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Part III makes a number of proposals for the reform of the procedures for the trial and punishment of offences under the service discipline Acts. Clause 17 will make it possible to deal summarily with relatively minor offences committed by naval officers. Essentially, that will bring the Royal Navy into line with the other two services.
Following that, in 1998, the then Minister for the Armed Forces, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, North and Bellshill (Dr. Reid), announced that we wished courts martial to benefit from the wisdom and experience of warrant officers. Clause 19 therefore proposes changes to the legislation to allow warrant officers to sit as court martial members, in cases where the accused is of lower rank.
Clause 20 provides a power to extend membership of the summary appeal courts to warrant officers. That is in recognition of views expressed by Opposition Members during the passage of the Armed Forces Discipline Act 2000 in the previous Session.
Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): When the Bill reaches Committee, will the Minister seek to justify the fact that a warrant officer, or an officer in the Navy of the rank of lieutenant or above, can sit as a member of a court martial, but a warrant officer who is promoted to sub-lieutenant cannot? Will he seek to defend that in Committee?
Mr. Spellar: I am certain that, whatever change and progress one makes, it throws up further anomalies that need to be examined. It might therefore be appropriate to look at that matter. I recall that the hon. Gentleman was the Chairman of the Select Committee that considered the previous Armed Forces Bill. I hope that he welcomes the fact that we are acting on that Committee's recommendations. We can certainly examine the matter when the current Bill is considered by the Committee, but there has been welcome progress in implementing the Committee's wishes and, I believe, those of the House.
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): Why has my hon. Friend not had a more radical look at the court martial system, particularly for serious offences? What has he got against having the equivalent of a jury trial for those serious offences, moving away from other service men considering those cases?
We do not believe that it would be appropriate to make warrant officers members of the summary appeal courts immediately. We want first to obtain experience, both of the new courts in operation and of warrant officers as court martial members, before taking a view in due course on whether they should be eligible to sit on the new courts.
The remainder of part III proposes adjustments to bring trial procedures into line with those in civilian courts. A number of the measures are intended to assist the service courts to operate more effectively. Others aim to help to get the right balance between the prosecution and the accused and between the wrongdoer and the community.
Clause 21 will enable the Attorney-General to invite the courts martial appeal court to review a sentence that has been passed by a court martial, if he considers that the sentence is unduly lenient. That reflects a similar power in relation to sentences in the civilian court.
Also on sentencing, it has always been the intention that courts martial should be subject to the same requirement as civilian courts to impose mandatory, or minimum, sentences in certain circumstances: where they are dealing with an offender who has previously been convicted of specified serious offences and is being sentenced for a further similar offence. Clause 22 puts the service courts on the same footing as the civilian courts in that regard.
The conduct of courts martial in hearing a case can be impeded if the defence seeks judicial review of a decision of the court during the trial. Where that happens, the trial must stop until the High Court has dealt with the application for judicial review. That can mean a long delay.
Where cases are tried on indictment in the Crown court there is no right to seek judicial review. If the defence is unhappy with any aspect of the way in which the trial has been conducted, it has the right of appeal. Similarly, there can be appeal from the decisions of a court martial. Where appeal is possible, there is no need also to have access to judicial review. Clause 23, therefore, brings courts martial into line with the Crown court by removing trial proceedings from the scope of judicial review, which, I am sure it will be agreed, is a welcome development.
Witnesses who fail to attend courts martial can delay or frustrate the administration of justice. At present, there are no effective means of ensuring the attendance of civilian witnesses. Clause 25 seeks to remedy that by giving judicial officers or judge advocates powers to order the arrest of witnesses who there is good reason to believe will fail to attend proceedings, or who actually fail to do so.
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): Clause 21 confers on the Attorney-General the power to review what are considered to be lenient sentences. Why does the Minister feel that it is necessary to invoke the Attorney-General, who is essentially responsible for administering the civilian courts? Would he consider that a military legal personality should be the authority responsible for deciding whether to refer to court martial appeal a sentence that is perceived to be over-lenient?
It is a great pleasure to see the Minister here today and he is doing extremely well. However, I wonder whether, for this most important measure in five years, the Secretary of State should be here to deal with the points with which, as I have said, the Minister is dealing extremely well.
Mr. Spellar: It is traditional for the Minister for the Armed Forces to deal with this legislation. As has been made clear, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is having important discussions with one of our friendly powers. [Interruption.] I am sorry that the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) finds that amusing. However, I fully understand that, given his perspective, talking to foreigners is a highly suspect activity. We think it important to talk to our friends and allies.
The appropriate answer to the intervention is that the Attorney-General, with considerable experience of dealing with such cases, is the appropriate legal office to seek such a review. After all, in many cases the Attorney-General is not the prosecuting authority in the
Civilian courts have powers to award costs against parties in a criminal case, or against their legal representatives, where the court considers that the case has been conducted in a way that results in the other side incurring unnecessary expenditure. There are no corresponding powers available to service courts and there is now some evidence that they are needed. This would, for example, be to discourage lawyers unreasonably requesting the attendance at trials of witnesses whom they have no cause to suppose will be able to give relevant evidence. Clauses 26, 27 and 28 therefore give appropriate powers to service courts, similar to those available to the civilian courts.
Finally in part III, I wish to mention clause 30. The Armed Forces Discipline Act 2000 introduced a system of bail, similar to the civilian system, but which deals purely with custody prior to or during service trials. There is, however, no compelling reason why the services should continue to differ from the civilian system with regard to bail pending appeal. Clause 30 will enable procedures to be introduced, similar to the civilian system, allowing persons convicted by a service court to apply for bail pending the outcome of an appeal against conviction or sentence.
Before I describe part IV, I should like to deal with clause 33. That is because it ties in with much of what this Bill is seeking to achieve in bringing service procedures into line with relevant civilian ones.
Civilian criminal justice procedures are developing all the time, and we need to ensure that we respond. There are a number of ways in which we can achieve this. One way is to ensure that criminal justice legislation extends to the services from the outset. That occurs extensively, and sometimes the legislation immediately applies to the armed forces. Other Acts--such as the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984--provide powers allowing certain of their provisions to be extended to the armed forces by secondary legislation. In that case, the power is generally couched in terms that the provisions may be modified to cater for the special requirements of the services.
However, instances still arise where civilian procedures are altered, but even though we want to follow suit, we have no powers to do so. In such cases, we have to wait for the next five-yearly Bill. Clause 33 provides a means for enabling us to respond in a more timely manner. It will allow the Secretary of State to use statutory instruments to apply future changes in civilian criminal justice legislation to the services. That will be on the basis of making equivalent provision, with necessary modifications.
The new power will provide flexibility. The House will want that to be used sensibly, but it is important to bear it in mind that the provisions we shall be seeking to extend to the services will already have been scrutinised by Parliament. Clause 33 provides a valuable tool to further the theme of much of this Bill, which is about keeping in step with relevant changes in civilian procedures.
Part IV deals with the Ministry of Defence police. This is a civilian police force, some 3,500 strong, within the Ministry of Defence. Its purpose is to provide effective policing of the defence estate and community. The force should not be confused with the service police, whom we were considering earlier. I am sure that hon. Members present for this debate would not do so.
MDP officers possess constabulary powers, and their training is very similar to that of Home Department police officers. The force is subject to inspection by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary. Its officers provide for the security of a range of defence assets, including at locations where there is a likelihood of contact with the public or civilian employees.
The jurisdiction of the MDP is defined in the Ministry of Defence Police Act 1987. The overall effect of that Act is to give the force a jurisdiction to police defence land, property and personnel within the United Kingdom. The MDP is also able to operate on land in the vicinity of defence land, where a local force has asked for assistance.
The image of the MDP as an essentially static force based at defence establishments no longer holds true. The force increasingly operates mobile patrols to get from one defence establishment to another. That inevitably brings MDP officers into greater contact with the public than before.