Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Macaulay of Bragar: I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation, but Section 15(1) of the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976 does not appear to cover the problem which we have in this Bill; nor does Section 31 cover it, in my view. It might lead to an interesting legal debate, but if you look at the interpretation clause of the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976, there is no definition of the licence holder apart from the words

That does not take us any further in terms of the amendment. The issues that were dealt with in Sections 15(1) and 31(1) of the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976 do not appear to meet the practical problem which has been raised, and I know it has been debated at length and no doubt will be debated again. But it seems to me, if I may say so, that this a very simple amendment which will make no difference to the progress of applications before the licensing board and, in fact, would introduce a degree of flexibility.

However, in keeping with the other amendments which have been put before the Committee, those interested in these matters, including your Lordships, will look with interest at what the Minister has said. In the meantime, with thanks to him for his explanation, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

26 Jun 1996 : Column 945

[Amendments Nos. 12 to 16 not moved.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment; Report received.

Criminal Procedure and Investigations Bill [H.L.]

3.48 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons amendments be now considered.

Moved, That the Commons amendments be now considered.--(Baroness Blatch.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

[The page and line refer to Bill (63) as first printed by the Commons.]


Clause 1, page 1, line 19, leave out paragraph (a) and insert--

'(aa) a person is charged with an indictable offence and he is committed for trial for the offence concerned,
(a) a person is charged with an indictable offence and proceedings for the trial of the person on the charge concerned are transferred to the Crown Court by virtue of a notice of transfer given under section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act 1987 (serious or complex fraud),
(ab) a person is charged with an indictable offence and proceedings for the trial of the person on the charge concerned are transferred to the Crown Court by virtue of a notice of transfer served on a magistrates' court under section 53 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 (certain cases involving children),'.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1. I wish also to speak to Amendments Nos. 8, 9, 50, 51, 58, 60 to 65, 72, 73, 89 and 90. Taken together, these amendments remove provisions in the Bill relating to transfer for trial and replace them with a modified procedure for committal proceedings. They also make a number of amendments to other legislation associated with these new provisions.

The transfer for trial scheme set out in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 was intended to improve the efficiency of moving cases into the Crown Court. Importantly, it was also intended to resolve the difficulties identified by the Royal Commission and others of vulnerable witnesses being exposed to the double ordeal of giving oral evidence and being cross-examined at committal proceedings as well as at the trial itself.

These aims and objectives are widely shared by all practitioners. The Government are committed to achieving them in a way that is effective and takes full account of the day-to-day operation of the criminal justice system and the experience of those working within it.

26 Jun 1996 : Column 946

The work on implementation of the transfer procedures highlights certain difficulties and complexities which suggested that the transfer scheme might not in practice offer the gains in efficiency that were originally envisaged. We have concluded that the two central objectives of improved efficiency and the protection of witnesses can be better achieved by a modified form of committals of the kind proposed by the Law Society and moved, though not pressed, by the noble Lords, Lord McIntosh of Haringey and Lord Williams of Mostyn, at Committee and Report stages of the Bill in this House.

The amendments that we are considering today are long and complex but many are necessary consequential amendments to existing legislation that flow from these changes that are made to the existing committal system. The key feature of the newly modified committal procedures is that only documentary evidence and exhibits tendered by the prosecution will be admissible.

When determining whether there is a case to answer, a magistrates' court will consider such evidence only together with representations by both parties. Crucially, no witness will be called to give evidence or to be cross-examined. As I said, that form of modified committals in based on the Law Society's proposal which commanded widespread support among all practitioners. It differs in only one significant respect.

The Law Society's proposal envisaged streamlining uncontested committals by allowing cases to proceed to the Crown Court for trial without the attendance of any parties at the magistrates' court at the discretion of the defence. In that respect, our system makes no change to the existing procedures for uncontested committals. We considered whether it would be possible to follow the Law Society's approach but concluded, albeit reluctantly and for reasons that I shall explain, that it would not.

To dispense with hearings in uncontested cases, we would need a complex administrative procedure in every case to ensure that the prosecution served the case on the defence and the court sufficiently in advance of the proceedings, to ensure that the defence informed the court of its decision not to contest the case and to ensure that the court sent notice to the defence that no hearing was required. That would give rise to some of the same difficulties which caused concern in the context of the transfer scheme.

In addition, even though a committal is uncontested, there may still be a need for a hearing: for example, where there is amendment, substitution or addition of charges, or where issues relating to bail need to be resolved. Unfortunately, it is impossible to identify in advance those cases where none of those would be necessary. If it were, the Law Society's proposal might have worked.

All of that led us to decide against making any procedural changes in this respect but to focus on the principal objective of excluding oral evidence in contested committals. The issue was considered during Committee in another place, when an amendment to give effect to that aspect of the Law Society's proposal was moved but was not pressed. No change was made to the modified committal proceedings as proposed by the Government.

26 Jun 1996 : Column 947

This new form of committals will involve minimal changes to existing practice and procedure. We believe that it will guarantee a scheme which will work and which has the confidence of practitioners. I hope that the House will agree that it will also achieve the goals that we all share: to improve efficiency in the courts and to give greater protection to witnesses. I beg to move.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1.--(Baroness Blatch.)

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I rise only to give a general welcome to the amendments and to the change of heart with regard to transfer of trial, which the Government have undergone. My noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn will speak to, although of course he cannot move at this stage, the manuscript amendments to Amendment No. 90 which the Minister has included in the group but has presumably not yet spoken to in detail. I hope that she will have an opportunity to respond to the points that he makes.

What the Government are now saying is very welcome. It contrasts rather strongly with what was said in this House and I am pleased to find that 90 per cent. of the points that we made in support of this form of reform of the transfer of trial have now been accepted by the Government. I listened carefully to what the Minister said about the other 10 per cent., the exception, and accept that she is right. It would not be possible to know in advance the circumstances in which that part of the Law Society's proposals would have taken effect and therefore it is better to do it in this form.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I speak, as my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey indicated, simply to manuscript Amendments Nos. 90A to 90F.

The Minister was good enough--I am most grateful for her helpful courtesy--to send, as it were, a briefing note to my noble friend and to me. In the briefing note relating to Amendment No. 90, there is an extremely important clause. It says:

    "the effect of the provisions contained in the schedule"--
that is Schedule 1, the subject of Amendment No. 90--

    "subject to suitable safeguards".
That is the important clause. The concern that we feel--it is shared by the Bar Council and the Criminal Bar Association--is that there are no suitable safeguards presently incorporated. Amendment No. 90, in the form of the schedule, deals with two distinct sets of circumstances. Paragraph 1 refers to statements and paragraph 2 refers to depositions. What is important about paragraph 1 is that by definition it refers to a written statement, which will not have been subject to cross-examination at the committal proceedings. It is well known that the form of a written statement in those circumstances very substantially depends on the person who took it. That is inevitable--it is not a criticism of any police officer who takes the statement and is simply the way life is.

The problem and the very deep concern that has been expressed, in particular by the Criminal Bar Association, is that there are no safeguards. If one looks at

26 Jun 1996 : Column 948

sub-paragraphs (1) (2) and (3) together, the net result is that, if a written statement has been admitted in committal proceedings, it may be read as evidence in the trial of the accused in the Crown Court before the jury in certain circumstances.

I do not deal with sub-paragraph (3)(a) because that is a technical matter of form. But sub-paragraphs (b) and (c) are very important. Sub-paragraph (3)(b) indicates that the court of trial at its discretion may order that sub-paragraph (2) shall not apply; in other words, exclude the evidence of the written statement.

Sub-paragraph (3)(c) gives the entitlement to a party to the proceedings to object. However, the judge may override that objection if--this is the only limit--he considers it to be in the interests of justice so to order.

There are two points there which I should mention. The right of objection is given to a party, that is, the prosecution and the defence has equal right of objection. But the fact is that it will virtually never--probably never--be a written statement on behalf of the defendant that is sought to be introduced. It will virtually always--probably always--be a written statement on behalf of the prosecution to which the defence objects. The curiosity is that sub-paragraph (3)(b) entrusts the court with a discretion--undescribed, unspecified. Sub-paragraph (4) directs the court to have regard to the interests of justice. That is a curious distinction which leaps from the page.

What I say about statements, of course, applies to depositions also. The purpose of these amendments is to try to redress the balance which will be unfairly tilted against the defendant. But one would have expected some safeguards to have been included: the kind of criteria that one finds in Sections 25 and 26 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. One would expect to find some categories--for instance, where a witness is dead, has been intimidated, is ill, or beyond the seas; that kind of witness. One fully understands that it may be legitimate to have the statement of such a witness given in evidence subject to the usual warning that a trial judge might give to the jury that the statement has not been cross-examined to.

It may be that the noble Baroness the Minister may be able to indicate quite clearly that the criteria in Sections 25 and 26 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 are intended to apply and that one will simply not have a bald discretion. After all, it is a fundamental principle of great validity and respectable antecedence that a defendant in a criminal trial is entitled to see his accuser.

These provisions are too draconian. They take away from the defendant the right to cross-examine; they take away from the jury the possibility of assessing a witness's demeanour. They may be necessary in some circumstances but the basis of my support of the amendments in the name of my noble friend is that one needs careful safeguards and one ought to limit that to specific and designated circumstances.

It is intended to be a helpful amendment in order that criminal trials, to be fair, should not only be expediently conducted from the point of view of the prosecution, complainants and witnesses for the prosecution, but

26 Jun 1996 : Column 949

should also maintain a proper balance when one puts into the scales the interests of the defendant in a fair trial.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page