Yesterday (05/06/20), Tom Hunt, MP for Ipswich, made a speech during the third reading of the Sentencing Bill in which he called for criminal sentencing to be tougher, clearer, and more honest to build public confidence in the justice system.
Hunt welcomed this particular Sentencing Bill which will pave the way for complex sentencing law to be simplified. Currently the complexity of the law often leads to the justice process being drawn out and more successful appeals due to errors made by judges in sentencing. Hunt was clear that the greatest beneficiaries of this will be victims who are the ones who suffer the most from protracted court cases and confusion about what the law really says.
While Hunt welcomed this Bill as a step in the right direction, he was also clear that there is more work needed to be done to build up the public’s confidence in our sentencing regime.
Hunt said sentencing must be clearer across the board. He specifically raised the Court of Appeal’s decision to reduce the sentence of Kyreis Davies, one of the men convicted for the murder of Tavis Spencer-Aitkens in 2018, from a minimum of 21 years to just 16 years. In an emotional moment in the chamber, Hunt described how the opaque appeals process and the lenient result the judge had come to had left him and Tavis’s family confused and frustrated, and without a clear explanation of what had happened. Hunt said that while this Bill would make sentences easier to understand, a more comprehensive approach is needed across the whole justice system to make justice clearer to victims and the public.
In his speech, Hunt also emphasised the importance that sentences are honest and ‘do what they say on the tin’. Currently, many petty criminals are still let out automatically half-way through their sentences, undermining transparency in sentencing and the public’s faith in the justice system’s ability to deter crime. Hunt’s focus on more honest sentencing yesterday follows his readiness in the past to fight against any early release of prisoners. Last month, Hunt had indicated his readiness to rebel over Government plans which would have seen some prisoners released even earlier than the half-way point in their sentences. The plans were cancelled at the last minute.
Hunt’s third call in the Chamber for tougher and firmer sentences has been one of his focuses since his election. Just this week, Hunt was also at the heart of the campaign for tougher sentencing for pet theft, as he chaired a Zoom conference with the figures behind the campaign who launched a petition which is now before Parliament with well over 100,000 signatures.
Following his speech Hunt said:
“This Sentencing Bill is quite a technical piece of legislation but ultimately it will make sentences clearer for the public to understand and reduce the number of appeals and drawn out court cases which are so difficult for victims and their families.”
“This is undoubtedly welcome but it was important to make the point yesterday that we still have a long way to go in building up public confidence in our sentencing regime. I raised the appalling decision to reduce Kyreis Davies’s sentence for the murder of Tavis Spencer-Aitkens. For Tavis’s family this process has never been clear or accessible and they weren’t able to participate in it. I’ve written to Government about this but we are still no closer to understanding why this regrettable decision was made. Going forwards a more comprehensive look needs to be taken at transparency in our courts and putting the law back on the side of victims.
“It’s also crucial that sentences are honest and it’s no longer the norm that prisoners are let out before they have served their full sentence. The majority of the public can’t understand why sentences just don’t do what they say on the tin and prisoners walk free before serving their full debt to society. And there is of course I made the point that there is no substitute for tougher sentences. The sad reality is that when sentences are handed down now there is almost an expectation they will be too lenient and not represent an appropriate punishment nor an effective deterrent against further crime.
“Since my time as a candidate, I promised Ipswich residents I would push for more robust action on law and order, and I will continue to fight for tougher, clearer and more honest sentences in Parliament over the coming weeks.”
Disappointed to hear reports that the Government won’t be extending the free school meal voucher scheme over the summer holidays and I’ve written to the Minister for Children to raise my concerns.
These vouchers have been a real lifeline for families facing great hardship as schools have been closed during the Covid-19 pandemic. A decision to end this scheme too soon will hit Ipswich’s most vulnerable children the hardest and no child must go hungry because of Covid-19.
Hopefully the Government will reconsider this decision over the coming days and of course I’ll be raising this issue on the Education Committee and elsewhere to try to persuade the Government to change course.
A few months ago towards the beginning of the lockdown, a number of constituents got in touch to raise concerns that the measures in place at our borders to prevent more cases of Covid-19 coming into the country weren’t robust enough. I shared these concerns as 15,000 people were continuing to fly into the country every day while countries around the world had cancelled international travel or introduced strict quarantine measures for arrivals. That’s why I wrote to the Home Secretary at the time, urging her to implement stronger measures at our borders as soon as possible.
Since I wrote that letter on 20 April a considerable amount of time has passed but the Government now intends to introduce a 14-day quarantine for international arrivals due to start next week. Many of the arguments in favour of such a quarantine still stand and it’s important that all necessary steps are taken to protect against new imported cases of Covid-19 and ensure our infection rate can fall.
There are however a number of different factors to consider now given the time that has passed and the sense that the virus has started to recede slightly. Some other countries are beginning to look at loosening their restrictions and there have been concerns raised by the tourism and aviation sectors that the economic cost of introducing these measures now could outweigh the benefits. Some families in the UK may also be thinking about their own plans for the summer holidays and how this quarantine will affect them.
I would be interested to here what your views are on the Government’s plans for a quarantine. It’s disappointing that these plans weren’t brought in earlier but I’d like to know your views on them going ahead now. Please don’t hesitate to add a comment here or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know.
Tomorrow I will be leading discussing looking Pet Theft Reform. In total 117,453 people have signed a House of Commons petition calling for the Animal Welfare Act to be reformed to make pet theft a specific offence. Originally this was going to be a full Parliamentary debate but as a result of COVID-19 I will be leading a discussion with the creators of the petition instead, Dr Daniel Allen and Professor John Cooper QC and others. I have to say as a dog and cat lover this has really taken my interest and I think there is a strong case for giving this serious consideration. As it stands when someone is found guilty of a theft “monetary value” is the main determiner of the sentence that is issued.
What this would look to do is ensure that when Courts sentence they must consider the fear, alarm or distress to the pet and the owners. There is no way you could have put a monetary value on my old Springer Spaniel Lucy. I do think its right that we need tougher sentencing when it comes to those who engage in pet theft. The discussion will not be streamed live unfortunately but I will post the video afterwards.
I am glad that Government officials have been in contact with Australian officials to discuss how their “Operation Sovereign Borders” strategy worked which allowed them to successfully tackle illegal immigration. I know how important this issue is to many of my constituents and rest assured I am doing what I can both behind the scenes and in the House of Commons Chamber to ensure firm action is taken to halt the flow of illegal crossings we have witnessed recently. Essentially the Australian approach involved them adopting a zero tolerance to tackling “illegal maritime arrivals”. Law changes were introduced that enabled Australian authorities to intercept those attempting illegal crossings and to return them to their “Port of origin”. It does seem that we will also have to see some law changes here to allow firmer action to be taken. Ultimately it would be good if we had the powers necessary so we didn’t have to be so reliant on the French authorities to prevent the flow of illegal crossings across the English channel.
I know this is an issue that the Home Secretary Priti Patel is getting on top of but I agree that we need to see positive results as soon as possible. I will continue to make inquiries and will provide updates.