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2 Apr 2003 : Column 963continued
Hilary Benn: I echo the tributes paid to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) for the work that he and his colleagues do in general, and for the work they have done in respect of the Bill. I hope that he will feelif not now, by the end of my brief speechthat this is a dialogue worth having. It certainly is from the Government's point of view.
We did of course note the Select Committee's perception of a risk that onerous conditions might be allowed to run indefinitely. It is arguable that that risk is slight, for although there is currently no limit on the duration of police bail it is not the practice of the police to bail suspects indefinitely; typically, they are bailed to return to the station on a specified date a few weeks hence. I should add, for the benefit of the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) in particular, that the conditions can be imposed only with the suspect's consent. If the suspect does not want the conditions to be placed on him or her, it will fall to the police to charge the suspect and take him or her to court; it will then be for the magistrates to impose the conditions. That is an important safeguard. The conditions will be onerous only to the extent that the person concerned may be prepared to take them on as part of a conditional bail arrangement.
Notwithstanding what I have just said, the Government understand the reasons for the Select Committee's recommendation. We said in our response that we were considering it, and we are. We did not reject it, as was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South.
The limit most likely to be acceptable is a limit on the initial period of bail rather than on the duration of the conditions, renewable by the police after the suspect's return to the station. The specified period would need to be long enough to enable most cases to be determined without renewal. On the basis of charging pilots and discussions with the Crown Prosecution Service, it appears that, in most circumstances, a five-week period would be enough to enable charges to be brought. We have heard some debate about the appropriate length of
Mr. Mullin: I apologise if I have misrepresented the Government's position. We could argue about the number of days involved, but I want to know whether my hon. Friend is minded to impose a set perioda period renewable not at the discretion of the police but, if it must be renewed, at the discretion of the magistrates court.
Hilary Benn: The honest answer is that, as I have said, we are considering the point that my hon. Friend has put both in the Select Committee and in discussion. He has clearly had an effect, and I hope that on that basis he will not press his amendment.
The first safeguard that the Minister mentioned was the consent of the person concerned. Am I right in thinking that the alternative to the person's consent would be for that person to remain in custody? Need we take that into account in considering how much of a safeguard this is?
Hilary Benn: As the hon. Gentleman will know, the period for which the person could be detained is governed by the limits we discussed in the context of an earlier clause. We are not talking about periods of four or five weeks but about much shorter periods, which currently depend on whether an arrestable or a serious arrestable offence is involved.
I hope that Members on both sides of the House will take what I have said at face value. I have said that we are considering the point that has been put. Let me add for the sake of completeness that amendment No. 127, which is grouped with amendment No. 124 but has not been referred to directly, would enable a constable as well as the suspect to apply to a magistrates court for the varying of pre-charge bail conditions. That appears to be superfluous, as the custody officer may, with the suspect's consent, vary the conditions in any event.
The Minister says that his proposal would affect only defendants who consented, but we read in the newspapers about cases that have gone wrong, and cases at which the Appeal Court may have to look for a second time. In such cases the defendant's consent is often in doubt. The defendant may suffer from some mental incapacity, although not to the extent that the police officer granting bail at the time thought him
Mr. Garnier: I do not want to be rude, Madam Deputy Speaker, but this is quite a serious issue. The Minister has probably got the point by now, but I do not intervene just to delay the proceedings or to interfere with your rulings. I intervene because of a genuine concern not to waste everyone's time and money with Court of Appeal cases.
Hilary Benn: I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for raising that point. I will reflect on it in the context of what I have said, namely that the suspect's consent will be needed. I will reflect on his point about what constitutes consent.
It being two and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings, Madam Deputy Speaker, pursuant to Order [this day] proceeded to put the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour.
Amendment made: No. 71, in page 17, line 16, at end insert
'(5A) Subsection (5) does not apply to section 1 of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980 (c. 43).'[Hilary Benn.]
Amendment made: No. 94, in page 32, line 29, after 'jury', insert '(if there is one)'.[Hilary Benn.]
', and the court is satisfied that, despite the difficulties there may be in challenging the statement, it would not be contrary to the interests of justice for it to be admitted.'.
'and the court shall in no event admit such a statement if it is of the opinion that, if the statement were admitted, any conviction of the defendant would as a result be based wholly or substantially on statements not made in oral evidence in the proceedings'.
'only a statement by a person to whom the original statement was made is capable of admission in criminal proceedings as evidence of a matter stated in the original statement (so that a statement by B, but not A, may be admitted as evidence of the fact that C shot the deceased).'.
'not made in oral evidence in the proceedings'.
'(and, where the statement is tendered by the defence, of the impact of its exclusion on the fairness of the trial)'.