New bill out later today

Sentencing and court reforms will be included

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will be published today.

The government says “it seeks to equip the police with the powers and tools they need to protect themselves and the public, while overhauling sentencing laws to keep serious sexual and violent offenders behind bars for longer, and placing greater emphasis on rehabilitation to better help offenders to turn their lives around and prevent further crimes”.

According to the government,

Measures include widening important laws which prevent adults in ‘positions of trust’ from engaging in sexual relationships with young people under the age of 18, bringing sports coaches and religious leaders in line with other occupations such as teachers and doctors. The move follows an extensive review which raised concerns that predators could exploit the particular influence these roles can often have in a young person’s life – making them vulnerable to abuse.

Meanwhile, new court orders will boost efforts to crack down on knife crime, as well as make it easier to stop and search those suspected of carrying a blade. New laws will also enable police to better tackle unauthorised encampments, and safely manage protests where they threaten public order or stop people from getting on with their daily lives.

The Bill will also enshrine a police covenant in law, strengthening the support received by serving and retired officers, staff and their families. In addition, maximum penalties will be doubled from 12 months to 2 years for those who assault police or other emergency workers, such as prison officers, fire personnel or frontline health workers, helping to protect those who put their lives on the line to keep communities safe.

Other sentencing reforms, first outlined in a landmark government white paper last year, will also be brought into legislation to ensure punishments fit the severity of crimes. These include whole life orders for child killers, with judges also allowed to impose this punishment on 18 to 20 year olds in exceptional cases — for example, acts of terrorism which cause mass loss of life. The bill also introduces life sentences for killer drivers who wreak havoc on our roads, ends the automatic halfway release for serious violent and sexual offenders, and ensures community sentences are stricter and better target underlying causes of crime such as mental health issues, alcohol or drug addiction.

Like all government bills, this will repay close attention. There are always things tucked away in the schedules that nobody was expecting.

Responding to the bill, David Lammy MP, Labour’s shadow justice secretary, said:

A decade of Conservative cuts and failed ideology has left us with a justice system that is failing victims of crime and creating endless cycles of re-offence.

The relatively light sentence Thomas Griffiths received after the horrific killing of Ellie Gould shows that some criminals deserve tougher sentences.

Labour will scrutinise the changes proposed in the bill to ensure they prioritise victims, as well as being proportionate, fair and rooted in evidence.

Meanwhile, my piece for the current edition of The Critic has now been published online. In it, I argue that the government’s plans to reform judicial review amount to a solution without a problem.