Proceeds of Crime Bill

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The Chairman: Order. The hon. Lady is making an intervention, so I ask her to draw it to a close.

Mr. Grieve: Instead, I shall bring my remarks to a close, Mr. O'Brien, and allow the hon. Lady to say a few more words before I formally withdraw the amendment.

Vera Baird: Very gallant.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): Very sensible, too.

Vera Baird: Much more that than the former, I am sure. Thank you for that assistance with procedure, Mr. O'Brien.

I wonder whether the Government believe that they need the clause in addition to the provisions on perverting the course of justice because the provision applies to a civil recovery investigation, too, which is expressly not intended to involve criminal proceedings, and consequently might not fall so clearly within the ambit of perverting the course of justice. If that is the answer, I understand: the provision in the clause is for the avoidance of doubt. However, if that is not the reason, I suggest that duplication should be avoided if possible, and I ask why we need the clause in addition to the common law offence of perverting the course of justice.

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10.45 am

Mr. Ainsworth: I do not deny that there is some overlap between clauses 325 and 331. However, in such cases it is important to cover all eventualities. I shall investigate whether perverting the course of justice would cover all the circumstances now covered in clause 331, and I shall return to my hon. Friend as soon as possible.

Mr. Grieve: I am grateful to the hon. Lady. As we have considered the clause, other points have arisen. To pick up the comments of the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe), I might add that civil recovery has a slightly odd status that clearly does not constitute criminal proceedings—so a person would not prejudice a criminal investigation by his action. However, it is possible to pervert the course of justice in civil investigations. Indeed, a former Member of this House got into considerable difficulty and had to serve a term of imprisonment for doing precisely that. The offence is not confined to criminal investigation.

I hope that the Minister will take on board the points that have been made. For present purposes, and having highlighted those matters, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Grieve: I beg to move amendment No. 547, in page 192, line 39, leave out 'a view to' and insert 'the intention of'.

The clause raises the issue of exemption, and the question of legal professional privilege. A disclosure falls within the clause if it is a disclosure to

    ''a client of the professional legal adviser in connection with the giving by the adviser of legal advice''

    ''to any person in connection with legal proceedings or contemplated legal proceedings.''

The clause then uses a phrase that I do not remember having considered previously—

    ''with a view to furthering a criminal purpose.''

Before I allowed the issue to disappear completely, it occurred to me that although the word ''view'' has appeared previously in the Bill, it is slightly odd. What does ''with a view to'' doing something mean? Is not the word ''intention'' better? I accept that if we were to amend it in this case, for consistency's sake we would have to amend it in earlier instances in the Bill, but it suddenly struck me as I read the clause that I should ask about the phrase ''with a view to''. It troubles me slightly, because I am not 100 per cent. sure of the definition, and what it is designed to mean.

Mr. Hawkins: As my hon. Friend knows, I agree with him. Does he agree with me that if the Government and their advisers are persuaded by his argument and mine that it would be better to use a clearer phrase than ''with a view to'', nothing would prevent the Government from returning with a set of amendments on Report or in another place to ensure that the terminology is consistent throughout the Bill? Does he also agree that at every point in the Bill it

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would be far better to use words that are more familiar to the law, as we have repeatedly said in discussing other issues?

Mr. Grieve: As I said, there may be a good reason that I have not understood. However, when I read the Bill I suddenly saw something that struck me as slightly odd, which I may have missed on the several previous occasions that I read it. I just thought that I would highlight it and see what the Minister has to say.

Mr. Ainsworth: I think that I can help the hon. Gentleman. Worryingly, I also agree with the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins). Not only is the amendment acceptable, it is helpful. I ask the Committee to accept the amendment, and I undertake to look through the Bill and amend the wording wherever it arises to ensure consistency and accuracy.

Mr. Grieve: I am much obliged to the Minister. If he is happy, so am I.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 331, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 332

Judges

Mr. Grieve: I beg to move amendment No. 548, in page 193, line 17 leave out 'Circuit Judge' and insert

    'judge of the Crown Court.'.

I am so taken aback by the Minister's acceptance of amendment No. 547 that I have mislaid my notes.

Mr. Hawkins: May I help my hon. Friend by reminding him that this amendment deals with the distinction between a circuit judge and a judge of the Crown court?

Mr. Grieve: I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for his assistance.

Clause 332 says that applications in relation to a confiscation investigation must be made to a circuit judge. From our earlier debate, I understood that it was intended that the Crown court should deal with such matters. I accept that, as we said at an early stage of the proceedings, it is necessary for the judiciary who deal with the applications to be trained, because they may be unfamiliar with that area of the law.

However, by using the term ''Circuit Judge'', the Minister has missed an opportunity. First, there are likely to be recorders sitting in the Crown court who, by the nature of their practice, may have considerable expertise in that area. The consequence of the wording is that they would be deprived of the opportunity of sitting to hear and determine applications.

Secondly, on occasion High Court judges sit in the Crown court. We may not be certain how the judiciary will operate in criminal matters post-Auld, but they seem likely to continue along present lines. Red judges, who have gained considerable expertise in relevant fields before reaching the bench, will sometimes sit in the Crown court. Although their rulings and interpretations do not constitute case law, we know

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from Crown court experience that transcripts are often produced and freely circulated among practitioners. Such transcripts are of great assistance subsequently, especially if the judgment of the person making the ruling carries weight, and he is known to be knowledgeable in his field.

The amendment seeks to avoid depriving society of the possible input in the Crown court of individuals with something to offer. Might the Government accept the amendment, or reconsider the idea at a later stage? I seek to be helpful.

Mr. Hawkins: Does my hon. Friend agree that his point about including recorders is especially pertinent in connection with people known to members of the Committee? Labour Members have expressed concern about the use of solicitor recorders. One of the most distinguished of those is my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), who is involved in the debate now taking place in Westminster Hall, where he is leading the charge in the attack on the Government's failing policy on asylum seekers.

Mr. Grieve: Undoubtedly there will be recorders in the Crown court who have a great deal of experience and expertise in that area. It would be foolish to deprive ourselves of that. Listing officers in the Crown court are adept at assessing whether a person is competent or willing to hear an application in matters that are outside their normal discipline, and they will act accordingly. I cannot see that there is a huge problem, and there may well be considerable benefits.

Mr. Ainsworth: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments, but his stated intention would not be achieved by the amendment. Therefore I cannot accept it. It would require that all applications for the use of the powers in England and Wales in respect of confiscation and money laundering investigations, including applications to vary and discharge, made in open court.

I can state explicitly that applications may be made to a circuit judge in the Crown court in England and Wales, so that applications can be heard ex parte. There are otherwise no facilities for the Crown court to hear ex parte proceedings. That makes it easier to submit out-of-hours applications. The provision follows the precedent of provisions in the present confiscation legislation and in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Having said that, I am not sure that that is the hon. Gentleman's motive. I have asked whether we are restricting appropriate people who might be drawn in by a different form of words, and I am assured that the bread-and-butter work of the Crown court is carried out by circuit judges. That explains the reference to the circuit judge, both in previous legislation and in the Bill.

If the hon. Gentleman is referring to existing expertise, it may be worth considering whether it is appropriate to use it. If changing the wording will enable expertise to be used, I assure him that I will examine that point further. However, that would not be the effect of his amendment.

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Mr. Hawkins: The Minister is being enormously helpful to my hon. Friend and me in accepting the spirit of our intention. When making his analysis, will he accept that there is nothing unusual about recorders hearing ex parte matters in their chambers? It is commonplace for recorders—whether members of the Bar or solicitors—to have all sorts of discussions in chambers when a case requires. It would be a helpful use of what is known as ''judge power'', if the Minister allowed recorders to be included. Although he does not accept the precise way in which we wished to achieve that, perhaps, as he helpfully suggested, he will accept the spirit of the amendment.

 
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