» Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Asked what were the further measures that the Prime Minister talked about, and were they changes to parole arrangements, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) replied that people should wait and see. We were aware that there were various reviews going on in the Home Office, and that the Home Secretary was looking at various aspects. Therefore, it was better that the Home Secretary was given the time and the space to reach his conclusions, and then to see what was necessary. What was clear was that there could be a need for further legislation in some areas, and that would come if necessary.

Asked if that parole, then, the PMOS said that he was not going to get into specific areas, as it was better that the Home Secretary worked his way though and decided what needed administrative changes, and what needed legislative changes, but there were a variety of subjects that had come up and had received various degrees of prominence in the last few weeks where we needed to look and see what needed to be done.

Put that the Home Secretary had given a speech to the parole board in which he had outlined a substantial number of policy areas, and were those some of areas that might be changed, the PMOS replied that there were a number of areas, but the PMOS said he would prefer to wait until nearer the time.

Asked if the new legislation was likely to repeal the various other 53 Home Office criminal justice bills, the PMOS replied that if people looked at the operation of the Criminal Justice Bill (CJB) in 2003, it could be seen that it had proven effective. As the Prime Minister had said today at PMQs, that since it had come into operation in 2005, there had been 1000 indeterminate sentences given out. That showed that such legislation was effective. If people looked at other Home Office legislation in other areas, it could equally be seen that it was effective. However, it was one of those issues where the operation had to be kept being reviewed, and recent experience had suggested that there would be other areas where further action would be needed. The PMOS said that we should see where we got to.

Asked if on the question of determinate sentences effective automatic release at the half the stage was tougher than at two thirds of the stage, the PMOS replied that under the previous legislation, which was a mixture of the 1991 Act and the 1997 Act, people could apply for parole at the half way point. If they were refused parole at that point, no matter whether they were assessed to be a continuing threat or not, they were automatically released at the two thirds point. The PMOS said that the key point here was how people were dealt with who were assessed to be a continuing threat. Therefore, the 2003 Act set out 66 offences under which, with a maximum sentence of 10 years or above, people automatically were considered for indefinite detention. Therefore, they could not be automatically released at the two thirds point. If a judge decided to put someone in indefinite detention, the parole board would have had to have actively set aside that consideration. If it was for a conviction which carried a sentence of between 4 and 10 years, then people could still have had an extended sentence, under which the parole board could refuse release at the half way point. In terms of protecting the public, and those who were judged to be a continuing threat, the combination of those two measures went precisely to the heart of the issue.

Asked if the 1000 indeterminate sentences handed out since April 2005 was correct, because by the journalist’s calculation, that meant that there were 3 indeterminate sentences every day including weekends, the PMOS said that was the figure given from the Home Office.

Asked when details of the new approach would come through, the PMOS replied that as the Prime Minister indicated, there might be something before the summer recess.

Asked for further clarification about the need for further legislation, ie about what, and to do what, the PMOS said that it was better that we waited for the legislation to come forward.

Asked how we squared the fact the Government now believed that new legislation was necessary with what both John Reid and the Attorney General this week that it was all the fault of "soft judges" who were not applying the current law properly, and by John Reid deeming the Craig Sweeney case unduly lenient, the PMOS said that there were a number of ascribed comments in the question that the PMOS did not recognise.

The journalist said that at the weekend, the Attorney General had released 339 cases that he believed were unduly lenient, so it seemed there was a change of tone from Ministers saying that it was all the judges’ fault, because now, the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary seemed to be saying that the law needed to be changed, the PMOS replied if people looked at what he had said yesterday, what he said was that people had to accept that in this area, there was no one single solution. We had to keep pushing forward on all fronts, whether it was in terms of where necessary, new legislation, or, improved administration action, or making sure that sentencing guidelines were in touch with the common sense view of right and wrong. There was no one single solution, and therefore, what we were doing was trying to advance across the board. The PMOS said that he did not direct fire at one particular target yesterday, but rather, he had openly acknowledged that we had to advance across the board. That remained that case.

Asked by ITN if the PMOS was saying that the 2003 Act had backfired, and had not produced the result that the Government wanted, the PMOS said that he was struggling to find out how in any way, anything that had been said could be interpreted in the manner that the journalist had suggested.

Put that the Act had enabled people to be let out at the half way point, instead of the two thirds way point which was automatic before, but now it would be legislated, the PMOS said that the question was a complete misinterpretation of what he had said. The PMOS did not say that it had let people out at the half way point, but rather, how it did NOT let people out at the half way point. People were allowed to be kept in for indeterminate sentences, which was not possible before, and there had been 1000 indeterminate sentences.

Asked by ITN from what basis were we saying that the Act had not produced results that we wanted, the PMOS said that that analysis was completely wrong.

Asked if it had produced results, the PMOS said that in one area, it dealt with one aspect of Home Affairs, and as people may have noticed over the past few weeks, Home Affairs stretched across a broad area. Therefore, that broad area had to be constantly addressed. The PMOS said that the 2003 Act dealt very specifically with one particular aspect of Home Affairs. The PMOS asked how people could describe an Act which resulted in 1000 people who were judged to be a continuing threat to society being kept inside as a failure? It was not. However, Home affairs was a much broader issue, and the PMOS said that he really struggled with the question.

Asked if we accepted that the Act had deficiencies that needed remedied, the PMOS said that he did not accept that at all. The PMOS said that he knew ITN had adopted a simplistic approach to these things, but that was "beyond the pale", as the journalist was caricaturing what we were saying, and that was not helpful to discourse.

Put that the PMOS had said that recent events had suggested that we needed new legislation, the PMOS said that meant recent events in the Home Office as a whole. If people remembered in the last two weeks, we had dealt with subjects such as foreign prisoners, and many other issues, not just in this area.

Asked was not the Prime Minister at PMQs talking in context of sentencing, the PMOS said that he was talking in the context of Home affairs in general.

Asked if it was fair to say that it had not yet been decided yet what legislation was necessary, the PMOS replied that work was in progress, and until that work was completed, the PMOS said that he did not want to get into details, which was a perfectly legitimate thing for the Government to do.

Put that the Prime Minister had seemed "gleeful" to put a Bill though the House that might wrongfoot the Opposition, the PMOS said that the journalist was inviting him to comment on party political matters, and therefore, he was not going to do that. All the PMOS would say was that the Prime Minister in the past had not shied away in any way from putting forward legislation which might face opposition from various quarters, but which he believed was right. In the Home Office, that had been particularly the case.

Asked for further information about the Craig Sweeney case, when the judge had deemed that he could be released half way through his sentence, the PMOS replied that that was not a correct interpretation of what the judge had said. The judge had said that that time was the earliest point in which he could be considered, but the judge also thought that it was thought highly unlikely that he would be released then. In terms of the judgement, and the reasons, the PMOS was not going to give a commentary on it. The PMOS said that it was judges who decided to put someone in an indeterminate sentence.

Asked if there was not an automatic indeterminate sentence, the PMOS said that it was the judges who decided, and in 1000 cases, they had done so.

Put that David Cameron was wrong to suggest that it had reduced from two thirds to a half in all cases, the PMOS said it was categorically wrong.

Briefing took place at 16:00 | Search for related news

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