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

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Mr. Charles Clarke: I think that 10 points have been raised. I appreciate the spirit in which the hon. Members for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) and for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) raised their points. The hon. Member for Aylesbury asked me about the view of the police. They have been formally consulted and have formally given their view. They are happy with our proposals. The Association of Chief Police Officers considered and discussed them and expressed their full support. On his second point about an interpreter not being available, I draw his attention to section (e) of the code, entitled ``Interviews with the deaf or with those who do not understand English'', the main point of which states, at paragraph 4.12, that such a person

    must not be interviewed in the absence of an interpreter unless he agrees in writing to be interviewed without one or unless an officer of the rank of superintendent or above considers that delaying the interview would be likely:

    (a) to lead to interference with or harm to evidence connected with an offence or interference with or physical harm to other people;

    (b) to lead to the alerting of other people suspected of having committed an offence but not yet arrested for it; or

    (c) to hinder the recovery of property obtained in consequence of the commission of an offence.

    Questioning in these circumstances may not continue once sufficient information to avert the immediate risk has been obtained. A record shall be made of the grounds for any decision to interview a person under this paragraph


That provides the assurances that the hon. Gentleman seeks. It gives authority to an officer of the rank of superintendent or above. That officer would have to make a judgment in those circumstances, but reasons must be set out and a record made of his or her decision.

While I am at that section of the quote, I shall deal with the hon. Gentleman's penultimate point, which was about translation and interpretation. Paragraph 4.14 of the code states that

    Except where an officer of the rank of superintendent or above

—takes the actions that I have just described—

    a person must not be interviewed in the absence of a person capable of acting as interpreter if:

    (a) he has difficulty in understanding English;

    (b) the interviewing officer cannot understand the person's own language; and

    (c) the person wishes an interpreter to be present.

The following paragraph deals with some of those points. I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's point about interpretation, but the code of practice addresses that. It is an important part of the code. The Terrorism Act extended the conventional definitions of terrorism. As our exchanges showed, we are talking about international terrorism. Issues of interpretation could be important for particular organisations.

Both hon. Gentlemen made a practical point about whether we have adequate availability of interpreters to deal with the questions and the variety of languages that could be involved. I take that point extremely seriously. Both the police and the Government are determined to ensure that the problem does not arise.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey made his familiar point about statistics. As I am out of practice since serving on the Committee that considered the Terrorism Bill, I cannot guarantee that I can produce all the figures that he requested. I could not predict what the hon. Gentleman would say, but I shall write to him on that point.

The legislation enables video recording of terrorist interviews, as the hon. Gentleman said. Video recording with sound will be introduced in Northern Ireland on 19 February to replace the silent video system that is currently in place. The principle of introducing video recording in Great Britain is not in question; everyone agrees with it. I can formally confirm that it is Government policy to introduce recording by video. Issues of time and practicalities are being discussed. The aim is to resolve those before the practice is put into effect throughout Great Britain. There is a difference between the evidential value of audio recording and the safeguard of video recording. The hon. Gentleman is right to identify that policy issue and his point is well made. I hope that I have reassured him.

Section 1.2 of the code of practice, under the heading ``General'', states:

    The code must be readily available at all police stations for consultation by police officers, arrested or detained persons, members of the public, appropriate adults and solicitors.

That is a requirement of the code. The question that the hon. Gentleman is really asking is: what can we do to ensure that that requirement is properly met? We will highlight that point and organisations such as solicitors will be aware of it. In monitoring the Act's operation, we will ensure that the hon. Gentleman's point is addressed.

Mr. Simon Hughes: May I make a suggestion? Although language issues will occasionally be involved, good practice is followed in some places whereby the individual and his representatives are given something in writing that sets out the facilities and the code. If they do not understand English, they can at least ask what the document is and the problem is resolved in that way.

Mr. Clarke: That is true. I appreciate the suggestion and we will consider it.

I said that I would duck only one question today, but I am going to duck a second. The hon. Gentleman asked me to distinguish between the practices of the ordinary interview process and those of the terrorism process. I am not ducking the question entirely, because, as he is aware, we are reviewing the codes of practice under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and a number of changes are required. That is a broad review, which involves a public consultation and consideration by Parliament.

We have not tried to integrate that at this point because we are reviewing the PACE process. My understanding is that the PACE codes review exercise will not be completed until towards the end of the year. An opportunity must be found then to amend the audio code as appropriate and to consider the whole situation. If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for not answering his question now, I will write to him nearer the time, because that would be more appropriate. However, I am happy to have some research done to see if we can draw out the distinctions to help him, not so much in this context as in the wider debate about the PACE review.

Mr. Simon Hughes: That research may be able to be done much more quickly in relation to Scotland and particularly Northern Ireland. It would be especially useful for people in Northern Ireland to know the difference between normal procedure and Terrorism Act procedure.

Mr. Clarke: That is fine.

I shall not predict what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will do on places; he will make announcements in due course. Important debates are taking place about the future of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which is not within the remit of the Committee. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is being actively debated in Northern Ireland and elsewhere.

Gough holding centre is to be designated as the place of detention for terrorist suspects. Gough is the only remaining holding centre in Northern Ireland now that Castlereagh and Strand Road have closed. We intend that Gough should be closed as soon as is practicable and that terrorist suspects should be held in post-custody suites. To correct the terminology, we are talking about holding centres, not internment centres. I hope that that extra information is helpful, but I shall say no more about the matter today.

On the opportunity to read the code of practice, I dealt with that in my remarks about the contents of the code. I also dealt with translation and interpretation.

The hon. Gentleman's final point concerned the tape. I draw his attention to the first page of the annexe to the code of practice, which states, under the heading ``Arrangements to access the tape'':

    If you wish, you or your solicitor may listen to the audio recording by applying to the Police Officer in charge of the area or Police Commander for the area where this interview took place (in Northern Ireland, the District Commander).

The annexe goes on to state, under the heading ``Destruction of audio tapes'':

    You or your solicitor may be present to witness the destruction of the master tape. You will be notified of the date and time that the destruction of the master tape will take place.

That covers the points that were raised by the hon. Gentleman.

I have attempted to deal with the matters that hon. Members raised and I commend the order to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.


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

Committee rose at five minutes to Five o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:

Madel, Sir David (Chairman)
Ashton, Mr.
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Clarke, Mr. Charles
Davies, Mr. Geraint
Hall, Mr. Mike
Hughes, Mr. Simon
Lidington, Mr.
Rogers, Mr.
Shipley, Ms Debra
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Thomas, Mr. Gareth R.
Tynan, Mr. Bill

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