The Crime and Courts Bill was introduced to the House of Lords immediately after the Queen’s Speech on 10th May 2012, and to the Commons on 19th December 2012. The Bill is wide ranging in scope and application. Part 1 of the Bill makes provision for a new body to fight organised crime, the National Crime Agency (NCA), which will also take a leading role on economic crime, border security, cyber crime and the protection of children. Part 2 provides for reform of the system of judicial appointments, for the streamlining of the courts system, for the broadcasting of court proceedings from the Court of Appeal, for changes to the community sentencing regime, changes to self defence in relation to dwelling burglary and deferred prosecution agreements which can occur in the context of offences of dishonesty. Part 3 contains provisions for strengthening attempts to combat drug driving, enhancing the powers of immigration officers and the reform of some aspects of the immigration appeals system. It also contains an important change to the public order offence of causing harassment, alarm or distress.
This briefing is intended to highlight JUSTICE’s main concerns regarding provisions of the Bill. Silence as to the content of a provision should not be taken as approval.
- Lack of legal certainty; Despite its broad content, as in previous legislation introduced to Parliament, throughout the Bill Henry VIII clauses are employed. In our view, too much recourse has been left to secondary legislation in areas which ought to be subject to the full scrutiny of Parliament. In particular, NCA counter terrorism functions, and the recording of court procedures. Likewise, despite the existence of a super affirmative procedure, secondary legislation provided for in the Bill will in the majority be subject to the negative resolution procedure, allowing minimal parliamentary scrutiny;
- The National Crime Agency should not be excluded from the operation of the Freedom of Information Act;
- The introduction of a presumption in favour of broadcasting court hearings must be accompanied by safeguards set out in primary legislation to ensure only appropriate hearings are included;
- Punitive requirements in sentencing must be form part of a wider community sentence and not replace beneficial rehabilitation elements; Exceptions must be based on particular, not exceptional, circumstances and consider the effectiveness of the sentence;
- Deferral of sentencing to allow for restorative justice is to be welcomed;
- Electronic monitoring should not extend to simply monitoring the whereabouts of a convicted offender. It must attach to a specific and justified requirement or condition already imposed as part of a community sentence;
- The removal of the right of appeal from the family visit visa system is an unjustified infringement of due process;
- The removal of an in-country right of appeal for certain immigration applicants could dangerously impact upon refugees;
- Extension of powers to immigration offers must be clearly and narrowly defined;
- The removal of a criminal sanction for using insulting words or behaviour that cause or are likely to cause harassment, alarm, or distress is to be welcomed;