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Lord Goodhart moved Amendment No. 146:

"( ) make provision for ordering third party costs against the prison service or any security firm for failure to deliver prisoners to the court on time, or at all"

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment was moved in Committee by my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford, who, unfortunately, is unable to be here today because of an important commitment in the courts. I should have preferred him to speak rather than me because he has personal knowledge of the problems that are raised by the amendment. I, as one whose practice has wholly been in the civil courts, do not. However, I am convinced by what he said.

The failure of the Court Service and of private security firms to deliver prisoners to court on time—or, sometimes, to deliver them at all—is a major cause of cost and delay. That is unfair to all concerned: to victims, witnesses, prisoners, the judge, court staff and lawyers. There should clearly be financial penalties for culpable failure.

My noble friend drew attention to a series of problems: the lack of co-operation between the Prison Service and private security firms; the failure of private security firms to employ enough staff to make it possible to do what they should be doing; delays that occur after the arrival of the prisoner at the court building; and failure to have enough staff to open all available interview rooms. The Government's steps to deal with those problems have been inadequate and more should be done. The amendment is a way of putting pressure on those involved to ensure that more is done. I beg to move.

Lord Renton: My Lords, before the noble Lord concludes moving the amendment, could he explain whether the prisoner—

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Murton of Lindisfarne): My Lords, may I put the Question? Amendment proposed, page 42, line 26, at end insert the words as printed on the Marshalled List.

Lord Renton: My Lords, now the noble Lord will have to wait until he comes to reply before answering my point, which I raised earlier.

If a third party organisation fails to deliver the prisoner in time, the prisoner could suffer with regard to the settlement of his case; perhaps "settlement" is the wrong word and I should refer to the "decisions" in his case. He would be the person who most of all deserved a bit of compensation. When the noble Lord

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replies—or, if I may dare say so, and better still, when the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, replies—could he or she say how the prisoner will be compensated for being treated in that way?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, suggested, this is a repeat of a debate we had in Committee. I compliment the noble Lord on picking up the baton left him by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. They are right in identifying this as an important issue.

I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, was on the verge of suggesting that there should be time off for bad behaviour on the part of those who fail to deliver prisoners on time. However, perhaps he was not getting quite as close to that, as I was rather facetiously suggesting.

The effect of the noble Lord's amendment would be to make those who default in failing to deliver the prisoners on time subject to a cost order. The Government's view is that the amendment is unnecessary and, although well meant, is potentially undesirable.

Clause 88 as it stands would allow the court to deal with the late delivery of prisoners as a result of serious misconduct—and we have debated that matter today. If costs are wasted because of late delivery, the court can look behind the issues and at the circumstances that caused the lateness. If the lateness was the result of serious misconduct, appropriate action can be taken.

I cannot see that the noble Lord's amendment would add to that, particularly with no knowledge of what the regulations arising from the amendment might state. Putting unnecessary detail of this kind into regulations can be unhelpful. It might, for instance, encourage people to suggest that one particular type of serious misconduct is more important, and perhaps more appropriate, for the making of an order than another. While we share the noble Lord's concerns about the timely delivery of prisoners, it is right that the court, through this clause, should be able to deal with the costs wasted as a result of late delivery caused by a specific instance of serious misconduct.

However, in our view, it would not be practical or appropriate to extend the scope of the clause beyond clearly identifiable misconduct in a particular case. It is not and could not be the role of the court to oversee the general level of performance of those contracted to deliver prisoners. That seems to be part of the problem with the amendment, as it takes us in that direction.

In so far as the noble Lord's concerns relate to that issue, it is necessary to look to the terms of the contracts under which the prisoner escort services operate. My understanding is that under the contracts all prisoners should be delivered on time for courts; that is, delivered to the courts a minimum of half an hour before courts begin.

The figures on that are helpful and suggest the scope of the problem. At national level for 2002–03, figures indicate that of the 1.25 million prisoners handled during that year, 76 per cent were delivered on time. Of the 24 per cent delivered late under the terms of the

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contract, 10 per cent were none the less delivered during the half hour before the court started, leaving 14 per cent delivered after the court had started.

Under the terms of the contracts, prisoner escort contractors may be penalised for the late delivery of prisoners to courts where they are found to be at fault. Points applied against a contractor accrue during the year and should they exceed a set baseline, the excess points are converted to a financial remedy.

New contracts are due to be let in 2004. The Prison Service is considering with other criminal justice partners what changes should be made to the terms of the contracts, including more flexible ways of working and financial remedies, to ensure that prisoner delivery is as efficient and cost-effective as possible.

We have listened carefully to the argument and we can agree on the seriousness and importance of the issue. But we are not persuaded that anything can be gained by the amendment and this way of approaching the problem.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the Minister. Will he address the point effectively raised by my noble friend Lord Renton on compensation?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, there are no proposals to provide compensation. I return to the point that if the courts believe that there is an issue of serious misconduct, it is for them to deal with it in that way. The financial impact on the contractors delivering prisoners late exists and is subject to the conditions of the contract. That is common in all contractual relationships.

As regards whether prisoners can be compensated, the amendment relates only to costs incurred as a result of lateness. I therefore believe that the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, falls outside it. There are no proposals to compensate prisoners in the way suggested.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, first, the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, is important and should receive consideration. I understand that there would not normally be grounds for compensating a prisoner who is convicted and subsequently receives a sentence of imprisonment. Given that time spent on remand—and by definition these people will be on remand—is set off against the term imposed, nothing will be suffered by the prisoner other than the irritation of the failure to deal with the proceedings in time.

However, possibly in cases where the prisoner is not ultimately given a custodial sentence, and clearly in cases where the prisoner is acquitted, it seems that there should be some form of compensation—

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, surely, in those more severe circumstances the prisoner would have a civil remedy.

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Lord Goodhart: My Lords, there would be a question surrounding how far the prisoner would have a remedy and it could not be ordered by the court hearing the trial. The prisoner would have to go to the civil courts to fight a separate action. Be that as it may, as the noble Lord, Lord Renton, appreciates, the matter is outside the scope of my amendment, but I am grateful to him for having raised the issue.

Lord Renton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. The suggestion made by the Minister that civil proceedings should take place as a solution to these problems will cause additional expense and delay. Furthermore, it would be more elaborate and difficult than simply enabling the matter to be dealt with under this provision.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I turn to the substance of the amendment. The Minister's reply was reasonably encouraging because he pointed to the possibility of treating costs incurred in this way as third-party costs. However, the Government were not prepared to commit themselves to put the provision on the face of the regulations, let alone on the face of the Bill. In those circumstances, I am not minded to press the amendment today and must leave it to my noble friend to decide whether it is appropriate to bring it back at Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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