Second Reading in House of Lords for Bill to amend Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974

Lord Ramsbotham’s Private Members’ Bill on amending the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 has today had its Second Reading in the House of Lords.

The Bill, which would shorten the rehabilitation periods that apply under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (ROA), proposes a number of changes. One of the most significant elements is that sentences of over 4 years in prison would become spent 4 years after the end of the full sentence.

You can read the debate or watch online (from 12:55).

Despite widespread support in the House, the Government responding by saying that they “do not consider that the proposals in the Bill are appropriate”.

Private Members’ Bills are rarely successful without support from Government.

The Bill will now move to Committee stage.

In closing the debate, Lord Ramsbotham said:

“I have to say that I am extremely disappointed by the Minister’s response. When I represented the Bill as having been in close contact with a number of organisations—particularly Unlock, of which I am president, which is the national association of ex-offenders and therefore in touch with the difficulties that they are experiencing day after day—they did not put their concerns about the Bill lightly.”

 

“What I am suggesting is that in the context of the White Paper, it would be sensible for the Government to look at all aspects of resettlement, including this one. My offer to the Minister is that all those who have raised problems on the outside are more than willing to take part in that process.”

 

“I intend to table amendments in Committee. In the interim, I hope that the Minister will reconsider his rejection of what is on offer, because the issue is far too serious to be let go with the prospect of annual Bills and annual making progress on small points.”

 

Extracts from the debate

Lord Ramsbotham

“I believe that it should be that no one released from prison should face a lifetime of disclosure, without the prospect of review”

 

“The 48-month spent limit should be removed, with determinate sentences of over four years becoming spent four years from the end of the sentence, as proposed by the Government in their 2003 response to Breaking the Circle. Those serving an indeterminate sentence should be given the opportunity to achieve rehabilitated status through a process of evidence submission to a criminal records tribunal administered by members of the judiciary. As an incentive to desist from crime, anyone recalled to prison would automatically have their disclosure period reset.”

 

“The Government should establish an effective system for identifying and stopping ineligible checks, which too many of the 4 million checks each year currently are.

 

“Any rehabilitation programme worth its salt should include a disclosure scheme devised specifically to assist the employment process. The ineffectiveness of the existing Act has been compounded by the many changes since 1974, including sentence inflation, that have shifted the way in which offenders are treated by the criminal justice system in both sentencing and rehabilitation, rendering it unfit for purpose.”

 

Lord McNally

“One of the things I am most proud of is Section 139 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. Unlock described it as positive but not perfect, and of course that is perfectly true. The fact is, though, that the reforms were as much as we could get our coalition partners to agree to.”

 

“The Taylor review is clear that we should develop a distinct approach to treating childhood offending. “Children first, offenders second”, is the mantra that Charlie Taylor advocated.”

 

“There is a strong case for following the logic of the Taylor report and the Government accepting the Carlile recommendation for the expungement of criminal records at attaining the age of 18, excluding homicide, serial sexual offences and other violent crime.”

 

Lord Carlile of Berriew

“If I have a slightly adverse comment about the Bill it is that, for my taste, it goes nothing like far enough. I do not believe that there is any really convincing evidence that using criminal records to prevent people obtaining perfectly ordinary jobs after a conviction that comes somewhere in the middle of the criminal calendar does anything other than send them back to prison. My view is that we should be very radical about these matters.”

 

“The Bill makes proportionate provisions that would make a significant, if not complete, contribution to people whose lives have started badly but whose potential can be unlocked.”

 

The Earl of Listowel

“The Bill is timely, at a time when the Prime Minister has recognised that so many people and families in this country have been left behind.”

 

Lord Dholakia

“More than 7,000 people a year are given sentences of over four years. At present they can never be rehabilitated for the purposes of the Act, however much they do to change their ways and over however long a period.”

 

“Unfair discrimination against ex-offenders is wrong in principle, because it imposes an additional illegitimate penalty of refusal of employment on people who have already served the judicially ordered punishment for their crime. It also reduces public safety, because an ex-offender’s risk of reoffending is reduced by between a third and a half if he or she gets and keeps a job.”

 

Lord Berkeley of Knighton

“Hope can be achieved in a number of ways, but certainly the ability to feel that a debt to society has been paid, to wipe clean a slate and to be rewarded by having an offence and sentence regarded as spent is a vital part of rehabilitation, especially in the young, whose youthful indiscretions might otherwise permanently blight adulthood.”

 

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville

“The existing Rehabilitation of Offenders Act provides no opportunity for an ex-offender’s sentence to be spent if a custodial sentence of four years or more is imposed. Although it is widely accepted that custodial sentences are reserved for more serious crimes, it must be said that many offenders in this category are left with little option when any hope of gaining employment is taken away from them.”

 

“Experience shows that the existing Act will not prevent the dishonest from lying to gain employment. However, it impedes the progress of those who could otherwise lead progressive and law-abiding lives, contributing to the economy through gainful employment.”

 

“We must also recognise that the entire notion of modern, balanced, restorative justice is built on the belief that an individual has the capacity to rehabilitate, to learn to make positive life choices and to become a productive, contributing member of society.”

 

“That Act is now completely inconsistent with contemporary sentencing practice. The result is that, far from allowing reformed individuals the second chance that is promised in the Act, its shortcomings leave many excluded from any prospect of rehabilitation and meaningful employment after they have completed their sentences.”

 

“For those serving sentences of over four years, convictions can never be spent. Individuals are therefore forced to live with the shadow of their convictions, through a lifetime of disclosure and without the prospect of review.”

 

The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Keen of Elie)

“The noble Lord’s Bill seeks to allow determinate custodial sentences of any length to become spent. I recognise that he would like the current legislation to go further by enabling determinate custodial sentences of any length to become spent, but the Government consider that the present amendments to the Act that came into force in 2014 achieve the correct balance between rehabilitation of offenders and public protection. This is a two-sided coin and these issues have to be balanced. We do not feel there is a case for the law to go further at this stage.”

 

“The Government understand the noble Lord’s concerns and we are, of course, committed to helping ex-offenders who wish to make a fresh start and put their criminal history behind them. We are desperately anxious to ensure that people do not simply leave the prison gate one day and return another. Despite this, we do not support the noble Lord’s Bill, given the reasons I have already outlined. I note the noble Lord’s views, I understand them and I would welcome the opportunity to engage further with him about how we can increase the support that is available to ex-offenders.”

 

“Since 2016, we have been running a campaign to encourage more businesses to provide training and work opportunities for offenders and ex-offenders. This has been carried out in close collaboration with the Department for Work and Pensions’ See Potential campaign. The present campaign emphasises the general advantage to society of securing employment for ex-offenders and thereby reducing reoffending and unemployment.”

 

Lord Ramsbotham

“I have to say that I am extremely disappointed by the Minister’s response. When I represented the Bill as having been in close contact with a number of organisations—particularly Unlock, of which I am president, which is the national association of ex-offenders and therefore in touch with the difficulties that they are experiencing day after day—they did not put their concerns about the Bill lightly.”

 

“What I am suggesting is that in the context of the White Paper, it would be sensible for the Government to look at all aspects of resettlement, including this one. My offer to the Minister is that all those who have raised problems on the outside are more than willing to take part in that process.”

 

“I intend to table amendments in Committee. In the interim, I hope that the Minister will reconsider his rejection of what is on offer, because the issue is far too serious to be let go with the prospect of annual Bills and annual making progress on small points.”

 

Written by Christopher Stacey, Co-director of Unlock

More information

  1. You can follow the progress of the Bill on the Parliament website.
  2. You can find out more information about our work to get further reform to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.
  3. There is practical information on how the law currently operates on our information site.
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