Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Terrorism Act 2000 (Code of Practice on Audio Recording of Interviews) Order 2001

2.39 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 18th December be approved [2nd Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Code of Practice on Audio Recording of Interviews) Order 2001 be approved. The purpose of this order is to bring into force the UK-wide code of practice under the Terrorism Act 2000 for the audio recording of terrorist interviews which was laid before this House on 14th December. Under paragraph 3 of Schedule 8 to the Act there is a requirement for the Secretary of State to issue a code of practice about the audio recording of interviews to which that paragraph refers; that is, any interview by a constable of a person detained under Schedule 7 ports powers or Section 41 of the Act, if the interview takes place in a police station.

There is a requirement also for an order to be made under paragraph 3 of Schedule 8 requiring the audio recording of interviews, to which the paragraph refers, in accordance with the code of practice. We propose to make that order in due course, which will ensure that all interviews in a police station by a constable of those detained under Section 41 or Schedule 7 to the Act are carried out in accordance with the code of practice before us.

However, today we are required to deal with the code of practice itself. Your Lordships will be aware that audio recording in respect of non-terrorist interviews has been a welcome protection for police and suspect alike for some time. Indeed, it is already a requirement in terrorism cases in Northern Ireland under the Emergency Provisions Act. Furthermore, police in England and Wales have been audio-recording interviews with terrorist suspects for a while on an administrative basis, aware of the advantages

19 Jan 2001 : Column 1360

attached. I understand that this is also the practice in Scotland. Consequently, many forces are already persuaded of the benefits of taping such interviews. But, for the first time, this code will set procedures that will apply across the whole of the United Kingdom, introducing common standards and harmonising the audio recording process. Noble Lords may recall that audio recording is a measure commended by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, in his 1996 review of counter-terrorism legislation. I am happy today to confirm that we believe it will be a welcome step forward.

As your Lordships might expect, the code is based very much on existing audio recording provisions and practice in non-terrorist cases; that is, PACE Code E in England and Wales and its equivalent in Northern Ireland. It is right to look at those procedures for guidance. While the need for separate counter-terrorism legislation suggests that there will be occasions when the nature of the offence is such that powers additional to those available to the police to fight crime generally are needed, we see no reason why procedures for audio recording cannot follow closely the PACE model.

Like that model, the audio code under the Terrorism Act covers key aspects of interviewing procedures, including the recording and sealing of master tapes; interviews with the deaf or with those who do not understand English; objections and complaints procedures; tape security and tape destruction; and procedures that cover from beginning to end the interview process. The code has at its annex a notice for those whose interview is audio-recorded under the Act, setting out important information such as the use to which the audio recording will be made; arrangements to access the tape; and the supplying of copies and advice on retention and destruction, which is the sort of information we believe will be of particular interest to suspects.

Your Lordships will be aware that this code has been the subject of consultation with the police and others--public consultation is indeed a requirement under the Act--resulting in a number of helpful and valuable contributions and suggestions. Inevitably, perhaps, given that the code of practice has as its basis procedures under PACE, a number of those contributions raised issues essentially about PACE. Two examples were highlighted during the debate on this order in another place last week--using interpreters as police officers, and ensuring that the examinee had the opportunity to read any written record of interview. As noble Lords will be aware, the codes of practice under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 are under review as we speak. That review will not be completed until later this year. Comments and representations on the audio code under the Terrorism Act, such as those to which I have just referred, have therefore been fed into the PACE exercise for careful consideration. We would look to carry across, as appropriate, to an updated audio code of practice any changes to the PACE codes made as a consequence of that exercise.

19 Jan 2001 : Column 1361

In conclusion, I repeat our belief that this code introduces welcome safeguards in the procedures for interviewing those detained under the Terrorism Act and, therefore, in the fight against terrorism across the United Kingdom. For those and many other reasons, I commend the order to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, that the draft order laid before the House on 18th December be approved [2nd Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

2.45 p.m.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his presentation of the order. I am advised by my honourable friends in another place that when the matter was discussed there they were satisfied by the answers given by the Minister of State in response to a number of points that they raised. I therefore have pleasure in supporting the order.

Lord McNally: My Lords, I echo the noble Lord's support for the order, although I may take a little longer in doing so. As the Minister indicated, audio recording is now an accepted part of police procedures throughout the United Kingdom and is now a standard part of almost every police television programme. Most of us are familiar with the interruption of the audio recording by someone coming in and Inspector Frost having to say that the recording was interrupted at such and such a time. People understand audio recording and welcome it.

In terms of terrorism legislation and legislation more widely, fears were expressed that there would be tampering, doctoring or misuse. Fears were also expressed that in terrorist investigations audio recording might make police or witnesses vulnerable to later pressures because evidence was on tape. But it seems that fears that were dealt with in consultation have been allayed. The police remain supportive of the legislation and it is also important that the code is now in line with legislation applying in other parts of the United Kingdom.

When we write into our legislation protections which seem to be there for the benefit of the accused, there are those who suggest that we are going soft on terrorism. On the contrary, it is our concern for preserving a common system of justice which is our defiance of terrorists. The more that we can make practices in Northern Ireland compatible with and parallel to those in the rest of the United Kingdom, the more we are showing our defiance of terrorism.

I wish to ask two questions which are genuinely in search of elucidation. Are there plans to bring in at some stage the video recording of evidence? Will that need a separate order or is it already covered?

I have taken a little longer in probing because of what I read in an article on secondary legislation in the Guardian today. The article showed that 2,000 statutory instruments were passed in 1980 and that nearly 3,500 were passed last year. Secondary legislation is important. Often it gives significant powers to authorities in terms of the rights and

19 Jan 2001 : Column 1362

liberties of the citizen. Therefore, it is incumbent on both Houses to ensure that secondary legislation does not go through simply on the nod. However, as the noble Lord indicated, our colleagues in another place went into the specifics in some detail. The Minister's honourable friend, Mr Charles Clarke, gave what I thought were clear explanations on most of the concerns expressed, although, as he indicated, we on these Benches will be looking to the PACE review to examine the implications for this and other orders.

With those comments, like the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, I support the order.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, for expressing his satisfaction with and support for this order. I welcome that support. We try to achieve a consensus across the parties on these matters. Once again, he has demonstrated his support in the way I would have expected of him.

Perhaps I may turn to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord McNally. I tread with a little trepidation here. Whenever the noble Lord and I hold a debate on orders, those debates tend to end up discussed either in the Evening Argus or on the front page of The Times, although I doubt whether this exchange will achieve those great heights.

Lord McNally: My Lords, perhaps it will be reported in the Belfast Telegraph.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, perhaps the Belfast Telegraph would be more relevant in some respects.

The noble Lord made a number of helpful comments. I shall pick out two of those. He is absolutely right to say that fears about audio recordings expressed in the early 1980s by what might be called liberals with a small "l", who were extremely concerned about the impact on the relationship between the police, suspects and the criminal justice process, have now melted away. The police on one side and solicitors and suspects on the other have, over time, recognised the long-term benefits of making an accurate audio recording.

The noble Lord made a second helpful point when he said that what we are trying to achieve in counter-terrorism legislation is to keep the procedures very much within the criminal orbit. The closer we can maintain that orbit is all only to the good. The noble Lord made that point very well indeed.

The noble Lord asked a question about video recording. He will be aware that this order does not authorise or introduce video recording, but the Act does enable the video recording of terrorist suspects to take place, with or without sound. It is worth putting on the record that the RUC will move from silent to sound and vision recording in Northern Ireland on the implementation of the Act on 19th February, when it is scheduled to come into force. The police generally in Great Britain are not opposed in principle to the video

19 Jan 2001 : Column 1363

recording of terrorist interviews, but a number of practical and technical issues will need to be resolved before that can be taken forward here.

The noble Lord asked precisely whether that development would require another order. The answer to that question is yes. That will provide us with a valuable opportunity to conduct an important scrutiny of the issue when it is brought forward. All noble Lords have agreed on many occasions in the past that such scrutiny is extremely important. We try to give these matters very careful consideration.

19 Jan 2001 : Column 1364

Having made those comments, I hope that noble Lords will feel able to approve the order. This marks an important step forward in ensuring that we achieve fair play and a sense of balance in the way in which suspects are interviewed. A record will be kept which will be of benefit both to the suspect and to the police and prosecuting authorities.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

        House adjourned at six minutes before three o'clock.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page