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Lord Renton: I do not go as far as my noble friend Lady Anelay, even with her great experience of police matters. The mobile telephone has enabled a great deal to be achieved in the prevention of crime and the arrest of criminals. The clause, especially should the amendments proposed by my noble friend Lady Anelay be accepted, creates a realistic application of what legitimately needs to be done. However, we must specify the authority of the officer involved, as in Amendment No.18, which states, "a superintendent or above", or Amendment No. 19, which states:


Also, although it has scarcely been mentioned, it is important to bear in mind what is proposed in Amendment No. 20. If there is a legal representative—and there will be very soon—that representative should be brought into the matter, so Amendment No. 20 is also very important. I hope that the Government will accept the amendments, although I fundamentally agree with the clause.

Lord Alexander of Weedon: I agree with my noble friend Lord Renton. As I see it, it is something of a reserved power for situations in which video conferencing facilities are not permissible. The three amendments to which my noble friend drew attention are sensible and would limit the potential for dispute about the standards of the process. Also, having the telephone facility may sometimes assist the defendant to reach a decision favourable to him or her that might not otherwise be reached as speedily.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am grateful for all the contributions to the debate and for the temper in which the discussion took place. It was most helpful. I shall work through the amendments.

Amendment No. 18 would limit telephone reviews of the need for continuing detention without charge to circumstances in which an officer of at least the rank of superintendent had given authority. Our view is that telephone reviews are generally a satisfactory

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alternative to reviews conducted in person. The noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Weedon, made the point that there was a positive side for many potential defendants. Such reviews may allow them to be released sooner than they had expected. The facility has a positive effect and is not there only for the convenience of the police officers involved in the particular arrest and detention.

The considerations to be taken into account when deciding whether to carry out a review by telephone will need to be covered in further guidance to the police. However, we do not think that such reviews should be considered so exceptional as to require a very senior officer's authority, as the amendment would require. If the amendment were made and such authority were required, the police would lose much of the flexibility that the new arrangements are intended to create. We should consider the responsibilities that a superintendent or chief superintendent might have. Calling on such an officer to conduct a review by telephone would be to draw on an important police operational resource. Generally, it would represent an onerous and unnecessary administrative and bureaucratic burden, and we do not see any need for such a stringent level of control.

PACE provides for the detained person or any solicitor representing him who is available at the time to have an opportunity to make representations to the reviewing officer before any decision about the continued need for detention without charge is taken. That applies to telephone reviews as much as to reviews in person. Creating an absolute right for a solicitor to be present during a telephone review, as the amendment suggests, could create long delays while people wait for the solicitor to attend at the police station. That would tend to defeat the key purpose for which telephone reviews are being introduced.

The criteria for extending detention are clear. The reviewing officer must have reasonable grounds to believe that continued detention without charge is necessary to secure or preserve evidence or obtain evidence by questioning. Coupled with other protections, such as the clear right to make representations, that should be sufficient to protect against unjustified periods in police custody. A requirement to allow a solicitor to be present, such as Amendment No. 20 would create, is impracticable and unnecessary.

Amendment No. 19 is unnecessary in any event. All reviews of detention without charge, including telephone reviews, must be carried out by an officer of at least the rank of inspector. That point is already covered.

It is not our intention that reviews by telephone will become the norm. I welcome the support given to the clause in general by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond. I know that she understands, from a practical perspective, the problems that can exist for a police force in a large, sprawling rural area. We see the benefit of telephone reviews in circumstances in which it would be impractical for police officers who might be available to conduct a review in person to travel

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large distances to do so, with all the difficulties of moving around that that could create. I think, in particular, of North Yorkshire police area and of Devon and Cornwall area, which is long and narrow. In such areas, it would take many hours for an officer to travel from one end of the area to another. To restrict the operation of telephone reviews in the way in which the amendment suggests could have serious consequences.

The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, raised an important point with regard to Section 40A of PACE. It was introduced after Committee in another place and brought into force as of 1st April this year. We see it as having value. I take the point that the noble Baroness made, and I appreciate the fact that she coupled it with the stand part debate.

PACE, as amended by the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, makes provision for reviews of detention to be conducted by telephone, if it is not reasonably practicable for the reviewing officer to be present at the police station. I have already said that we do not expect that to be the norm. We expect the major benefit to be to large rural police areas. We want to broaden the capacity for review, so that telephone reviews can also be used where they are considered the most practical and efficient approach. We seek to focus on practicality and efficiency.

All discussions about the review will be held over the telephone, including any representations made by or on behalf of the detained person. A review in person could still be carried out, in any event, if the reviewing officer considered it necessary to the decision-making process. If the reviewing officer comes to the conclusion that it is important to be there in person while the review is carried out, he will decide to do so. Such officers will have to make the decision first-off, before proceeding to determine the next step.

The noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Weedon, raised a point about the value of telephone reviews. He referred to video conferencing. It is important to put it on record that we would not expect a telephone review to take place if there were a facility for video conferencing, which is a superior facility of tremendous value. We would expect that approach to be adopted first-off.

The provision will help the police to overcome the resource and logistical problems of arranging reviews, especially at night. It would also be of tremendous value in saving inspectors' valuable time, particularly time spent covering vast distances in larger rural police areas. It is for those reasons and to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the police service that we believe that the approach is right and seek to amend, at this early stage, what is, I accept, a relatively new provision that has not yet been widely used.

My final point is that guidance will be important, and we intend to review and monitor carefully the way in which the clause is introduced, not just because of its value but because we see it having long-term importance and significance in improving police effectiveness.

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Lord Renton: Before the noble Lord sits down, does he realise that unless these amendments are accepted a detained person, who may be innocent, can continue to be detained by an inexperienced young police constable? Is he content with that and is it right? Surely we need some safeguard of the kind these amendments propose.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Dholakia: I should like to add to what the noble Lord said. I understand that when the matter was discussed in the other place, the government body, the Youth Justice Board, expressed serious concerns, particularly in relation to the detention of young people. The Minister is reported to have said that the Government would certainly consider safeguards. I see no mention of that whatever. Can the Minister indicate the concerns expressed by the Youth Justice Board and have those concerns been met in relation to young people?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, for raising that last issue. We are still considering the points made. Therefore, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on that observation. But it is an important contribution. Yes, it is right that safeguards are in place. To pick up the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that is why it will take a senior police officer—an inspector, a very senior rank—with considerable experience to make the decision as to whether a review needs to be undertaken in person or via the telephone. I consider an inspector to be of very senior and important rank and an integral part of middle management within the police service. It is a pivotal position. This power needs to be properly exercised by someone with the experience that an inspector carries.


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