updated on 08 November 2023
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On 7 November 2023, King Charles III gave his first King’s Speech since becoming monarch, outlining 21 new proposed laws, including a Sentencing Bill, Criminal Justice Bill, and Victims and Prisoners Bill. However, Law Society President Nick Emmerson expressed disappointment in the government’s decision “not to invest in the justice system in its legislative agenda”.
Under the new Sentencing Bill, whole-life orders will be given to the most horrific murderers, “including for any murder involving sexual or sadistic conduct”, meaning these criminals will have less chance of being released and “life will truly mean life”. The Bar Council has said it’ll “give careful consideration” to these proposals, adding: “There is an obvious risk that when no credit can be achieved from a guilty plea, defendants who know that they have no defence will nevertheless insist on a trial, which means that their victims have to give evidence.”
The Criminal Justice Bill will provide judges with more powers to make criminals appear in court, with refusal to attend resulting in a further two years in prison. The government also revealed that through the Criminal Justice Bill it’ll “create a statutory aggravating factor at sentencing to make sure grooming gang members and their ring leaders receive the toughest possible sentence”. Under the bill, the police will also have the power to enter a premises without a warrant to recover stolen goods when they have reasonable proof that a stolen item is inside a property or premises.
Meanwhile, the Victims and Prisoners Bill aims to put victims at the heart of justice considerations, giving “ministers the power to stop the parole of the worst offenders” and prevent them from marrying in prison, and create new rights for crime victims.
However, the lack of attention and investment in the justice system itself has seen calls for the government to focus on fixing these issues “by investing in staff, judges and its buildings”. Emmerson described the long delays faced by victims and defendants in the courts as “unacceptable” and said that the Law Society was “disappointed” that there was nothing in the King’s Speech to “seriously address the crisis”.
In the same vein, Chair of the Bar Council Nick Vineall KC said: “The court system has suffered over a decade of underfunding and legal aid cuts have denied many people effective access to justice. Additional funding is urgently required both to ensure that the courts and justice system can adequately function and to enable the delivery of the draft legislation announced today.”
The Law Society also made calls for the government to prioritise reforms to the Mental Health Act.