Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Meston: I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, for suggesting that it would

24 Feb 1998 : Column 588

have been better to await the completion of the work by Sir Iain Glidewell, and also for articulating the concerns that underlay my amendment to the Government's amendment. I take some comfort from the fact that it appears the Law Officers are likely to receive, at least in draft, the conclusions of Sir Iain Glidewell's work before the Bill completes its passage through Parliament, if not its passage through this House, and that at least some consideration will be given to a further amendment of the proposed new clause.

I am also grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, for his unqualified statement of the risks of cutting costs in this particularly difficult area. I received some reassurance from the noble and learned Lord the Solicitor-General, who indicated that in practice there would be safeguards, and clearly this is only an enabling measure. But the fact that the DPP needs authority by statute to do what cannot be done at the moment does not mean that appropriate safeguards cannot be provided in some way on the face of the Bill.

The noble and learned Lord the Solicitor-General referred to the intended new Section 7A(3), which I referred to in my opening remarks. I do not find it very comforting. I am not wedded to the wording of my amendment to the Government amendment or to the 1990 Act analogy which, in any event, is to be reviewed. It may well be that a less sophisticated, more straightforward amendment is called for and I reserve my position at Report stage. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Amendment No. 212 agreed to.

5.30 p.m.

Clause 44 [Bail: increased powers to require security or impose conditions.]

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 213:


Page 34, line 10, leave out subsection (1).

The noble Lord said: I had some problems this morning trying to remember why I put down this amendment. Clause 44(1) refers to the Bail Act. When one considers that Act, the subsection appears not so soft as I originally thought because it deletes the words:


    "If it appears that he is unlikely to remain in Great Britain until the time appointed for him to surrender to custody".

That leaves Section 3(5) of the Act reading,


    "he may be required, before release on bail, to give security for his surrender to custody".

I want an explanation from the Government as to what precisely they are doing. Are they merely extending the ability to require security to everyone rather than just those who are unlikely to remain in Great Britain until the time appointed? In other words, is the use of that requirement to give security becoming more general? Or have I misunderstood it?

I would be grateful for an explanation from the noble Lord because it might assist me to work out why I put down this amendment and whether it serves any purpose. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: This is an amendment of great utility because it gives me the opportunity of

24 Feb 1998 : Column 589

confirming what the noble Lord has decided in his own mind. He is quite right. At the moment the courts have very limited powers to require a security--that is a sum of money or an item of value--against a defendant's surrender to custody in due time. The noble Lord is also right about those powers being limited to the belief of the court that the person granted bail is unlikely to remain in Great Britain. We want to extend that. It is anomalous that the powers are so limited. It is notorious that many cases are over-long delayed because bailed defendants simply do not bother to turn up on the due date. It is a constant feature and blemish, not least in magistrates' courts.

We want to remove the limitation to give the court the opportunity to exercise its discretion. The option available at the moment is limited in the way I have mentioned, as identified by the noble Lord, and this is a useful tool to ensure that justice runs smoothly, expeditiously and without delay. It is something that is within the discretion of the court; it is not an obligation on the court to insist on security in every case.

On the basis of that explanation, I hope that the noble Lord is content.

Lord Henley: I am absolutely content with the explanation given by the noble Lord. I apologise if I originally thought that the noble Lord and new Labour were going soft on these matters. I am grateful for the confirmation that we still have a very firm line emerging from head office. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Thomas of Gresford moved Amendment No. 214:


Page 34, line 14, leave out subsection (2).

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment is to give the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, another opportunity to explain what he has in mind by adding to Section 3(6) of the Bail Act a condition that the person bailed should attend for an interview with an authorised advocate or authorised litigator. Whether this is designed to drum up business for the legal profession I am not sure. It is extraordinary that it should be made a condition of bail that a person should attend to see his solicitor or counsel. I simply ask the noble Lord to explain. I beg to move.

Viscount Tenby: I was the only speaker during Second Reading to express reservations about an accused being obliged to seek legal advice as a condition of bail. I intimated that such a condition might impair the future relationship between an accused and his legal adviser.

Memory can play tricks, especially with one of advanced years. I thought that the noble and learned Lord, the Solicitor-General, with his usual courteousness and incisiveness, had calmed my fears but on returning to the Official Report today I find that that is not so and that he kept his own counsel on the point, probably quite rightly because in the intervening period

24 Feb 1998 : Column 590

I have come to think that my earlier fears were unfounded. I am sure that the Government team will not infer from this that lack of response on any point at Second Reading will always happily result in the matter going away and not being subsequently raised.

My change of heart lies principally in the fact that the Bill's preoccupation with reducing the time between the commission of an offence and the sentence is absolutely right. Provided that justice is not compromised in any way, relatively minor points should be subservient to that objective. Knowledge of a failure to secure legal advice would come not from a defence solicitor--who would not have been appointed at the time--but from inquiries by police or the justices' clerk. In such circumstances it is difficult to see how such a development would blight the future relationship between the defence and the client.

For that reason I do not support the amendment which has been hesitantly put by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. I apologise for what might appear to be a volte face between Second Reading and Committee.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The noble Viscount is right; he did raise this matter. We gave it consideration bearing in mind his experience and expertise.

The purpose of the provision is plain. Again, it is notorious that some defendants simply do not take legal advice, have an adjournment on bail and come to the next hearing and say, "I haven't been to see my solicitor." That is a device that everyone who has been to a magistrates' court is familiar with. I recognise that it is less of a feature in the Crown Court for different and obvious reasons.

What we are saying is that in some circumstances the charge against a defendant requires that he should be legally represented or at least legally advised, normally, of course, at public expense, and quite rightly too in appropriate cases. But a defendant often pays no attention to the fact that he also has obligations. If the state has an obligation to provide him with legal advice or legal representation, he has a corresponding obligation to take legal advice.

This is a perfectly simple scheme saying to a defendant that the court may say, "A condition of your bail is that you take legal advice and have legal representation before the next hearing, which will be in 28 days." That will deal with an obvious, well-known blemish on the system which leads to endless, unjustified delays.

As the noble Viscount pointed out, it is true that, if there is a failure, thereafter the defendant will be required to indicate when his bail term expires whether or not he has seen a solicitor. There is no sinister plot to enrich barristers, and certainly not any plot to enrich solicitors. It is just a device of practical utility which should commend itself, and I, for one, am heartened that the noble Viscount, with all his experience, sees the virtue of it. I hope that that explanation will satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation. It is the follow-through

24 Feb 1998 : Column 591

that concerns me; that is, if a person fails to see his solicitor or counsel, presumably his bail will be withdrawn and he will find himself locked up. I would find that an unhappy position in which to be, especially if one were then required to visit a disconsolate client who had just, perhaps through illness or for some other reason, failed to take the legal advice that was offered to him. I do not wish to press the amendment, and with that caveat I seek leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 44 agreed to.

Clause 45 [Use of live television links at preliminary hearings]:


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page