Sixth Standing Committee on
Tuesday 6 February 2001
[Mr. Nicholas Winterton in the Chair]
Draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Code of Practice on Video Recording of Interviews (Northern Ireland) Order 2001
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Ingram): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Code of Practice on Video Recording of Interviews) (Northern Ireland) Order 2001.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Code of Practice on the Exercise of Police Powers) (Northern Ireland) Order 2001.
Mr. Ingram: When you looked at me, Mr. Winterton, I was wondering what was going through your mind and whether you thought that I would want the two orders to be taken separately. That was not in my mind for a moment and I welcome the agreement to take the orders together because there is significant overlap between the two provisions.
As hon. Members will know, the Terrorism Act 2000 provides for police interviews to be video recorded with sound and for the video recording arrangements to be governed by a code of practice. The purpose of the Terrorism Act 2000 (Code of Practice on Video Recording of Interviews) Order is to bring into force a code of practice under the Terrorism Act 2000 governing the video recording with sound of interviews with terrorist suspects in Northern Ireland. The code was laid before the House on 15 January and the order to give effect to it is made under paragraph 4 of schedule 8 of the 2000 Act and was laid on 16 January[Interruption.]
The Chairman: Order. Members of the Committee should not pass between the Chairman and the Committee member who has the Floor.
Mr. John M. Taylor (Solihull): I apologise, Mr. Winterton.
The Chairman: I accept the apology.
Mr. Ingram: Debates have already taken place in both Houses on a separate order, which will require the police in Northern Ireland to conduct interviews in accordance with the code. Today, however, we are concerned with the order that gives effect to the code and the Committee will no doubt find it helpful if I outline some of the provisions of the code itself.
The code replaces an existing code of practice governing the silent video recording of interviews with terrorist suspects in Northern Ireland. The main difference is that the new code requires video recording with sound. This is a significant and positive development, which improves upon the existing silent video recording arrangements. Not least, it provides additional protection for both detainees and police interviewing officers against claims of unrecorded interviews or verbal abuse, intimidation and harassment, in a way that is consistent with our human rights obligations. The new code should, therefore, be welcomed.
The introduction of sound and vision recording of interviews with terrorist suspects is something that both the current and previous independent commissioners for the holding centres have long advocated. The development is also fully supported by the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland and the Government are pleased to be acting to put this measure in place.
Mr. John M. Taylor: It would be decisive for my colleagues if the Minister could tell us that the Chief Constable approved of the two measures--I believe that he has just said that--and, also, the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland. Conservative Members would regard that as conclusive and persuasive for our support this morning.
Mr. Ingram: I am grateful for that intervention, because it is important that all aspects of the criminal justice process in Northern Ireland are satisfied with the provision. I confirm that the Chief Constable is satisfied and supports the measure, as does the Lord Chief Justice.
The draft code sets out a range of requirements that must apply when interviews with terrorist suspects are video recorded. The code also contains guidance for police officers and others on its application and interpretation. The information contained in it is detailed and comprehensive and is presented under nine main headings: general, obligation to video record interviews, objections by the detained person, requirements relating to video recording, the interview, after the interview, master tape security and access, copying of master tapes, and master tape destruction. It is also important to say that, before defining the code, the Government undertook extensive consultation on the draft and some changes were made in consequence.
When the Secretary of State wishes to introduce video recording with sound, he is required under paragraph 4(2) of schedule 8 of the Terrorism Act 2000 to publish the code in draft and to consider any comments made. The publication of the draft code was announced on Monday 6 November. The code was sent to a wide range of interested organisations and was made available on the website of the Northern Ireland Office. An eight-week consultation period followed, which ended on 29 December. A number of useful comments were received and I am pleased to announce that the code has been modified to incorporate those suggestions.
Notablyin paragraph 1.1the code will be made available in braille and large print format and on audio cassette. Paragraph 3.4 now advises that when a person wishes to discuss matters unconnected with the investigation, the police should, where practicable, seek a medical opinion if they have concerns about an individual's capacity to elect for that discussion to be unrecorded. Paragraph 9.2 has been redrafted to make it clear that all tapes must be kept for at least six years. Some tapes will be kept for longer periodsfor example, when an individual's prison sentence exceeds six years. In addition, the language of the code has been made gender neutral.
As required under section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, I confirm that an assessment of the impact of this code has been carried out. I am satisfied that the new code contains sufficient safeguard provisions to avoid an adverse impact on any of the nine equality groups in the Northern Ireland Office's equality scheme. Those are: religious belief, political opinion, racial or ethnic group, men and women, marital status, age, persons with a disability, persons with dependants and sexual orientation.
On the police code, section 99 of the Terrorism Act 2000 provides for the exercise of police powers to be covered by a code of practice. The purpose of the Terrorism Act 2000 (Code of Practice on the Exercise of Police Powers)(Northern Ireland) Order is to bring into force the code of practice under the 2000 Act governing the detention, treatment and questioning of detained persons and the identification of persons by police officers in relation to terrorist suspects in Northern Ireland. The code was laid before the House on 15 January and the order to give effect to it is made under paragraph 101(4) of the 2000 Act and was laid on 16 January.
As with the video order and code, the Committee will no doubt find it helpful if I outline some of the main provisions of the police code. It will apply to the police in Northern Ireland only and replaces the code that is in force under section 61 of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1996. The new code is modelled as closely as possible on the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 codes of practice, but we have made improvements to the original draft in the light of helpful responses from the public consultation exercise. The close alignment to the PACE codes is a positive development that improves upon existing arrangements. The Committee will note that a major Home Office review of the PACE codes is planned and, in the light of that review, additional changes to this code may be needed in due course because the examination by the Home Office of its approach to the matter may have an impact.
The code is in two parts. Part I covers the detention, treatment and questioning of detained persons and applies to an interview or any part of an interview carried out by a police officer of a person detained under section 41 or schedule 7 of the 2000 Act after midnight on 18 February 2001 when the interview takes place in a police station.
Part II covers the identification of persons by police officers, and applies to any identification carried out by a police officer at a police station of a person detained under section 41 or schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 after midnight on 18 February 2001. The code is extremely detailed and comprehensive and contains thorough guidance for police officers and others on its application and interpretation. It features significant safeguards throughout, and does so in a way that is consistent with our human rights obligations. The new code should therefore be welcomed.
The safeguards that the code will provide include explanation of the detainee's rights by the custody officer, setting out the arrangements for access to medical attention, and ensuring that the need for detention is subject to regular review. A further and important new safeguard is the positive development of the right to legal advice, which is included in part 1, section 6 of the new code. The 2000 Act ensures that the same access to solicitors arrangements will apply across the UK. Under paragraph 6.7 of that section, solicitors are permitted to be present during police interviewing of terrorist suspects. It is significant that the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary has already introduced this measure with effect from 29 September 2000.
The Committee will also want me to outline the extent of the consultation that has taken place. Again, where the Secretary of State wishes to introduce a code of practice under section 99, he is required under section 101 of the 2000 Act to publish the code in draft and to consider any comments. Publication of the draft code was announced on Monday 30 October. It was sent to a wide range of interested organisations and posted on the Northern Ireland Office website. An eight-week consultation period followed, which ended on 22 December.
There were eight substantive responses to the code, covering a wide range of issues. The comments were grouped into subject areas, as some were incompatible with others. My officials then sought to bring some sense to the plethora of comments. In all, 96 groups of issues were identified, and some 38 substantive amendments were made. The code will also be available in braille, large print and audio cassette, and the language has been made gender neutral.
Further amendments may be made to the code. Some submissions raised issues that, in essence, read across to PACE. As I said, the PACE codes are due to be reviewed and a number of comments on this code will be reconsidered in the light of that review. For example, the appropriate adult arrangements in this code were commented on, and they will have to be revisited in due course. In addition, the Committee will wish to note that it will be necessary to add a new caution to reflect the European convention on human rights judgments in the cases of Murray, Averill and Magee, along with a caution in respect of section 109 of the 2000 Act. Once defined and approved, the new caution will reflect the Murray, Averill and Magee judgments, and it is likely to be a key feature of the PACE codes review.
As required under section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, I can confirm that the impact of the new code has been assessed. I am satisfied that it contains sufficient safeguards to avoid an adverse impact on any of the nine equality groups to which I referred.
As the Committee will know from previous debates on this subject, the Government's aim is to ensure that the treatment of persons detained in police custody in connection with terrorist crime is fair, professional, transparent and accountable. We also want proper safeguards to protect the police from unjustified complaints. The new codes of practice are key to achieving those two objectives. The range of safeguards in the codes demonstrates that the Government continue to attach the greatest importance to the protection of everyone's rights, including the rights of those in police custody. I commend the draft orders to the Committee.