Draft Terrorism Act

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The Chairman: Before I call the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) to speak for the Opposition, I remind the Committee that the maximum time allocated for this debate is two and a half hours.

10.45 am

Mr. John M. Taylor: That rather clips my wings, Mr. Winterton. As you dealt so carefully with the brackets, I should declare an interest as a solicitor (non-practising).

We shall not delay the Committee this morning. The order is the latest in a series of developments, some of which we have visited previously in Committee. I was satisfied with the Minister's answer when I intervened and to know that there is a good and substantial body of support for the code of practice in the various communities. The Minister was good enough to tell me informally at the margin of the Committee that he was not aware of any enduring objection and the Committee can be reassured by that.

The code of practice for the police is familiar to me as a restatement of many of the principles of PACE, involving important and established principles such as access to a solicitor for the defendant, the form of caution revisited, a clear statement of accessibility to interpreters for those with language difficulties, arrangements for blind people to be properly examined and considered, arrangements for juveniles, availability of medical treatment and so forth. Those are proper principles and those on the Conservative Front Bench support them.

On videos, the Minister touched on an important matter, which I shall develop briefly. Videos are often thought of as protection for the defendant, but are in fact every bit as important as protection for the interviewing officer. We are all worldly enough to know that it is not unknown for a defendant to allege at trial that he was interviewed in an intimidating or brow-beating way and the availability of a video record with simultaneous sound track may reveal convincingly, conclusively and decisively whether the atmosphere of the interview was fair. That is important and it has been a deficiency, until now, that the visual and sound records have had to be recorded independently. There is every reason why things might go wrong in such circumstances and simultaneous visual and sound recording is clearly an improvement.

Finally, the Minister said that it would be standard practice to retain videos for six years. I would add a note of caution, as I did when we dealt with a similar subject. I urge the Minister to reflect on whether the records should be kept for longer than six years because recent examinations of alleged miscarriages of justice have ranged significantly further back in time. At an early stage, one does not know whether such allegations may materialise into a serious inquiry. I urge the Minister to be cautious about the length of time for which the records are kept. Six years may sound long enough but, as a worldly solicitor for many years, I urge a longer period of retention. However, I shall certainly not divide the Committee on that.

10.49 am

Mr. Ingram: I am grateful to Opposition Members for giving me two hours and 10 minutes to reply to the debate. I shall try my best to stay within that time.

I thank the hon. Member for Solihull for his support for this important measure. We have discussed the Terrorism Act 2000 and other aspects of the way in which this corpus of law is played out.

The hon. Gentleman alighted on an especially important element of the order—that it is intended to protect not only those who are interviewed, but those who interview. Northern Ireland now has in place a unique and radical approach towards dealing with complaints against a serving police officer through the office of the ombudsman. That gives added protection to police officers in cases where people vicariously criticise what goes on in interviewing rooms. Those officers do a difficult job on our behalf.

The hon. Gentleman asked about keeping recordings for six years. It will be six years in the normal course of events, but the tapes may be retained for the same period of time as the sentence if it is longer than six years. If a matter arises in relation to the person in custody or other people who have been interviewed about certain crimes, the tapes could become important and have to be revisited by the police or others. The principle is not that they will be destroyed after six years, but that they will be retained for a guaranteed minimum of six years. That is consistent with normal criminal justice practices in PACE and elsewhere. The police, the defendant and/or the prosecution can seek the retention of the tapes for a longer period in certain given circumstances, as long as they can prove that their case is valid in law.

I was going to speak for another two hours, but I have decided not to do so. I commend the orders to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Code of Practice on Video Recording of Interviews) (Northern Ireland) Order 2001.

DRAFT TERRORISM ACT 2000 (CODE OF PRACTICE ON THE EXERCISE OF POLICE POWERS) (NORTHERN IRELAND) ORDER 2001

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Code of Practice on the Exercise of Police Powers) (Northern Ireland) Order 2001.

Committee rose at seven minutes to Eleven o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Winterton, Mr. Nicholas (Chairman)
Atherton, Ms
Cran, Mr.
Ellman, Mrs.
Gapes, Mr.
Ingram, Mr.
King, Mr. Andy
Love, Mr.
McIsaac, Shona
Maclean, Mr.
Pope, Mr.
Taylor, Mr. John M.
Wareing, Mr.
The following Member also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118:
Jackson, Helen (Warrington, North)

 
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Prepared 6 February 2001