Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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Mr. Blunt: The point on which I sought elucidation from the Minister was exactly what people can expect if they receive a fixed penalty notice but do not pay it. Will the police and CPS then make a judgment about whether to bring the case to trial or will the process for enforcement be continued? I imagine that it is likely to be a matter of judgment by the police and prosecution authorities. Will the guidelines make clear to people on the receiving end of the process the point at which non-payment of a penalty turns into a trial, rather than enforcement proceedings to get the money for the fine and the penalty, which they presumably accepted by taking the notices?

Mr. Clarke: I hope that everyone is clear on the circumstances in which the fixed penalty notice is paid. I thought that we were discussing the choice of trial, on which it was said that there was a lack of clarity. I certainly feel clear about that choice and was trying to offer clarity on it. For the sake of argument, let us use the code of ``back to square one'', which was suggested by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire.

The third possibility is that the individual chooses to pay a fixed penalty notice, but does not pay the fine in accordance with his or her commitment to do so. At that point, clause 4(5) comes into play. It says:

    ``If, by the end of the...period—

    (a) the penalty has not been paid in accordance with this Chapter, and

    (b) A has not made a request to be tried,

    a sum equal to one and a half times the amount of the penalty may be registered under section 10 for enforcement against A as a fine.''

In those circumstances, a fine one and a half times the amount of the penalty is registered as a fine to be paid and collected in the normal way through a magistrates court.

Sir Nicholas Lyell: The Minister has answered two of the three questions, but has not clarified what one has to do to register a request to be tried. If one posts it on the 21st day and it arrives on the 22nd, is that good enough? The Bill does not set that out. It sets out a pretty good code in clause 9, but does not set one out for requesting to be tried in clauses 4, 5 or 7. Can the Minister clarify that?

Mr. Clarke: With respect to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, that is the sixth time that he has asked that question.

Sir Nicholas Lyell: And it has not been answered.

Mr. Clarke: It has been answered, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman unfortunately does not like the answer. There we are—I can say nothing further.

Mr. Hughes: On some of the fixed penalty notices that I have received, time has passed and I have been asked by written communication whether I had representations to make before a decision was taken. The Bill does not clarify the process between the end of the 21 days and a potential decision to prosecute as a result of normal criminal procedure. Will people be given the opportunity to make representations before a decision is made? In one case where I made representations, I got a nice letter back saying, ``In the light of what you have said, we will take no further action. Thanks very much. Good afternoon,'' for which I was grateful. Is that procedure included in the process and, if not, can we include it?

Mr. Clarke: I am aware that I am in danger of being impatient and I do not wish to be. Perhaps I am being stupid and not understanding the point, but the position is as clear as possible. The individual chooses the fixed penalty notice or opts for trial—

Mr. Gray: By what means?

Mr. Clarke: By the process set out in the Bill. That is now the seventh time that that question has been asked. The third option is that a fixed penalty notice is chosen but not paid. The Bill sets out fully the process for each of those circumstances, particularly in clauses 4 and 5, but also in clauses 7 and 9. If I am guilty of not having understood the point, I apologise and ask Opposition Members to explain it more clearly. If I am not, the position is clear and direct.

Mr. Blunt: I wanted to make it clear that I have understood what the Minister said in respect of my points on option 3, when someone accepts a notice but does not pay the penalty. Under clause 4(5) a fine not exceeding one and a half times the penalty may be registered against him. Under the Minister's argument, will that person not be liable for trial for that offence, but simply be pursued as a defaulter on the fine? By accepting the fixed penalty notice, will he be immune from being tried for that offence?

Mr. Clarke: The answer to that question is yes. As always, I turn to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, who is more experienced than I am in those matters. I am glad to report that he confirms that the answer is yes.

Sir Nicholas Lyell: At the risk of irritating the Minister—I assure him that it is not my intention—let me say that he has not been as clear as he would wish. We are discussing clause 5, but he rightly relates the question back to clause 4. I am concerned about the modalities of making it clear that one requests that the matter be tried. The Bill says only that

    ``Such a request must be made by a notice given by the manner specified in the penalty notice''.

The Minister has not told us any more than that, which is not good enough, because it is in precisely that area that problems will arise.

I will give the Minister an example, so that he may either concede that he has not thought the matter through properly—which I believe to be the truth—or provide an explanation of how the system would work in that example. Let us suppose that an officer gives me a penalty notice on the first of the month. On the 21st day of the month, I fill in the tear-off slip that accompanied the notice—the Minister has been reasonably clear about that aspect of the process—sign it, requesting that the matter be tried, and post it with a first-class stamp, so that it is delivered the following day: the 22nd day.

Have I made the request to be tried in time? The letter may not be delivered for a week, even though I have posted it by first-class post. If I am using the postal system, must I ensure that it is delivered within the 21 days—by paying for next-day delivery, for example? The matter is vague at this point. Will

    ``the manner specified in the penalty notice''

include an opportunity for me to go in person with the form and to hand it into a police station?

Those questions are simple. If the Minister has answered them before, he can draw my attention to Hansard and I will read it. However, I do not believe that he has.

Mr. Clarke: For the eighth time, I am asked the same question, but I will try to answer it as fully as I can.

First, under clause 4(3)(a), the

    ``request must be the manner specified in the penalty notice''.

Secondly, clause 3(3) details the form of the penalty notice. It states that the

    ``notice in the prescribed form...state the alleged offence...give such particulars of the circumstances alleged to constitute the offence as are necessary...specify the suspended enforcement period...state the amount of the penalty...state the justices' chief executive to whom, and the address at which, the penalty may be paid; and''—

this is the important point—

    ``inform the person to whom it is given of his right to ask to be tried for the alleged offence and explain how that right may be exercised''.

Clause 3(5) states clearly that the form of the notice will be established through regulations laid before the House in the conventional way. When the discussion began, I brandished—in the way referred to by the hon. Member for North Wiltshire—the tear-off slip of the fixed penalty notice that is currently used by the Metropolitan police for traffic offences. By giving that example, I tried to show how the system might work. That document contains a large amount of information on how to deal with that in the way that is specified.

The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire raised the question of the post and the 21 days that are allowed. He must be familiar with the fact that, in practice, further action is not taken on the 22nd day; leeway is built in to deal with the sort of eventuality that he described. That is how the court system in Britain is administered. In any case, an enforcement for court can set aside the fine and direct a trial in the interests of justice—someone may argue that the case has not been justly dealt with by other means.

Sir Nicholas Lyell: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Clarke: No, I am not going to give way again. I have already answered the question as many times as I can. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman thinks that what I have said is inadequate, he is entitled to his opinion and no doubt he will vote with the Liberal Democrats that the clause should not be part of the Bill. However, I have done my best to describe the process as clearly as I can for the whole Committee and for the right hon. and learned Gentleman in particular.

Mr. Heald: The Minister may have missed part of the point. Throughout the years, in all sorts of cases—civil and criminal cases—there have been problems over the service of documents, the giving of documents and what that means in terms of procedure. I give the example of the service of a summons, which is the service of a document. Rule 99(1) of the magistrates courts rules runs to the best part of a page and explains how the document could be served, making the requirements clear, so that there is no argument about it.

The point that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire is making is that, given the problems that can arise, what is the rule for the service of that particular request? It is not unreasonable to ask that question, given the many times that problems have arisen in that regard. The Minister may say, ``If the person posts it a day before the 21 days are up and he can prove he posted it then, that is good enough.'' I think that that is known as the postal rule. In civil cases, it does apply.

I cannot understand why the Minister is not able to answer that question. It comes up in every circumstance where a document must be served. His officials will be well apprised of the matter. He is sitting next to a lawyer from the Lord Chancellor's Department, who must come across the problem all the time. I am sure that he can give us a better answer and explain what will happen. What will the postal rule be in this situation?

6.45 pm

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