Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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Mr. Heald: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because that is exactly the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell). I confess that I had not spotted that. He was right to table amendment No. 111. As the hon. Gentleman said, subsection (1) reads as though exactly that would happen. That seems sensible.

Mr. Lock: We expect the warning notice to be given with the fixed penalty notice, in the usual course of events. We expect that the two notices would usually be given at the same time. In that context, ``given'' means precisely that. The notice is physically served or otherwise clearly brought to the attention of the defendant, in the same way that anything else is served. However, it would not be right to remove the possibility entirely—although I accept that it would be unusual to exercise it—for a warning notice to be given at some other time. It would not have to be acknowledged. It will say only where a trial will take place if the defendant wants to contest the penalty and wants the right to a trial. Of course, it depends on whether the defendant wishes to make that request.

Mr. Heald: Given that the penalty notice specifies the way in which a trial is to be requested, will the serving of the warning notice restart the clock 21 days from that point? If it is served later, it would have to explain that the time for requesting trial is still 21 days, and it would not work if it confused people.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): I have carefully followed the discussion, and although subsection (1) appears to be simple, it fails a reality check. It is extraordinary to expect a policeman who serves someone with a fixed penalty notice while dealing with disorder on the street to know both the magistrates court where that person will be tried and the date of the trial. He is not an expert listing officer, so it fails the reality test to expect him to be in possession of such information. How does the Parliamentary Secretary expect the procedure to work? That highlights the relevance of the concerns of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire.

Mr. Heald: Although that point could be right, it is possible for the police to liaise with the magistrates' clerks—who are now called chief executives—to arrange a date.

I am concerned about jurisdiction. If a major outside event such as a huge festival was taking place at some distance from a large town, the petty sessional division, where the magistrates court for that area is situated, might be unable to cope with the volume of cases and it might be necessary to hear them in a town with a large magistrates court—that happens fairly frequently. In such circumstances, the magistrate would normally decide whether it was convenient or necessary for the better administration of justice to serve summonses for a magistrates court outside the area where the incidents occurred, but I understand from the Parliamentary Secretary's comments that, in this instance, the police would decide the matter. I am trying to tease out of him how that would operate, given the magistrates courts rules.

Mr. Lock: On this occasion, the hon. Gentleman has made a reasonable point about how such arrangements would be set up in advance, given that they will be rarely used, and only for events at which the police anticipate that they might want to issue fixed penalty notices. In such instances, he is correct that the courts and the police would have to liaise in advance to agree the fixed dates to be printed on the warning notices. I apologise to the Committee if I did not make that point clearly, but I hope that it is implicit in the drafting.

Mr. Heald: I want to clarify where we now stand. The Minister's comments about amendments Nos. 99 and 100 have satisfied us.

Sir Nicholas Lyell: Is my hon. Friend not astonished to hear that it will be normal practice for the warning notice to be served with the penalty notice, given that the warning notice has to state not only the court where the matter will be heard but the date? The point may better be dealt with in a short clause stand part debate.

Mr. Heald: It is an odd procedure, given that there will not necessarily be any prospect of a court hearing. It is hard to envisage that the magistrates court administration would find it easy to operate in practice. It is also worrying for the police, because if, at a large event, many people are served with fixed penalty notices and warning notices at the same time and they all request trial, how many of them will turn up on the day of the hearing? After half a police force has been on duty for a special event, they might all have to turn up solemnly at court at a particular time on a particular date, when there is no hope of all the trials being dealt with on that day. The administrative side is worrying, as is the principle of setting a date and a time for a hearing when there is not yet the immediate prospect of a case. I also have doubts about the idea that it would not be served at the same time, but perhaps two days later. That could be quite confusing to the person who is being served the fixed penalty notice.

The Minister needs to get a grip and provide a detailed explanation of how this would work. We know that the Bill was introduced to save the Prime Minister's blushes, but the Committee is entitled to have the detail that will enable us to understand the mechanics of how it would work.

10.30 am

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke): The hon. Gentleman asserted that the Bill had been introduced to save the Prime Minister's blushes. Will the Opposition vote to do that, or will they vote against all the powers on fixed penalty notices?

Mr. Heald: As may have become obvious to the Minister during the past two days, we believe that the principle of having fixed penalty notices to deal with the simple case of being drunk in the street or whatever is a good idea, provided that it is not overly bureaucratic, that it works and that the court system can cope with it. We want to be sure that the details have been worked out. Frankly, so far, it has been a bit of a mess. We have not seen the guidance that he keeps relying on. We have been told again today that the guidance will cover the matter, but where is it? When we asked about the level of fixed penalties, he could not even tell us what it will be. This has not been thought through.

Mr. Clarke: Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman on the guidance. I have made a number of assertions about this. We will be able to give the Committee copies of our draft guidance immediately after the recess. I hope that that moves some way towards what he was asking for. If clauses 1 to 13 are not substantially amended beyond where we are now, which was a concession made by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, will the Opposition vote against them?

Mr. Heald: The Minister knows that we support the principle. I have made that clear.

Mr. Clarke: We are talking about the practicalities.

Mr. Heald: We are halfway through on the practicalities. We are in Committee. We have opportunities to suggest improvements between now and clause 13. We have already made a lot of improvements. We will have further opportunities on Report. [Interruption.] The Minister will have to be patient. If you introduce ill-thought-out legislation, and the detail is not in place, you have to be prepared to answer many questions.

The Chairman: Order. I must remind the hon. Gentleman that I am not introducing anything at all.

Mr. Heald: I did not mean you in that sense, Mr. Gale. I was being rhetorical and I apologise. [Interruption.] The Minister is metaphorical: I am rhetorical.

I was reassured by what the Parliamentary Secretary said about amendments Nos. 99 and 100. He made some progress on amendment No. 101 and I was happy enough. At least I hope that I will be when I see the guidance. I have just outlined my concerns. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire has come across a good point and there should be an amendment on Report to say ``at the same time''. The Minister is wrong to think in terms of serving warning notices two days later. I look forward to hearing my right hon. and learned Friend's final view on amendment No. 111.

Sir Nicholas Lyell: Briefly, I am not satisfied with the answers that I have been given on amendment No. 111 or on the practice of serving warning notices at the same time as penalty notices.

Mr. Lock: Would it help the right hon. and learned Gentleman if I were to explain the effect of section 14 of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980? It allows people to swear a statutory declaration to the effect that they never received a summons. I do not understand how people who have had a warning notice served on them specifying when the trial will be, should they request it, can at the same time swear a statutory declaration saying that they never received notice of the trial date. That is the issue.

Sir Nicholas Lyell: I think that the Parliamentary Secretary answered his own question in an earlier reply to me, when he said that if there was argument about whether one had been given the warning notice, that could be tried in court, but if one had indeed been given the warning notice, of course one could not say that the proceedings were invalid. It was a circular answer. He is shaking his head, so perhaps I misunderstand him.

Mr. Lock: I entirely agree that if one has had the warning notice, and so falls within subsection (7), one cannot say that one has not received the summons. If one has not received the warning notice, the clause does not apply.

Sir Nicholas Lyell: This is the point about section 14 of the 1980 Act. It makes the proceedings invalid where the accused did not know of them. It will not happen terribly often. Of course, occasionally people make false points and waste the time of the courts, but they can be condemned in costs. All I am asking for is the window of opportunity not to be technically closed, in a situation where the citizen genuinely did not know of the proceedings, probably because a police officer honestly thought that he had given the warning notice and the citizen honestly thought that he had not received it. Indeed, the court could discover, if it tried the matter, that the citizen had not received it. I am doing nothing but keeping a sensible little opportunity for justice open, and all I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to do is to reflect on it and table an amendment on Report if he thinks it necessary.

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