the Government might still be persuaded that this Bill provides such an opportunity.
During the second reading element and before Mr Butler spoke there were a number of other discussions that demonstrate how much extra work is needed. The starting point on the 15th March came from Priti Patel who is the author of the Bill. Soon after she had started speaking Gareth Jones a Tory MP stood up
This Bill doubles the maximum sentence for an assault on emergency workers. Does the Home Secretary therefore share my astonishment at the irony that the Labour party will now be voting against that provision?
So of course this was very positive for Priti Patel who then says
We cannot tolerate such acts, which is why the punishment must fit the crime, and the Bill will double the maximum penalty for assaults on emergency workers from 12 months’ to two years’ imprisonment.
Chris Bryant is a Labour MP who is shown above then stepped up and pointed out
I urge the Home Secretary not to play party politics with this particular bit. I introduced, as a private Member’s Bill, the legislation that she is acting on, and at the time I argued very strongly in favour of two years being the maximum sentence. I was dissuaded by Dominic Raab, who is now the Foreign Secretary; by Mrs May, the former Home Secretary; and by a lot of Conservative MPs, who did not want to support the legislation at all.
The next person to speak was Edward Leigh and he was focusing on a very differnt theme. So he stated
We do not want to waste police time. Over the years I have formed an unlikely alliance with people such as Peter Tatchell, particularly with the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, to ensure that we enshrine in law your ability, Madam Deputy Speaker, my ability, or anybody’s ability to insult people and cause offence. Thinking particularly of clause 59, will my right hon. Friend assure me that nothing in the Bill will have a chilling effect on the right to debate and, if necessary, cause offence?
So she then addressed this question and went on for some time before stating
Victims and witnesses must have the full protection of the law while the police conduct their investigations. We will reform the pre-charge bail regime to encourage the police to impose pre-charge bail, with appropriate conditions where it is necessary and proportionate to do so, including where there is a real risk to victims, witnesses and the public. We hope that that will provide reassurance and additional protection for alleged victims, for example in high-harm cases such as domestic abuse.
And so the next person to speak was Peter Kyle who is shown above, the Hove MP who stated
Since the Home Secretary’s Government first promised a victims Bill, there have been 1 million sexual offences and 350,000 rapes. This Bill is 300 pages long and barely mentions women or children. The explanatory notes do not mention women or girls once. Will she get to her feet and apologise finally for missing this fantastic opportunity to put victims at the heart of our criminal justice system?
Now given that he was clearly aware of the Bill and its 300 pages and given that Priti Patel had just finished a statement to Edward Leigh regarding Victims and Domestic Abuse Victims one might assume that she would be willing to admit that there was some additional elements to be included. However her response was this.
I will take no lectures from the hon. Gentleman or the Opposition when it comes to supporting victims. As the former chair of the all-party parliamentary group on victims, I and this Government have absolutely put victims at the heart of all our work, as have my predecessors in all their work.
It is clear that when Parliament re-opens on Tuesday that we need to see a much more effective way of working from the Government that pays more attention to their own MPs and indeed is willing to accept challenge from the Labour Party.