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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Codes of Practice) (Visual Recording of Interviews) Order 2002

Seventh Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Monday 29 April 2002

[Mr. James Cran in the Chair]

Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Codes of Practice) (Visual Recording of Interviews) Order 2002

4.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Codes of Practice) (Visual Recording of Interviews) Order 2002.

It is good to have you in the Chair, Mr. Cran. The order has been seen by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, and with the approval of this House and the other place, it will bring into effect the code of practice on the visual recording of police interviews with suspects in police stations. The order has been made in line with the powers conferred by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, and it cannot have effect until it is approved by resolution of each House.

Under section 66 of PACE, the Home Secretary has a duty to issue codes of practice to regulate the police in the exercise of their powers. There are currently five codes of practice. Code E sets out the procedures to be followed for the audio tape recording of interviews of suspected persons. By virtue of section 60A(1)(b) of PACE, the Home Secretary now has the power to require interviews to be visually recorded at police stations. However, at this stage that such interviews will be confined to a number of police stations to enable us to evaluate thoroughly the process before any decisions are taken about its wider application throughout the police forces in England and Wales.

If approved by both Houses, the effect of the order will be to bring the new code of practice into operation, so that it will be available for use and will regulate the manner in which the recording of interviews is to take place. The code does not, in itself, make the visual recording of interviews mandatory. A second order, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Visual Recording of Interviews) (Certain Police Areas) Order 2002, has been laid before Parliament. That order is subject to the negative resolution procedure, and will make interviews mandatory in the police stations that are participating in the pilot scheme.

In accordance with the provisions of section 67 of PACE, the Home Secretary has previously prepared and published a code of practice. He has considered representations made to him about the draft, and has modified it accordingly. The ''Code of Practice on visual recording with sound of interviews with suspects'' was laid before Parliament on 10 April. It ensures that the prerequisite to the pilot is in place, and

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that the procedures are applied consistently, fairly and openly throughout the police stations participating in the pilot scheme.

The code has been drafted in consultation with the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Crown Prosecution Service. Its provisions will govern the way in which interviews should be visually recorded. The code mirrors much of the existing code E for audio taping, as it is the medium by which the interview is recorded that we are seeking to evaluate, not the process of interviewing. The Law Society, the Criminal Bar Association and the Bar Council have all been consulted and have generally welcomed the proposal.

Part 2 of the code emphasises the need for the recording to be carried out openly and transparently to enable the suspect to have confidence in the impartiality and accuracy of the process. The scope of the interviews is to be recorded visually, as set out in part 3, which broadly follows the scope of interviews that are currently audio recorded. Additionally, we have included interviews with anyone who is deaf or speech impaired and requires sign language to communicate. The code also includes provision for emphasising the integrity and security of the process.

Our proposal has not been shown to be controversial. We want to facilitate a pilot that will enable us to undertake an evaluation of the visual recording of interviews with suspects, using both analogue video and CD digital technology. The aim of the pilot scheme is to establish the nature and extent of the benefits to the criminal justice process of visually recorded interviews compared with the present audio system.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): The Minister mentioned the process of consulting all people with an interest. Were any significant changes made to the draft code that Ministers sent out to that round of consultees some months ago?

Mr. Ainsworth: There were not many responses, and the overwhelming majority were in favour. No significant changes were needed as a result of the consultation process. From start to finish, the proposals have proved largely non-contentious.

In recent years, major strides have been made in video and digital technology, with an associated reduction in the cost of the equipment involved. A view is now developing, especially among those who have experience of video recording, that the recording of videos offers benefits above those of audio taping. In principle, video recorded interviews should offer an end to disputes in court about what actually happened during a police interview. However, without piloting the idea, we cannot be sure whether such benefits will be achieved in practice.

We propose to pilot the technique in three different police stations in each of the following force areas: Kent, Hampshire, West Mercia, the Metropolitan area and Essex. The pilots will last for 12 months, with an option to extend their duration to 18 months should further data be required to inform the

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evaluation report. The scheme will be managed by an interdepartmental steering group, including representatives of the Home Office, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Crown Prosecution Service. We shall also include the Criminal Bar Association and the Law Society in that steering group. The evaluation will be undertaken by an independent team from Goldsmiths college and the university of Kent.

We believe that the scheme could have considerable benefits for the wider criminal justice system. Suspects, the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts will all be involved in the evaluation of the scheme. I do not believe that the benefits are one-sided; in many circumstances, the defence could benefit as well as the prosecution. I commend the order to the House, and ask the Committee to approve it.

4.38 pm

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): I endorse the Minister's words of welcome to you, Mr. Cran. I am delighted to be serving under you this afternoon, albeit, I suspect, for a fairly short time.

I am grateful for the Minister's introduction and comments, especially his explanation of the order to allow pilot schemes in the five forces that he listed, made under the negative resolution procedure, which we are not debating, but which is just as relevant. I note that there is a preponderance of forces in the south-east in that list. Perhaps some thought should have been given to a better geographical spread. Although that is not of consequence to me personally, some forces elsewhere in the country may have wanted to be involved.

The Minister has already addressed the main point of my questions on the order, which are about the nature of the evaluation. He has described the steering group, the various people involved and how the evaluation will be carried out. I am grateful to him for that. The Opposition have no problems with the orders, or with the principle of using video recorders to record interviews. I hope that that will become widespread practice, although there may continue to be cases in which it is not applicable. Just as the use of audio tapes has become standard, I suspect that the same will happen to video recording.

Vastly more must be done to speed up the process of dealing with people under arrest and under caution in police stations, including when they are being interviewed. Only today, I heard from police officers that the process can take three, four or five hours, so the more that can be done on that front the better. The order is a minuscule, but welcome step.

I have three questions about the code for the Minister. The first relates to the reference to a custody officer in paragraph 3 of the code, and the use of the civilians in the custody suite. The Police Reform Bill passing through Parliament, on which we will spend some time during the next few weeks, will give civilians a range of police powers as detention officers, which is the term used in the Bill. Will a detention officer be the same as a custody officer in that a civilian will have the

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authority in the code of practice to deal with the authorisation of interviewing or not interviewing under video surveillance? Or will that authority remain purely with a police custody officer? Who will be in a position to authorise the non-recording of an interview?

My other questions relate to pages 8 and 9 of the code. Under paragraph 4.4(c), the officer is required, understandably, to

    ''ask the suspect and any other party present (e.g. his solicitor) to identify themselves.''

Can the Minister tell us what would happen if they refused to do so and ceased to co-operate? Would the interview and video recording continue?

The final question is probably the most tortuous—not that I am in the nature of asking such questions—and relates to paragraph 4.10, which states:

    ''If the suspect indicates that they wish to tell the interviewer about matters not directly connected with the offence of which they are suspected and that they are unwilling for these matters to be recorded, the suspect shall be given the opportunity to tell the interviewer about these matters after the conclusion of the formal interview.''

What happens then? What is the legal status of information that is given after the formal interview, but still given in the interview room? All the equipment will have been switched off. The question is raised, when is an interview not an interview, and when is a discussion not a discussion? We are anxious to ensure that we do not have many technicalities by which defence lawyers can, shall we say, delay or interfere with justice. It occurs to me that that paragraph, by suggesting that much of what will be said will take place after the interview and that that might not be recorded, provides scope for someone to be mischievous and cause trouble. To open up an opportunity for a discussion after the close of the full interview could give rise to problems at the court stage.

It will not come as a huge surprise to the Committee to learn that the massed ranks of the Opposition will not oppose the order, but I shall be grateful if the Minister would address those points.

4.44 pm

 
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