Criminal justice will be at the heart of Rishi Sunak’s policy plans laid out on Tuesday in the annual King’s Speech that marks the opening of the next parliamentary session.
Other measures expected to be included are tighter restrictions on smoking, a mandate on oil and gas licenses and the banning of leasehold properties in what will be the first King’s Speech in 70 years – and likely the last before a general election.
Senior Tories believe that a focus on “bread and butter” Conservative issues, and delivering commitments made in Boris Johnson’s 2019 manifesto, will help Sunak as he seeks to overturn Labour’s opinion poll lead.
ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston on how critical is this King’s Speech
How does the government want to crack down on criminal justice?
Rishi Sunak’s plan promises tougher sentences for killers, rapists and grooming gang ringleaders.
It will deliver on already-announced proposals to mean killers convicted of the most horrific murders should expect whole life orders, meaning they will never be released, while rapists and other serious sexual offenders will not be let out early from prison sentences.
Other measures include giving police the power to enter a property without a warrant to seize stolen goods, such as phones, when they have reasonable proof that a specific stolen item is inside.
That could mean using a device’s own GPS tracking capability to lead police to where it had been stashed.
The new Criminal Justice Bill will include widely trailed measures to ensure reasonable force can be used to make offenders appear in the dock to face their victims for sentencing, or risk having up to two years added to their jail term.
It will also make being in a grooming gang an aggravating feature for sentencing, meaning tougher punishments for ringleaders and members.
The Sentencing Bill will mean a whole life order will be handed down in the worst cases of murder, with judges having discretion to impose a shorter tariff only in exceptional circumstances.
The legislation will also ensure that rapists and serious sexual offenders serve the whole of their sentence behind bars, without being released early on licence.
A Victims and Prisoners Bill will give ministers the power to block parole for the worst offenders and ban them from marrying in prison.
The Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill will update the legislation regulating the use of investigatory powers by the UK’s spies and law enforcement agencies to keep pace with changes in technology.
The promise of longer sentences comes as the prison system is under strain, with ministers forced to act last month to free up space by letting out some less serious offenders up to 18 days early.
The government has promised the largest prison building programme in 100 years, creating over 20,000 more places.
What other topics are expected to be covered in the speech?
- Leasehold reform – plans to “phase out” leaseholds which are set to include banning new leasehold houses so all new houses are freehold from the outset.
- Smoking – the King may introduce a law to stop children who turn 14 this year and those younger from ever legally buying cigarettes or tobacco in England.
- Oil and gas licences – the government plans to mandate annual oil and gas licensing in the North Sea.
- Football regulation – Plans for a new independent football regulator were confirmed in February, with the body set to have “targeted powers” to step in and resolve how money flows from the Premier League down the pyramid.
What is Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s stance?
With the general election expected in 2024, Sir Keir has branded the country unfixable under a Conservative government, because “they’ve already failed.”
“Britain is crying out for the long-term change that harnesses the ambition of our young people, the innovative drive of our businesses, and the ordinary hope and optimism that exists around every kitchen table,” he said.
“A government acting in the national interest would deliver a big build programme to kickstart growth in every region and begin to turn around 13 years of decline with a plan for a decade of national renewal.
“The Tories can’t fix the country because they’ve already failed. With a legacy of stagnant growth, sky-rocketing mortgages, soaring prices and crumbling schools and hospitals, Rishi Sunak admits the country needs to change; but this government cannot deliver it.
“The choice facing the country is between a changed Labour Party, hungry to change the country through an exciting programme of long-term reform, and a Tory Party with only gimmicks, division, and more of the same.”
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