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Mr. Best: What does the term "reasonably practicable" mean in this context? Are reasons supposed to be provided there and then, or later? Is the term meant to carry a notion of fairness? It is an interesting idea.
Mr. Cohen: The phrase could be interpreted in all those ways. That is what is worrying. Given that the police are always busy with crimes, they could say that it was reasonable to delay making a decision on a case, with the result that the person detained could be held a lot longer.
Mr. Simon Hughes: We support new clause 4, and the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen) touches on some matters raised in Standing Committee. He alluded to the reasonable suspicion test, which we tried to amend in Committee.
This debate illustrates the main point of the previous debate. There is no great difference between the parties about the fact that permanent legislation may be needed, but what should it contain? The powers of detention, the period for which people can be held in detention, how long they can be held before they can talk to a solicitor, or before their families are told--all those matters must be reviewed in the light of experience. They appear again and again in the Lord Lloyd review and in the annual reviews held at present. There needs to be a more regular review system for the legislation.
The hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) mentioned a matter that the Standing Committee touched on regularly. The law will be changed fundamentally when the Human Rights Act 1998 comes into force in October. Not many people outside the House are aware of it, although it may turn out to be one of this Administration's most important achievements. The fact that that Act is coming down the track should make us sensitive about passing legislation that recent case law suggests may be in breach of it, as the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead said.
The Secretary of State has asserted that the Bill is compatible with the European convention on human rights, but other legal advice states that parts of it are not compatible with the convention. Where case law warning bells ring about periods of detention, the right to see a solicitor and so on, we should err on the side of caution and legality. We should not give excessive power to the authorities, even if we have to revisit the provisions because they are not perfect.
Britain will not be well served, and Parliament's reputation will be spoiled even further among those people who dislike it already, if we are dragged back again to the European Court for breaches of the convention. We must not ignore those warning bells, which are ringing rather loudly.
Mr. McNamara: Is not one of the sad things that we have yet to see the evidence that the Government claim renders the Bill compatible with the convention, despite the number of challenges to that claim?
Mr. Hughes: In Committee, I offered to show the Minister of State my legal advice if he would show us his. I have not seen the Government's legal advice. I have mine with me, and the Minister is welcome to see it.
The hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) makes a good point. On issues such as this, the advice to Government must be placed in the public domain. However, the Government must heed the case law, the European convention on human rights and the Human Rights Act 1998. They must try to share the best advice and
Mr. Bermingham: I was not going to speak in this debate, but I wandered into the Chamber to listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) who, like me, has had a long involvement in Irish politics in one way or another.
I declare an interest. I am a practising lawyer, and I paid £175 to go on the Bar Council course on human rights legislation. The Human Rights Act 1998 brings the European convention into our domestic law, and is one of the most far-sighted pieces of legislation of my lifetime, and possibly of the previous century. It establishes, once and for all, a person's right to a fair trial. It also establishes equality of arms--as it is phrased--between the rights of an individual and those of the state.
That that has not always been true of our law was especially clear in the 1970s. I served on the Standing Committee that scrutinised the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, when we examined a detained person's rights, and especially that person's right to legal advice and access. The so-called PACE code followed, and it has served us well. If I say that the Court of Appeal has sometimes sought to negate that legislation, and slim down the rights conferred by Parliament, I do so with my tongue in my cheek.
The 1984 Act was far-sighted. One of the cardinal principles of our law has always been the right to legal advice. If it is good enough for the man accused of murder, it is good enough for anybody else. Everybody who is arrested for a domestic crime, save in exceptional circumstances, has almost immediate access to a lawyer. That lawyer has a right to be present throughout the inquiries that are made; he has a right to advise his client whether to say something or not. The laws on the right to silence have changed over the years. Be that as it may, the right of access to a lawyer is at the very heart of our inquisitorial system, which is an accusatorial process when it comes before a court.
Mr. Cohen: My hon. Friend obviously has a lot of experience in this area. How does he feel about denial of privacy, given that the authorities can listen in to the conversation between the person detained and his lawyer?
As I said, that right has always been absolute, and people have always been entitled to privacy and integrity. In police stations up and down the land, facilities are available to enable people to have private consultation. The telephones are meant to be secure--there has just been a ruling in a prison case, so the authorities cannot tap telephone calls. There is another case going before the House of Lords, and if that does not succeed before 2 October, it will inevitably go to Europe, where it will succeed. Listening in to telephone calls is an invasion of human rights, and interferes with the equality of arms.
Why should Northern Ireland be different? Why should there be a class of case in which there is not the right for a lawyer to be present at an interview? I do not want to vote on this; I just want the Minister of State to say, "Okay, we'll put it in." The Bill can be amended. What do we lose by including the new clause and making things clear? If we do not do it, it will be done for us.
The trouble with some of these cases, which people often forget, is that if we play games with legislation that is not clear, honest and obvious, we give people who may well be guilty of crime the opportunity to have their convictions quashed later on a technicality. Why on earth do we run the risk?
In some of the cases that went before the European Court, there was overwhelming evidence but, because our rules were not fair, convictions were quashed. Does that really serve justice? The answer is no. When we detain people and deny them access to lawyers, do we achieve anything in a judicial sense? What on earth is the purpose of keeping someone incommunicado? I can understand it while people are being arrested and there is a rolling round-up of villains. The classic example is the armed robbery: the police hold incommunicado those they have caught escaping from a bank. That is perfectly reasonable and proper, because the notice of their arrest may well alert people whom the police are seeking to trace and arrest. No one objects to that. Including such a provision in legislation on terrorism would be equally understandable and proper. The reasoning would be in front of us, and there would be no query about it.
The minute we go beyond being reasonable and do not write into the law the equivalent of the law in other fields, whether in terrorism or something else, we open ourselves up to subsequent actions in the European Court that can lead to the quashing of convictions. Under article 6, if we get it wrong, there is no second chance, no retrial--the conviction is quashed. That is what we saw in the Murray case, which never actually got to the point about legal advice. There were already enough grounds to quash it. The European Court does not necessarily take every point. It looks at the strongest points and rules on those. Murray was one case, and Davis and Johnson is another. Not getting public interest immunity inquiry cases right leads to the quashing of convictions.
So it goes on. In 1984, we wanted to avoid miscarriages of justice, and much legislation has been put in place since then. We have seen some pretty terrible cases, but we create cases of injustice when we do not have simple and fair laws. I ask the Minister of State just to look later at the new clause--that will be good enough for me. They tell me that this is a listening Government, and I hope that they will also listen to me about something else that I raised. I do not like voting against the Government. I try not to. If the Minister of State simply looks at the new clause, he will see the wisdom of ensuring that the law in