Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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Mr. Blunt: I also want to voice my concerns. I presume that the matter under discussion will arise only in rare circumstances. Therefore, the rank should not be downgraded to inspector. The structure of a superintendent in charge of a division within the Metropolitan police, or a chief superintendent in charge of an area that aligns with a borough, is roughly duplicated throughout the rest of the country. On the rare occasions when, having arrested someone, the substantial step of keeping that person in isolation is taken, it would be appropriate for the commanding officer of the particular police division to be informed. I look forward to hearing whether the Minister can convince me otherwise.

Mr. Charles Clarke: I am slightly surprised by the anxieties that have been expressed. It is right to articulate the trade union anxieties of the Police Federation and inspectors council, and it is good to discuss them in Committee, but the proposal is an important development.

We favour more flexible and delayered management arrangements to place increased responsibility in the hands of police officers who are lower down the formal rank structure. We believe that that is characteristic of developments throughout public services, and it is a good way to proceed. We believe that allowing authorities to be granted by lower-ranking officers would speed up decision-making processes to the benefit of everyone involved.

Inspectors play a central management and command role in today's police service and already take on a wide range of PACE decisions. They are often the officers on the spot and are well placed to make decisions that may be urgent in an operational context.

We recognise that, as the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey said, it is important that decisions be made by officers of sufficient seniority to ensure that they are made on the basis of suitable knowledge, experience and authority. However, we believe that inspectors are likely to have a much more immediate knowledge of individual cases and will add that to the knowledge that they have acquired as inspectors, and the experience and authority that we believe puts them in an especially good position to make such decisions.

On the more general points about police numbers, there are significantly more inspectors than superintendents, which widens the ability to deal with the circumstances. Without returning to the party political badinage that goes on about the matter, police numbers in all forces are increasing after a long period of decline. However, I rest my argument not on that but on my belief that it is positively beneficial to have people of the rank of inspector—serious people—making key decisions with which they have the experience to deal and of which they know and understand the particular circumstances. We want to encourage and develop that trend throughout the police service to provide more flexibility in such aspects, as in other aspects of public service and life.

That is the reason behind the change. As I have said on several occasions, I understand the argument for a different, holistic approach, but I make the case that the best may be the enemy of the good.

Mr. Blunt: Will the Minister tell the Committee how often the procedure is used, so that we can have some idea of how often a superintendent will face such a request?

Mr. Clarke: Not often, as the hon. Gentleman implied earlier. The criteria for delay have not been changed. They relate only to serious arrestable offences and situations in which reasonable grounds exist for believing that notification would lead to interference with evidence or witnesses or alerting other suspects not yet arrested. He is right to say that we do not envisage authorisation being widespread or significant. Nothing in the Bill changes the criteria involved.

The hon. Gentleman's correct point does not devalue the importance of giving inspectors that authority. He mentioned in a rather commanding officer-type way that the superintendent should know what is being done in particular circumstances, which is correct. However, that is not the same as the superintendent doing it. Whether a commander of a London borough has such information relates to the force's management structures as much as simply specifying that everything must be referred to that level. I rest my case on the general proposition that to develop such experience at a wider range of responsibility levels in the force will be positively beneficial.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 73 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 74

Use of video links for proceedings about terrorism act detention

Mr. Heald: I beg to move amendment No. 255, in page 61, line 32, after `such', insert `secure'.

The Chairman: With this we may discuss the following amendments: No. 256, in page 61, line 43, after `persons', insert `throughout the hearing'.

No. 257, in page 61, line 44, at end insert `throughout the hearing'.

No. 258, in page 62, line 13, at end insert `; and—

    (c) it is not reasonably practicable in all the circumstances for the hearing to be conducted in the presence of the applicant to whom the application relates or of any legal representative of that person.'.

No. 259, in page 62, line 14, at beginning insert—

    `If a judicial authority gives a direction under sub-paragraph (4), it shall state its reaons for doing so when giving the direction; and'.

Mr. Heald: The clause allows video review of detention under the Terrorism Act 2000. Thanks to the Government's insistence on the point, a judicial process is now involved, rather than, as when we were in government, a Secretary of State's decision.

I understand that the Liberal Democrats' view is that we should simply leave out the clause. Our amendments make various points, some of which we have already discussed. The first relates to the introduction of the concept of secure links. Anxiety has been expressed that such video links should not be capable of being intercepted by people who are up to no good. I should be grateful for any further assurances that the Minister can give us on that.

Amendments Nos. 256 and 257 would ensure that the judicial authority would be able to see and hear those making representations throughout the hearing. It would try to ensure that we replicate, as far as possible, the conditions in a judicial hearing. If one is trying to have a judicial process, the matter should be dealt with in a judicial way.

Amendment No. 258 would introduce a ``not reasonably practicable'' test for such hearings, making them fall into line with clause 72. Why is there currently no such test? Is it because the Government are considering making video reviews of detention under the Terrorism Act 2000 routine in almost all cases rather than having a physical review of detention? Is it a major change of policy?

Amendment No. 259 would force the judicial authority to give its reasons for a video hearing. Presumably, there would be a reason for the hearing to be conducted by video, unless the practice is to become routine. Given that courts are forced to provide reasons even for granting bail, surely a serious matter such as this would require a reason.

The Liberals have been close to Liberty in their preparations for the Committee, so I will leave it to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey to make Liberty's points, but I believe that it has concerns about how the practice might work that should be aired at this stage.

Mr. Hughes: We support the amendments tabled by the Conservative party, which would improve the drafting. Some of them attempt to put in lay or ordinary terms some of the things that one would expect should one go down this road. All of them seek to ensure that there can be the greatest confidence in the process compatible with keeping the clause as a whole.

I declare an interest as the Member of Parliament for Liberty—its headquarters is based in my constituency, which is, after all, the centre of the world, as people have come to realise. I do not necessarily espouse all its views, but I am sympathetic to its work.

Mr. Clarke: A dramatic departure.

Mr. Hughes: Absolutely. I have been a member of Liberty in the past. I do not think that I am currently a paid-up member, although I will probably be told off after this debate for not being so. I assess on its merits each suggestion that Liberty makes, just as other colleagues would do. I have rejected some and supported others. The clause is questionable and requires either amendment or deletion for both procedural and substantial reasons. It is frustrating to spend time in Committee going through major legislation such as the Terrorism Act 2000, which has just become law, only to be amending that legislation two minutes later—two seconds in ``godspan'' time.

There used to be a ban in local government on returning to a matter within six months of its being debated. We ought to introduce a rule whereby Governments need a two-thirds majority of Parliament, or both Houses, to amend a piece of legislation that they introduced in the preceding five years. There ought to be a self-denying ordinance. Legislation would be improved if the Government were precluded from returning to it. In the context of double jeopardy, we have been discussing how dangerous it is for people to think that if they fail to get a conviction first time, they may get one second time round. Governments should ensure that they get the law right the first time. If the same party is in office, it should not be able to come back to the matter. That is my objection on a ground of procedure.

I object, too, on a ground of substance. We took the view, as the Minister was kind enough to acknowledge, that any decisions that needed to be taken about an important change of procedure should be taken by a judge, not by a member or representative of the Executive. Therefore, it is more acceptable for a judicial authority than for any other authority to decide that representations may be made by televised link under this insertion into schedule 8 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

12.45 pm

Has any decision been made by the European Court of Human Rights that a fair trial is possible by video link? I am not aware of one. If it does not exist, I am surprised that the Government can be confident that the provisions will pass the test. There is a great difference between a decision being made by someone who is physically present—just as you are sitting here, Mr. Gale—and a decision being made by someone who is not present, but available only at the end of a telecommunications link. I realise that we live in a changing world and that people increasingly use that methodology . However, I am not sure that it is appropriate for a prisoner or defendant to communicate in such a way with the police or judicial authority simply because it is appropriate for two people in two different companies who are discussing a merger, or two members of a family living in different countries.

As the Minister conceded in the debate on terrorism, we seek to use the methods to which I have referred only for important matters, in a small of minority of cases, under particular powers given to the police and authorities when someone is arrested for what is regarded as a terrorist offence under the Terrorist Act 2000. Therefore, we should be careful that we allow the person the opportunity to attend judicial proceedings.

Will the Minister consider the amendments positively and think about accepting them? Will he answer the specific questions that I have asked about previous court judgments and respond to the strong views about the compatibility of the measures with the fair trial provisions? Finally, will he tell us in what circumstances Ministers envisage that the measures will be used? The trouble with such legislation is that it may be drawn up for use only in exceptional circumstances, but that, once the power is on the statute book, it can be used all the time. Judicial authority is required, but the police could easily go to the authority frequently, just as they go to magistrates for other permission regularly.

We need to know about the safeguards and the court decisions that may be precedents and why the Government cannot allow the normal procedures to be followed, especially in important cases.

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