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I served as a member of the Police Complaints Authority, and it was at this time that I came into close contact with custody officers in police cells. In cases when violence or death in custody were being investigated, the first point of contact was always the custody sergeant. The responsibility for what happens in custody suites is very heavy, and the Police
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Federation is right to criticise the Government, because no civilian without the type of training that a sergeant receives can carry out his or her duties satisfactorily.
The question that my noble friend Lady Harris posed concerned the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and its relationship to custody officers. It would be very helpful if the Minister were to explain whether civilian custody officers would form part of the Independent Police Complaints Commission's machinery; in other words, can an individual make a complaint about a civilian custody officer? What processes and procedures will be in place to make the public aware that that can be done?
The police have paid out millions of pounds in compensation where cases have been taken up not by the Independent Police Complaints Commission but where cases have been brought in the civilian courts long before the IPCC or the PCA had the opportunity to consider them. What would be the position of civilian custody officers if cases were brought against them by suspects who considered that they had been violently treated or had not received appropriate treatment? We need to clarify those questions at this stage.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I too would like to support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, as I did yesterday. Indeed, I have very little to add to what I said then. I simply emphasise that this matter is of serious concern to the police themselves. I also emphasise the point that SOCA will not deal with civilian complaints, civil matters, but with hardened criminals. It will be necessary to have experienced people to deal with that kind of work. My noble friend Lord Clarke started when he heard mention of a privatised suite, as did I. It seems to me that we are privatising a service which has previously been properly and efficiently handled by the police. It will be handed over to civilians who, no matter what training they have, will not have the same authority and experience of criminals as have the police. Our discussion now and, indeed, our previous discussion on Amendment No. 14, which was moved by my noble friend Lord Wedderburn, shows that that is the case.
I did not intervene in the discussion on the previous amendment as, frankly, the whole issue was so complicated that it was difficult to grasp it in the short time available. That is happening with the amendment which we are currently discussing, has happened with many other amendments which we have discussed and with other matters which we shall not discuss. It is a
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disgrace that we are pushing this important Bill forward with such haste and with so little scrutiny by this House of the many matters contained in this Bill with its 174 clauses and 18 schedules. It is an abuse of parliamentary procedure.
I repeat what I suggested yesterday; namely, that we should not have allowed the Bill through. It should be returned to the House of Commons after the election and given a formal passage through all its stages and then it should be sent back to this House to enable us to discuss it properly. I support the amendment.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I should underline very clearly that the Bill has been fully scrutinised in the other place. There was proper debate and anxious consideration of it. We have spent considerable time exploring the issues both on Second Reading and in Committee. Therefore, I shall not weary the House by repeating everything that I said yesterday in replying to the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, or in replying to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. However, I should like to deal with a couple of points that they identified as being still of concern in relation to the IPCC.
The noble Baroness asks what we are going to do about complaints regarding non-police officers who take up the role of custody officer. Part 2 of the Police Reform Act 2002, which set up the IPCC, gives the commission oversight of the investigation of complaints against police officers and police staff. In addition, noble Lords will know that, as now, police authorities, as the employers of police staff, are liable for any wrongful acts committed by such staff. That will also be the case with civilian custody officers.
Looking at the general position, I emphasise that the proposals in the Bill do not remove the ability for a police sergeant to continue in the role of custody officer. We very much recognise the contribution made by uniformed sergeants to the post and the effective and efficient operation of custody suites. We do not want to lose that experience or those skills. In the Bill we are providing a capability for others who have demonstrated that they have the appropriate skill to discharge this function to do so. I said yesterday, and I repeat, that there is provision for appropriate training before any individual could be entrusted with this role. We have spoken about Centrex's role and the guidance.
I remind the House that PACE itself sets the benchmark for how an individual should be treated when detained in a custody suite after arrest. Those provisions will apply as strongly to any new custody officer as they have always applied to those who are detained.
I appreciate the anxiety expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, and what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. However, this is a new body. It will have to be properly integrated. I would not be surprised if in the first instance the majority, if not all, the custody officers who join SOCA come from the police. However, we are not putting in place provisions for what happens now, this year or next year but for the long-term development of the agency. Over time, a
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number of people will enter the agency who will be, or may be, fitted for that role by virtue of the experience of having worked within it. It is important for us to remember that.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, that there is no question of privatisation of the role of custody officer. We are talking here about enabling chief officersI emphasise thatto appoint to that role police staff employed by the police authority. Therefore, there is no reason for there to be concern that somehow something will be inappropriately done.
Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for attempting to ameliorate some of the harm that has been done in this Bill. Sadly, her arguments do not persuade me one little bit. Custody sergeants were always going to be my cause célèbre.
For instance, how is the noble Baroness going to ensure that national training standards for this very important role are going to be rolled out and used in exactly the same way in every police force in the country? They have not been so far. As I said earlier, national standards, while they apply, have been used differently in different police forces. There is still no way of getting around that.
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