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Session 2000-01
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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Terrorism Act 2000 (Code of Practice on Audio Recording of Interviews) Order 2001

First Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Wednesday 10 January 2001

[Sir David Madel in the Chair]

Terrorism Act 2000 (Code of Practice on Audio Recording of Interviews) Order 2001

4.30 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the Terrorism Act 2000 (Code of Practice on Audio Recording of Interviews) Order 2001.

I welcome you, Sir David, to the Chair of the Committee. Members of the Committee had the joyful experience of working together on the Terrorism Bill during the previous Session. I think that the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) would agree that the proceedings were always conducted in a friendly and professional way. I am confident that we can continue that approach under your chairmanship, Sir David.

The purpose of the order is to bring into force the code of practice for the audio recording of terrorist interviews. Under paragraph 3 of schedule 8 to the Terrorism Act 2000, there is a requirement for the Secretary of State to issue a code of practice about the audio recording of interviews. Paragraph 3 refers to any interview in a police station by a constable of a person detained under schedule 7 or section 41 of the Act. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will in due course designate places at which persons may be detained under schedule 7 or section 41, a subject about which we had a fairly substantial debate in Committee.

By virtue of schedule 8, references to a police station in the schedule include anywhere designated as a place where somebody may be detained under section 41. The requirement is for an order to be made requiring the audio recording of interviews to which paragraph 3 applies in accordance with the code of practice. That will ensure that all such interviews are carried out in accordance with the code.

Audio recording has been a welcome protection in non-terrorist interviews for some time and was recommended by Lord Lloyd in his 1996 review of counter-terrorism legislation. It is already a requirement under the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 2000. Recording of terrorist interviews in England and Wales has been used on an administrative basis for a while. I emphasise that that is only on an administrative basis. For the first time, we have a UK-wide scheme that will regulate procedures and introduce a common standard in all four jurisdictions. We believe that the advantages of that—providing welcome protection for police and interviewee alike—far outweigh any disadvantages.

The code draws heavily on existing statutory audio recording provisions under code B of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and its equivalent in Northern Ireland. It covers key aspects of interviewing procedures, such those for interviewing the deaf or those who do not understand English, as well as objections and complaints procedures.

The code has been subject to consultation. A wide number of helpful suggestions have been received and the police in particular have made valuable contributions to the consultation exercise. A number of issues that were raised following the consultation strike at the heart of procedures that are applicable under PACE: for example, using police officers as interpreters and ensuring that the interviewee has an opportunity to read any written record of the interview.

I am delighted to bring the statutory instrument to the Committee. I hope that we will have an informed and positive discussion. I recommend that we accept the order to put in place the legislation that will enable audio recording to be used properly in interviewing terrorist suspects.

4.33 pm

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury): I am happy to join the Minister in welcoming you to the Chair, Sir David, for what I hope will be constructive and fairly brief proceedings this afternoon. As the Minister said, our discussions during the Committee stage of the Terrorism Bill, which became the Terrorism Act 2000, were characterised by a positive approach from hon. Members of all parties: Labour Members, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Ulster Unionists. During those proceedings I spoke with some caution about the introduction of audio recording.

When the practice of recording was made obligatory under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, an exemption was given for terrorist offences because of the fears of the police and others that the existence of audio tapes might make it easier for well-organised and ruthless terrorists to bring pressure to bear upon people whom they believed to be informers to the police and other statutory authorities.

Lord Lloyd carefully weighed those arguments in his review of terrorism legislation. His report struck a well-considered balance between the arguments that favoured the introduction of obligatory tape recording of terrorist interviews to protect the civil rights of detainees and of police officers in ensuring that they could prove that they had acted correctly during an interview; and the argument that audio recording might be a gift to terrorists. Lord Lloyd came down on the side of extending the obligation to conduct audio recordings to terrorist cases, largely on the grounds that the view of the police had changed over the years and that, as the Minister said, the police had in practice been operating a system of audio recording during terrorist interviews in advance of the new legislation.

I support the draft code of practice. I have two questions about matters of detail that I hope the Minister will be able to answer at the end of the debate or, if he cannot do so, in writing. The first is about the views of the police. Can the Minister confirm that the chief constables are satisfied with the terms of the code of practice following the consultation?

Secondly, the Minister drew attention to the provisions of the code of practice concerning the availability of interpreters for people whose language is not English and for people who are deaf and who might need assistance if they want to use sign language. I understand the arguments in favour of making such provision in the code. My question is: might there be a risk that the investigation of serious terrorist offences could be jeopardised if interpreters were not available? Under the Terrorism Act, the police can detain people only for a limited period. I presume that, if the interpreter is not available when he is required—it is sometimes difficult to get hold of the appropriate interpreter, especially if someone is detained overnight; it may therefore be a few hours before one is available—there is a risk that precious hours for the police to question a terrorist suspect could be lost. They would have to wait for an interpreter before questioning the terrorist suspect.

Apart from those questions of detail I am happy to support the proposal.

4.39 pm

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Sir David.

I support the proposal and I shall be brief. I wish only to elicit one or two facts and pieces of information as part of a commitment to the process. Like the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), I hope that, if the Minister does not have the answer to my questions at his fingertips, he will reply later in writing.

I do not recall having the information listed in Committee, but it would be useful to know how often over the past five years, powers of detention for the investigation and interview of terrorists were used under existing legislation. We should know the frequency. Looking forward, is it Government policy, as was agreed, although the technical difficulties were acknowledged, for all interviews to be conducted with both audio and video recording? It is widely accepted in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Northern Ireland and more broadly that there should be both.

A question was asked in the other place before Christmas and the answer appeared to confirm that audio and video recording would be contemporaneous. The quality of audio recording is regarded as better, so it is used for transcription. Will the Minister clarify whether it is Government policy to have both forms of recording? I regard that as good because it helps to avoid intimidation. It is helpful to be able to see that the interviewee is not being interfered with or unduly pressurised.

A statement at the beginning makes it clear that the code will be available at police stations and other places designated as police stations. That is fine in theory, but we all know that things can be available, but not publicly available, and that, often, they cannot be found when wanted. I request that available should mean available, so that people can know for sure that the rights of their families and friends are being looked after.

Will the Minister explain how the implementation of the code will ensure that the practice of interviewing people who have been detained under terrorism legislation is different from the practice conducted under ordinary legislation in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? The implication is that the procedure is different, but do not Police and Criminal Evidence Act provisions in England and Wales—I guess that similar provisions apply in Scotland and Northern Ireland—entail similar codes for interviews under normal circumstances? If there are differences, will the Minister explain what they are?

The Minister said that the Home Secretary would, shortly, but separately, announce which places were to be designated as police stations for the purpose of the order. I recall a debate in Committee about which places would be suitable in the Northern Ireland context. Internment centres such as the Maze are obviously being phased out. Can the Minister tell us which places in Northern Ireland other than police stations are likely to be used? I will understand if he says that we shall have to wait a week or so for a formal announcement from the Home Secretary.

There is always an opportunity for someone to read the transcript, to see and to hear the video and audio evidence, but will assistance be provided to people who cannot read? Huge numbers of prisoners either do not read at all or do not read well. I do not mean that we need a lawyer to interpret the evidence; it is just about the ability to go through it. When I was a lawyer, I frequently encountered people who said that they had signed a document, but did not understand what it meant. People must understand the words on documents that they sign.

A similar issue arises in the context of translation and interpretation. Every year since I was first elected, people have told me—particularly in the context of immigration and nationality issues—that they did not understand the question and did not answer it properly. It is important that people who speak no or poor English clearly understand the question before answering it. The code is fine as far as it goes, but we need good practice and a way of monitoring it.

Section 8 deals with the tapes and what happens at the end of the process. The draft states:

    At the conclusion of criminal proceedings, or in the event of a direction not to prosecute, the contents of a working copy of the tapes shall be completely erased. Such tapes should not be reissued for the purpose of recording interviews.

The master tapes will therefore be destroyed. What processes will ensure that the individual or his representatives are present at the destruction, so that they know that the tapes have been destroyed, or are able to see and to hear them before agreeing to their destruction? If I were representing someone as a lawyer or a Member of Parliament who had been arrested, interviewed, charged and acquitted, I would want to know that there was a way to ensure that material was not held that could be used properly or improperly by someone who got hold of it later. There must be an independent attestation of the tape destruction. Someone must be able to check afterwards. One can envisage claims against the police on such charges as false imprisonment. In such cases, access to the tapes might be needed after the proceedings were finished and, obviously, before they were destroyed. I am happy for tapes to be destroyed as long as the destruction is witnessed by the individual concerned. What guarantees exist for the individuals concerned before destruction of the tapes?

4.47 pm


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