Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Filkin: The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, asked whether this was a widening of the administrative proceedings to which we are accustomed and expressed concern about driving offences. In that respect at least, I think that the position is clear and not hostile. If I committed a driving offence in Germany, it would be perfectly possible under the 1990 Act for the service of proceedings to occur in the United Kingdom. All that I was instancing by referring to driving offences was the fact that some issues which are criminal offences in this country are dealt with in administrative proceedings in other European Union countries. It seems to me perfectly right and proper that we should co-operate with judicial support

13 Jan 2003 : Column GC12

mechanisms if an administrative process rather than a strictly criminal one regarding a driving offence is initiated.

I turn to the reflections of the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, and to the seductive offer to amend the Bill "on the wing" made by the noble Lord, Lord Renton. I shall certainly resist that offer. As I said, however, I should like to give some thought to the points raised and decide whether I can make a fuller response to answer those perfectly understandable questions. In essence, the issues raised go to the heart of mutual legal assistance and are in the nature of the Bill itself. I shall write shortly to noble Lords who have spoken in this debate.

4.15 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken to these amendments. I believe that the amendments point us in the direction that we shall have to take for at least the next two or three sittings if we are to ensure that we take the type of care and attention for which your Lordships' House and its Committees are renowned. These types of issue do not grab the headlines in the Sun—unless, that is, we get them wrong and the legislation falls short of public expectations. I think that we are all grateful to the Minister for his offer to write to us and provide further explanation and illumination of these matters.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Renton for pointing out that no Committee Member would in any way quarrel with the Bill's intentions. I am also grateful to him for again demonstrating mental agility which I cannot match: he redrafted the provision almost before I had finished reading the first draft. I shall carefully examine his suggestion on redrafting.

My noble friend Lord Carlisle made it clear that we are concerned that, where the Bill goes more broadly than the 1990 Act, we do not let ourselves in for unintended consequences. The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, also carefully raised that issue. I hope that, in the letter that the Minister has promised, he will address, for example, the issues raised by my noble friend Lady Carnegy with regard to the redrafting of paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d). We received from officials a quick response on that issue. One of the advantages of sitting in Grand Committee is that, at least at this end of the Committee, we get a little advance warning of answers as we hear the advice from officials before the Minister is able to interpret it in his own manner. However, it is important to clarify that drafting issue, and I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Carnegy for raising it.

It is also important that, in his letter, the Minister explains to the Committee which offences other than driving offences that might fall within the definition of "administrative offences" are analogous to criminal proceedings. We will have to be sure about that before we reach later stages.

The Minister has still not quite answered the question about reciprocity in EU and other countries. In reply to my noble friend Lord Carlisle, the Minister said that the EU powers are reciprocal. Later, of

13 Jan 2003 : Column GC13

course, we will have to know how other countries enforce these matters and at what stage reciprocity will be achieved. We will also need to know what agreements the Government have with countries other than our EU colleagues which may be pertinent to the Bill.

Some important issues have been raised in this debate. I am grateful to the Minister for agreeing to write to noble Lords. Obviously, we will want to see those responses before we decide what action to take on Report.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: I am not familiar with the correct procedure in Grand Committee. To whom will the Minister be writing? Will he write to all those present in Committee or only to those who have spoken? If it is the latter, I trust that I have just assured myself a copy of the letter.

Lord Filkin: By signalling his interest, the noble Lord has assured that he will receive a reply. Usually, a reply would be sent only to noble Lords who have spoken in the debate and thereby signalled an interest in the issues. I envisage that there will be one fairly comprehensive letter which seeks to address all the issues. Usually, as a matter of courtesy and practice, I would also seek to copy both Opposition Front-Benchers regardless of whether they had spoken.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I tell my noble friend Lord Pearson that we will attempt to copy the correspondence we receive from the Minister to all those on our Benches who have expressed an interest in the Bill. We may occasionally fall down on that, but we shall do our best. I am also reminded by my noble friend Lord Bridgeman that, on occasion, the Minister has been kind enough to place such letters in the Library. He may consider doing that on this occasion. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 3 not moved.]

Baroness Anelay of St Johns moved Amendment No. 4:

    Page 2, line 9, at end insert—

"( ) The Secretary of State may by order make regulations prescribing the circumstances in which a document is (or is not) to be deemed as having been served for the purposes of subsection (3)."

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 4 I shall also speak to Amendment No. 10 which is grouped with it. The amendment poses a simple question: what constitutes good service and proof thereof? The Explanatory Notes tell us that, following entry into force of the Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters, which I shall try henceforth to call MLAC,

    "most procedural documents will be sent directly by post from the issuing authority in countries which are participating in the MLAC or the Schengen Convention to persons in the United Kingdom".

Subsection (3) replaces Section 1(2) of the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Act 1990, giving the Secretary of State—or, in Scotland, the Lord

13 Jan 2003 : Column GC14

Advocate; I always take care of Scotland when my noble friend Lady Carnegy is in the Committee, and also when she is not—discretion in how to serve a document.

Amendment No. 4 would allow the Secretary of State to specify in secondary legislation the circumstances in which a document is deemed to be served under the provisions of Clause 1. The amendment seeks to clarify exactly when the process or document is served. Is it, for example, when the Secretary of State posts the letter or when it arrives? What happens if it is lost in the post? What happens if personal service is required but the person in question cannot be contacted? Can the document be left at his or her home, for example, or would it have to be handed over in person? There is a problem, of course, with multi-occupation households.

The amendment may seem to address issues about dancing on the head of a pin. However, having sat as a magistrate for 13 years and seen the difficulty of delivering and proving good service, and having sat on the social security appeals tribunal, I am perfectly well aware of the extraordinary steps people will take to prove that they could not possibly have received a document. These are very serious matters where it is important to ensure that service is achieved.

Amendment No. 10 takes this point further in relation to the provision of receipts. I take it that the words "if possible" refer to the possibility that a person may be unable or unwilling to sign a receipt. However, do they also envisage other circumstances in which the documents may be "served" without the person actually being present?

I recognise that these provisions of the Bill replicate to a great extent what is already in the 1990 Act, but it would be helpful if the Minister could comment briefly on them and perhaps outline the experience of the Government and chief officers of police in operating them over the past 13 years, so that we are sure that we can achieve proper service when the Bill has been enacted. I beg to move.

Lord Filkin: Amendment No. 4 would introduce what we believe would be potentially restrictive and unnecessary regulations and limit a procedure that has worked effectively for 12 or so years without such regulation. Requirements and regulation are, in the Government's view, unnecessary. Hundreds of documents are received by the Central Authority every year and are served effectively without the existence of regulations of this nature. Subsection (3) simply replicated Section 1(2) of the 1990 Act, which did not contain a regulation-making power.

This is the first of a number of amendments requiring the making of regulations to set out the detail of arrangements. The amendments' purpose, we presume, is to ensure full parliamentary accountability and scrutiny, or alternatively through probing in Committee, to ensure that there is not a need for such regulating power.

The Government do not consider that parliamentary scrutiny is necessary of the minutiae of arrangements which have been working well for some

13 Jan 2003 : Column GC15

years. If germane issues regarding service issues or problems from the past dozen years come to light, I shall reflect on them and ensure that we provide the relevant information.

Amendment No. 10, to Clause 2, would make personal service of process valid only if the person carrying out the service obtained a receipt signed by the person on whom it was served. Although the Government can see the reasoning behind this, to safeguard the rights of the recipient, we believe and know from current practice that it would create an unnecessary barrier to service of process. The wording of the clause merely replicates current arrangements as set out in Section 1(5) of the 1990 Act.

As I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, knows only too well as a magistrate, there are occasions when a person refuses to sign a receipt even when served a document by a police officer. However, the Government believe that this should not be capable of rendering the service invalid. Where that does occur, the constable is required to report it to the UK Central Authority, which will record that the document was served but that the recipient refused to sign the receipt. Police experience itself has not revealed any problems operationally, bearing in mind that many of the relevant documents are for witnesses rather than for defendants, so that there may be less need to seek to avoid service.

On the issue of why the category of procedural documents has been widened, under the provisions of Schengen and the MLA convention, as I said, we are obliged to provide assistance in relation to the new type of administrative proceedings. Furthermore, it may be necessary to prove that a person has received a document. It may be a necessary procedural step in some proceedings. For that purpose, personal service may be a necessary device. It is most likely in the case of service of summons on the defendant. For those reasons, the Government do not believe that the amendments are necessary.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page