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The noble Lord said: We move to consider the new court security regime under which court business may be conducted by the Supreme Court, county courts and magistrates' courts, and to which the public have access. We have carefully considered the Auld review, which commented on the gradual withdrawal of police officers and a reduction in the overall police presence in courts. We need to consider that and how best to deal with security provision and security powers.
There has been a disturbing increase in the level of violence in the form of threats of violence, actual violence, the intimidation of witnesses and violence against the judiciary. It is in that light that we should consider how best to move forward and thus the amendments concern Clause 46.
We also have an opportunity to highlight the importance of court security officers, given that they will have powers of search, as set out in Clause 47; powers to exclude, remove or restrain persons, as set out in Clause 48; as well as powers to force individuals to surrender articles in their possession. They will be able to seize and retain such articles, as regulations later in the Bill set out. Furthermore, offences are created to deal with any individual who obstructs or assaults a court security officer.
I have made inquiries with law firms and within my own firm, Beachcroft Wansbroughs, to discover the up-to-date position on the level of violence. From the reports I received, I came to realise that there is still a disturbing level of violence, even in the simplest road traffic accident cases, during which tempers can rise. We must be aware that even though the offence may be comparatively minor, the risk of violence is still
The amendments provide an opportunity for the Committee to probe the Government on who they envisage will fulfil the functions of court security officers. What kind of educational qualifications do the Government have in mind, or is a more skills-based approach envisaged? Will the conditions to be set out by the Lord Chancellor include checks on criminal records? How much of a bar will that be to an individual becoming a court security officer? More generally, will there be a good character requirement? Will applicants need to present a track record not only of experience in security matters, but also to demonstrate that they are able to cope with such responsibilities? It is a fact that quite often those who assume powers as extensive as these have a tendency immediately to abuse them. I hope that that will not happen, but a number of examples could be cited of perhaps overzealous searching. We shall reach amendments dealing with the specifics in a moment.
Lord Borrie: The provisions in this part of the Bill are among the most important. It was probably in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, when he spoke, that a couple of years ago a judge, Her Honour Judge Goddard, was physically attacked at the Old Bailey. That is only one example of many acts of violence and
I am a little worried whether the Government's proposals will deal adequately with both public concerns and the concerns expressed in the Auld report. One of the features of the report with which I am strongly in agreement is the concern that the public needs to be reassured. In the past that reassurance was conferred by the presence of police officers in the courts. Of course Lord Justice Auld was referring to uniformed police officers. They provide a tremendous level of deterrence as well as reassurance for the general public, witnesses and others who may not particularly want to go to court, but public duty and obligation require them to do so. I hope that the Lord Chancellor's Department can reassure me that court security officers will look as much like policemen as possible and will incorporate in the style of uniform those essential elements of deterrence and reassurance.
I am not sure about the wording of the amendments before the Committee, but if they are meant to pep up the Government's proposals, then they deserve a fair wind. To alter "may" to "shall" is a familiar way of achieving that, although my noble friend on the Front Bench may say that it is not necessary. Similarly, on the question of good character, my noble friend may respond by saying that of course the department will provide for it. Given that I am sympathetic to the thinking that lies behind the amendments, such responses would provide some reassurance both for the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and I.
Lord Waddington: I am not usually greatly impressed by amendments that seek to substitute "shall" for "may", but I submit that in this case it would be useful. Although the clause and the amendments concern the making of regulations, the effect of substituting "shall" for "may" would be that the Lord Chancellor would have to make regulations. He would hardly make regulations unless as a result of so doing, and having been compelled so to do, training would then follow. We are discussing whether the Bill should state firmly, fairly and squarely that there must be training. Surely it would be useful for the Bill to underline that fact. There must be training for court
Lord Morris of Aberavon: I welcome the opportunity to make a brief comment on what I have come to regard, over the years, as a deterioration in the standards of security in our courts. I sat as a recorder, on and off, for more than 20 yearsthe time that I was off was when I was a Ministerand in my young days there was always a policeman in court. That was also the experience in magistrates' courts. Never now do you see a policeman; frequently not even a dock officer; and, indeed, when I was sitting as a recorder, the clerk would come to me at the end of a case and whisper in my ear that if I was minded to pass a sentence whereby the defendant would lose his or her liberty, would I adjourn for a few minutes in order that a dock officer could be provided. That is not a proper way to run a judicial system.
We all recall the fearsome attack made on Judge Goddard in the Central Criminal Court. She was distressingly and quite badly injured. She was back in court very shortly, and a very brave lady she is, as those of us who know her can attest. I had the same experienceI was not the one under attack, fortunatelywhen one of my clients leapt over the dock in a very old court, No. 1 court at the Old Bailey, and went for his honour Judge Capstick, the Common Serjeant. Fortunately he was stopped in time, but it could have been an equally bad situation.
We need an assurance that there will be safety in our courts. No amount of detailed provision, whether "may" or "shall", will provide that safety unless there is someone on the ground to ensure that an irate defendant, or even a witness, does not leap at the judge or at anyone else in the court. Taking a slightly contrary view to many others, I wonder whether we need to particularise to the extent of whether there should be training courses; whether certain conditions should be met; whether there should be a uniform or a badge; or whether, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, indicated, character should be taken into account. All of those requirements are self-evident.
If a paramount duty is upon the Lord Chancellor to ensure safety in our courts so that justice can be safely done, a simple clause stating that he should take appropriate steps to ensure that safety would be sufficient. No amount of particularisation, in whatever detail, will achieve that end unless, ultimately, in the daily happenings of our courts, there is someone there to keep a watchful eye to ensure that nothing goes wrong.
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