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

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Simon Hughes: I am also happy to serve under you, Mr. Cran, for the first time in the ever-changing panoply of Committee Chairmen. I have no objection to the order, and my party will not vote against it. I shall be brief, but like the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) I want to ask the Minister a couple of questions.

The proposal is for a pilot scheme in which interviews will be conducted by police officers. I should like to ask a question supplementary to the one asked by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire. Presumably, it is still in the Government's mind that people who are not police officers will be able to conduct some or all interviews, although not in cases under the Terrorism Act 2000. I have no objection to that in principle, because it has always struck me that one of the things that does not require a police officer is the asking of questions. Many police forces around the world employ civilian, professional interviewers to carry out interviews. That does not mean to say that

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the police cannot manage, start, finish, check or add to interviews, but it seems to me that we could reasonably consider in due course delegating some interviews. I seek confirmation that, although the order concerns police officers and nothing that we authorise today will allow non-police officers to carry out interviews, that subject may come back on the agenda, but would require either primary or secondary legislation.

I support the move from handwritten manuscript transcripts, which were laboriously compiled, tedious and often inane, to audio and now video recording. During proceedings on the Terrorism Bill and other legislation, I said that the sooner we had video recording of all interviews the better. Provided that we can have confidence in the procedures, it seems by far the better system. It is less open to criticism and dispute later. Can we assume that audio recording is now universal in England and Wales? Have all interviews moved from paper to audio?

If the trial in the pilot areas works satisfactorily--assuming an 18-month trial from May and a six-month evaluation process--does the Minister have any idea how long it would take to roll out a video recording system throughout England and Wales? We need to think ahead, and plan for investment and technology. It is not a personal criticism, but the Home Office is not at its best when planning wonderful technology that works, and I would be grateful if the Minister thought about that now, rather than realising later on that the spools of the system were unrolling.

There is all the difference in the world between the video recording of interviews and the video recording of identity parades. I have taken part in identity parades, and I do not think that one can have as much confidence when looking at pictures or films of people, as one can when those people are seen in real life. A recording of what someone says can have authority and authenticity, whereas one is always very suspicious when looking at photographs or films of people that one is not seeing them as they really are. As somebody who has gone to an identity parade and picked someone out—satisfactorily as it happens, although I never heard what happened to the case, but that is another story—I hope that we do not regard the order as a precedent for replacing personal identity parades with video recordings. I do not think that the same rules apply, and I would like to put that on record.

An exemption from the rule that the name of the police officer carrying out the interview should be disclosed applies in terrorism cases, which is entirely understandable, or, as in paragraph 2.5(b),

    ''where the officer reasonably believes that recording or disclosing their name might put them in danger.''

I would like some reassurance that a senior office will take that decision. Although reasons would be noted in the book, as it were, and one could check them, I hope that the principle would be that the identity of the police officer is known and seen in non-terrorism cases. That is relevant when a case comes to trial. I would like to know whether it is the decision of the officer on the

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case or whether a higher officer can authorise exemption from disclosure of the name and identity of a police officer. I completely understand the explanation given in paragraph 2E. I am not arguing that the police should have to disclose their identity in all cases, even if personally threatened. However, I hope that we will work from the principle that identity should be disclosed unless senior officers authorise exemption from disclosure.

Paragraph 4.19 describes what will happen at the end of the interview:

    ''The suspect shall be handed a notice which explains the use which will be made of the recording . . . The notice will also advise the suspect that a copy of the tape shall be supplied as soon as practicable if the person is charged or informed that he will be prosecuted.''

What is the maximum time that the tape can be retained, and is it determined by the level of the prosecution? For an indictable offence, prosecution can be delayed indefinitely—one can prosecute for ever—but I believe that a year is still the maximum for a summary offence. How long does the authority last for hanging on to the tape? Of equal importance, if a decision is taken not to prosecute, can the person who has been interviewed ask for the master tape or have certainty that it will be destroyed? If the person is not charged or informed that they will be prosecuted, what happens to the tapes, which are not used after the interview?

My next question follows on from that. Often, many interviews take place but only one or some of them are used by the prosecution. The issue came up in the Damilola Taylor trial last week. At what stage do the defence and the suspect receive the tapes that are not used? For example, if six interviews are taped but only one is used by the prosecution, there are five interviews that do not form part of the prosecution case. What happens to the five tapes that the prosecution do not need? Are they kept or, at that moment, destroyed? Can the suspect or defendant, or their legal representative, obtain them?

We have a criminal justice system in which about 30 per cent. of adult males have criminal records: I have heard the Minister use that figure. We must ensure that tapes—not only of those who end up with criminal records but all the others who may get hauled in, which is a still bigger figure—are not stacked up in police stations for a rainy day when someone might do something. If a suspect is not charged or prosecuted, the slate should be wiped clean. There should be a common understanding of what happens to information, so that citizens do not feel that big brother or big sister—or the local version of it—is stacking up on shelves more and more videos of them. I would be grateful if the Minister would comment on that important point.

Subject to the Minister's answers to those questions, I am happy with the order. I am glad that the Minister said that the consultees did not find it controversial. It seems relatively straightforward, and I hope that we will speedily adopt video recordings as a general rule in England and Wales—and in Scotland and Northern

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Ireland, too. However, I hope that the Minister can reassure us on the civil liberty issues for people who are not prosecuted or found guilty.

4.53 pm

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: Mr. Cran, those of us who knew you in a previous life are cowering under your new power in the Chair. I am grateful for the general welcome that the Official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats have given to the proposals. I shall try to deal with all the questions that have been asked.

The detention officer will not necessarily be the same person as the custody officer. On the point that was made by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), there is no requirement in the code that the person conducting the interview must not be a civilian. However, they will be under the jurisdiction and guidance of the custody officer, who will be a police officer. Everything that goes on in the custody suite will come under the jurisdiction of the custody officer, who will be a member of the police force. He will lay down how interviews, and everything else that happens in the custody suite, are to be conducted.

The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire asked whether the interview would stop if the suspect refused to identify himself. It would not. In such instances, the fact that the interview was visually recorded might assist the prosecuting authorities. The video would show that the suspect was given the opportunity to identify himself and refused to do so. The exact circumstances in which he refused would be apparent, and could be shown in evidence. The interview would continue if identification was not given. That is what happens now, although currently video evidence is not made available to show the circumstances under which the suspect did not identify himself. That is one of the potential benefits of video equipment.

I was asked what happens when people want to go outside the formal interview system and the machinery is switched off. That happens in evidence giving, and the order will not change the measures and methods currently used. People sometimes want to divulge private information about, for example, informants or matters not relevant to the case. The order does not affect that. If something is said outside and off the record, and it is agreed that the interview should continue, there is no reason why it should not. If it is agreed that something should be excluded from the interview, it will be. The code does not change any of those arrangements. Indeed, as I have said, almost all the code is based on the audio code E, so it is just the method and the fact that video is available that has changed.

Civilians will be allowed to undertake interviews, albeit under the direction of the custody officer. Audio taping is mandatory and is available in all areas. Interviews are taped unless that is not practical--that is, the equipment is broken or unavailable. They are also not taped for certain terrorist offences. There are cases in which, under the Official Secrets Act 1911,

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taping does not have to occur. Otherwise, it is mandatory across the police service in England and Wales.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey asked how long it will take to roll out the system. I do not know whether he was singling the Home Office out for special treatment. It is difficult to give a commitment. There is a great desire to use such equipment, and some police forces are already using it with consent. If we do not get a central handle on the process and start to guide it, we will wind up with different systems and methodologies being developed in different forces the length and breadth of the country.

It is not possible for me to say how quickly we can provide the systems, as the hon. Gentleman knows. In the evaluation, we will consider not only the benefits the equipment will provide to the criminal justice system, but the equipment itself—costs, potential savings and so on. The evaluation will inform the decision on how quickly the equipment goes out. However, I fully accept the hon. Gentleman's point. If we sit back and do nothing until we get the evaluation, we might lose up to two years. If some pre-planning were possible, that would be highly desirable. However, I cannot pin myself down and say that if the measure proves to be as beneficial as we think it will, we will be able to get it in place within a specific time.

Will a senior officer authorise interviewing officers not to identify themselves? Yes, that must be done. The code shows clear circumstances in which that should be allowed. Most such circumstances involve terrorism, but others include cases of organised crime in which an interviewing officer might appropriately feel that if his identity were available, he, his family or a person associated with him could be put in real jeopardy. However, that individual should not take that decision, because the measure might be used in other circumstances. A senior officer must decide whether it is appropriate not to record the identity of the interviewing officer.

Hon. Members may have noticed that different configurations of the equipment will be available in the interview suite, and we may consider whether we video the interviewer in addition to the interviewee. In the Met area, there will be three separate cameras. One camera will give an overall view of the interview suite, one will show the full-frontal face of the interviewee, and a further camera will show that of the interviewer. We may examine whether that additional camera is appropriate and necessary, and whether it is of any use.

How long will it take before the tape is removed and what will be the disclosure procedure for defendants? Normally, during video recording, there will be simultaneous recording to allow the defendant's copy to be handed over there and then. Otherwise, the copy will be handed over as soon as is practicable after a request. The availability of the tape to the defence will be the same as to the prosecution. It may be used to ensure that justice prevails for both sides.

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What happens to tapes that are not used? It is likely that they would have been disclosed, but if they were not, they would come to the defence if a not guilty plea were entered under unused material procedures. There would be a secondary disclosure if the defence had not received a copy of the tapes at the appropriate time under the normal run-of-the-mill methodology.

I could not help but smile when the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey asked how long the tapes will be kept, because I thought of all the videos that my wife keeps stacking up in our study. I know that there is a serious point about potential damage to civil liberties, but when one thinks of the logistics of keeping these things, one realises that it is quite horrendous. ACPO keeps its tapes for six years in case decisions or the method used by the prosecution are challenged under civil proceedings.

Currently, fingerprints are kept indefinitely. I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman that we have taken a definitive decision on whether the tapes will be expunged, removed or will not be available after a specific time. I think that he is worried that the tapes might lie around for longer than the six years that are required, and that civil liberties could be infringed a long way down the road. I am not sure whether we have got to the bottom of that issue, but I give the hon. Gentleman a commitment that I shall get back to him and tell him our exact thoughts about what should happen after the six years that are required in case of a challenge. If we believe that tapes should be kept beyond that time, I shall give him the reasons.

 
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