HC Deb 13 March 2002 vol 381 cc1100-1W
Mr. Beggs

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to allow the courts to award stiffer sentences for persons convicted of assaulting pensioners. [38650]

Mr. Keith Bradley

The courts already have robust sentencing powers for offences of assault. The maximum penalty for causing grievous bodily harm or wounding with intent to cause such harm is life imprisonment. The maximum penalty for the offences of causing grievous bodily harm in the absence of intent to do so and the offence of assault occasioning actual bodily harm is five years' imprisonment. Common assault attracts a maximum penalty of six months' imprisonment.

Specific sentencing provisions for vulnerable groups would not only make criminal law more complex but contradict the important principle that the law is there to protect all members of our society. However, in passing sentence, the courts, as a matter of general principle, regard the fact that an offence has been committed against a vulnerable person as an aggravating factor that would ordinarily be persuasive of a more severe sentence.

There is no room for complacency. However, the Government are uncompromising in their response to serious and dangerous offenders. We believe that prison sentences must be as long as is necessary to punish and to protect the public. And where release eventually occurs, supervision must ensure that the risks are rigorously managed in the community for as long as necessary.

That is why we are looking seriously at the Halliday proposal for tougher determinate sentences for sex and violent offenders that will ensure they stay in prison, up to the full term if necessary, so long as they continue to present a risk of harm to our communities and that they are subject to strict and extended supervision on release.

We are also considering a requirement that where a life sentence is an option judges should not shy away from using it if the professional evidence shows that there is a clear risk that the offender will commit further sex offences. We want greater clarity and transparency, with indeterminate sentences given to serious offenders where appropriate.

The Government are also taking forward work to create a set of sentencing guidelines which are easily accessible and which command the respect of the judiciary, practitioners and the wider public.