|Criminal Justice and Police Bill
Sir Nicholas Lyell: That means that one can contest the service by making a statutory declaration, which takes some time and trouble and is a normal safeguard for citizens. What is the point of ruling that out?
Mr. Lock: It is ruled out because, by definition, a person who has been served with a warning notice under clause 7 cannot simultaneously say that he was served with a warning notice and is therefore covered by the clause, but that he wants to swear a statutory declaration saying that he was not served a warning notice. The provision removes the possibility of a person's occupying two such contradictory positions.
Sir Nicholas Lyell: The Parliamentary Secretary is right to say that the circumstance in which the problem could arise is that in which a person receives a letter out of the blue saying that he has incurred a fine, and says that he knows nothing about it. Thanks to the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980, magistrates courts operate a sensible system that allows people to make a statutory declaration. It can be tested in court, but at least it provides an opportunity to contest the service. It would be wise to leave that option in the Bill. That would not hurt the Government. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to think again.
Mr. Lock: We shall have to disagree on that. An individual who claimed to know nothing about a notice could take advantage of section 14 of the 1980 Act. Nothing can stop him doing so unless he is a person against whom a warning notice has been served. Of course, the individual will say that he knows nothing about it, was not served with a summons, did not receive a warning notice and therefore wants the matter set aside. That is perfectly proper.
The object is to stop someone saying, ``I know nothing about the circumstances of this event. I accept that I was served with a warning notice, but I knew nothing about the trial.'' Those two positions are entirely inconsistent and the Government do not understand how anyone can simultaneously say that he was served with a warning notice telling him to turn up at Bedfordshire magistrates court on a certain date if he wished to contest proceedings, yet that he knows nothing about them; hence clause 7(7).
I have listened carefully and I understand the right hon. and learned Gentleman's argument. However, I do not think that the clause has the effect that he suggests because an individual will still be able to say that he was not served, and take advantage of section 14. That would apply only if the person had been served with a warning notice, or believed himself to have been.
Mr. Blunt: I thought that the Parliamentary Secretary said that the reason why we do not need to worry about the matter is that clause 12(5) says:
Mr. Lock: I think that the hon. Gentleman is concerned that if someone was served a warning notice and a fixed penalty notice and elected for trial but did not turn up for trial, the case could be heard in his absence. If a fine is imposed in absentia, clause 12 will not apply. It applies only for a fine registered under clause 11, when someone has not responded to a fixed penalty notice. I want to answer the question about what would happen if someone not only did not request a trial, but did not know anything about the proceedings that were under way. In such a case, a fixed penalty would not have been paid so a fine would be registered; the first time the person would know about it would be when the fine was enforced.
Mr. Hughes: In support of the argument by the hon. Member for Reigate, I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consider whether it would be easier to have a common processnamely, a summonsand whether that could be an alternative to the procedure under discussion. Could we have one common system for the period after the court process has been triggered? We may still vote against the clause, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman will consider that, and the Government might return to the issue later.
Mr. Lock: Hon. Members have raised many issues on the assumption that the procedure will be used frequently, but we do not anticipate that it will be. We expect it to be used on the occasions when the police and the courts anticipate an event that could lead to the offences in clause 1. For such situations, the police and courts may set a court date in advance to ensure that any problems at the event are dealt with promptly and in an organised way on a date when all the defendants involved can be brought before the court. If there are many defendants, the arrangements for the trial of the issues must be determined. It is right that there should be one occasion on which the issues of who is genuinely contesting the case, how the cases are to be tried and how the administrative procedure leading up to trial will proceed, are determined.
If the police anticipate that they will want to use those powers, they should be able to set a court date in advance, in co-operation with the justices, to anticipate the disposal of fixed penalty notice cases. The procedure will cut out the bureaucracy that would otherwise be involved, and ensure that all the defendants whose cases have common features are co-ordinated to meet on one date, regardless of when their requests for trial arrive. That is an administrative convenience for the authorities, and will enable justice to be done swiftly and properly.
If hon. Members disapprove of that suggestionI understand why they mightthey can vote against the clause. However, the Government believe that the police should have the option, in such unusual circumstances, to be able to anticipate the course of events so that they can police matters properly, and so that there is a clear procedure for serving a fixed penalty notice. The notice is not a challenge or a dare to individuals; it makes it clear, in a measured way, to people who have been served with a fixed penalty notice, that they have the right to contest the notice, and, if they wish to do so, it states, in advance, where their trials will be heard.
The procedure is straightforward. It will enable defendants and the police to know where they stand, and I hope that it will commend itself to the Committee, but if any Committee members do not like it, they can vote against it.
Mr. Heald: The procedure is hopelessly over-complicated. If notices are served at the same time, defendants who have not asked for a trial will turn up at court on what they think is their court date, and the problems outlined by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe) will arise.
I am sorry, but separate procedures for notifying people of their court dates are needed.
Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:
The Committee divided: Ayes 10, Noes 7.
Division No. 10]
Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
|©Parliamentary copyright 2001||Prepared 15 February 2001|