Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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Sir Nicholas Lyell: That means that one can contest the service by making a statutory declaration, which takes some time and trouble and is a normal safeguard for citizens. What is the point of ruling that out?

Mr. Lock: It is ruled out because, by definition, a person who has been served with a warning notice under clause 7 cannot simultaneously say that he was served with a warning notice and is therefore covered by the clause, but that he wants to swear a statutory declaration saying that he was not served a warning notice. The provision removes the possibility of a person's occupying two such contradictory positions.

Sir Nicholas Lyell: The Parliamentary Secretary is right to say that the circumstance in which the problem could arise is that in which a person receives a letter out of the blue saying that he has incurred a fine, and says that he knows nothing about it. Thanks to the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980, magistrates courts operate a sensible system that allows people to make a statutory declaration. It can be tested in court, but at least it provides an opportunity to contest the service. It would be wise to leave that option in the Bill. That would not hurt the Government. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to think again.

Mr. Lock: We shall have to disagree on that. An individual who claimed to know nothing about a notice could take advantage of section 14 of the 1980 Act. Nothing can stop him doing so unless he is a person against whom a warning notice has been served. Of course, the individual will say that he knows nothing about it, was not served with a summons, did not receive a warning notice and therefore wants the matter set aside. That is perfectly proper.

The object is to stop someone saying, ``I know nothing about the circumstances of this event. I accept that I was served with a warning notice, but I knew nothing about the trial.'' Those two positions are entirely inconsistent and the Government do not understand how anyone can simultaneously say that he was served with a warning notice telling him to turn up at Bedfordshire magistrates court on a certain date if he wished to contest proceedings, yet that he knows nothing about them; hence clause 7(7).

I have listened carefully and I understand the right hon. and learned Gentleman's argument. However, I do not think that the clause has the effect that he suggests because an individual will still be able to say that he was not served, and take advantage of section 14. That would apply only if the person had been served with a warning notice, or believed himself to have been.

Mr. Blunt: I thought that the Parliamentary Secretary said that the reason why we do not need to worry about the matter is that clause 12(5) says:

    ``The court may set aside a fine in the interests of justice.''.

I understand that that cannot apply because the clause concerns only people who have elected for trial and who are therefore not defaulting on a fixed penalty notice. It applies only to the fine for non-payment of a penalty, so the clause does not apply in other circumstances.

Mr. Lock: I think that the hon. Gentleman is concerned that if someone was served a warning notice and a fixed penalty notice and elected for trial but did not turn up for trial, the case could be heard in his absence. If a fine is imposed in absentia, clause 12 will not apply. It applies only for a fine registered under clause 11, when someone has not responded to a fixed penalty notice. I want to answer the question about what would happen if someone not only did not request a trial, but did not know anything about the proceedings that were under way. In such a case, a fixed penalty would not have been paid so a fine would be registered; the first time the person would know about it would be when the fine was enforced.

Mr. Hughes: In support of the argument by the hon. Member for Reigate, I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consider whether it would be easier to have a common process—namely, a summons—and whether that could be an alternative to the procedure under discussion. Could we have one common system for the period after the court process has been triggered? We may still vote against the clause, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman will consider that, and the Government might return to the issue later.

Mr. Lock: Hon. Members have raised many issues on the assumption that the procedure will be used frequently, but we do not anticipate that it will be. We expect it to be used on the occasions when the police and the courts anticipate an event that could lead to the offences in clause 1. For such situations, the police and courts may set a court date in advance to ensure that any problems at the event are dealt with promptly and in an organised way on a date when all the defendants involved can be brought before the court. If there are many defendants, the arrangements for the trial of the issues must be determined. It is right that there should be one occasion on which the issues of who is genuinely contesting the case, how the cases are to be tried and how the administrative procedure leading up to trial will proceed, are determined.

If the police anticipate that they will want to use those powers, they should be able to set a court date in advance, in co-operation with the justices, to anticipate the disposal of fixed penalty notice cases. The procedure will cut out the bureaucracy that would otherwise be involved, and ensure that all the defendants whose cases have common features are co-ordinated to meet on one date, regardless of when their requests for trial arrive. That is an administrative convenience for the authorities, and will enable justice to be done swiftly and properly.

11.15 am

If hon. Members disapprove of that suggestion—I understand why they might—they can vote against the clause. However, the Government believe that the police should have the option, in such unusual circumstances, to be able to anticipate the course of events so that they can police matters properly, and so that there is a clear procedure for serving a fixed penalty notice. The notice is not a challenge or a dare to individuals; it makes it clear, in a measured way, to people who have been served with a fixed penalty notice, that they have the right to contest the notice, and, if they wish to do so, it states, in advance, where their trials will be heard.

The procedure is straightforward. It will enable defendants and the police to know where they stand, and I hope that it will commend itself to the Committee, but if any Committee members do not like it, they can vote against it.

Mr. Heald: The procedure is hopelessly over-complicated. If notices are served at the same time, defendants who have not asked for a trial will turn up at court on what they think is their court date, and the problems outlined by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe) will arise.

I am sorry, but separate procedures for notifying people of their court dates are needed.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 10, Noes 7.

Division No. 10]

Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Brinton, Mrs. Helen
Clarke, Mr. Charles
Grogan, Mr. John
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Lock, Mr. David
McCabe, Mr. Stephen
Smith, Miss Geraldine
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Thomas, Mr. Gareth R.

Ballard, Jackie
Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Gray, Mr. James
Hawkins, Mr. Nick
Heald, Mr. Oliver
Hughes, Mr. Simon
Lyell, Sir Nicholas

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 8

Statements by constables

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Heald: I want to make a few remarks about officers' witness statements. Since the Committee addressed the matter in an earlier debate, I have had discussions with the Police Superintendents Association and the Police Federation, and I remain concerned that the procedure might require officers to produce lengthy witness statements in addition to a fixed penalty notice.

The procedure must be simple and streamlined if it is to work. The statements should say little more than that someone was found drunk and incapable in the street or threatened Mrs. Brown—short statements, which an officer can write out easily. The procedure is not suitable for complicated cases.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary think further about the matter? Is he prepared to say that the guidance will make it clear that a fixed penalty notice will be issued only if an offence can be summed up in a couple of simple sentences?

Mr. Hawkins: I do not think that we shall have the same kind of technical debate that we had on the previous clause. However, I hope that I can interest the hon. Member for Hall Green, who always carefully listens to debate and was brave enough to be persuaded by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire in the previous debate, although he might have had a lightning change of heart before the vote on clause 7. I hope that I can interest the hon. Member for Hall Green because, if I am right, there may be a complication in the conjunction of subsections (4) and (6). Those of us who have the advantage of being lawyers—

Mr. Charles Clarke: Shame.

Mr. Hawkins: I will ignore the division between Ministers about the value of being a lawyer.

Lawyers will remember that section 9 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967 was vital to all courses on the law of evidence. I do not know whether the Parliamentary Secretary—like myself and my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire—spent many hours studying the work of Professor Sir Rupert Cross, the leading authority on the law of evidence. One of the issues that is beloved of all textbook writers on section 9 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967 may not have been fully thought through by the Government. It could be akin to the point raised in relation to the last clause.

Subsection (6) states:

    ``statement to be tendered in evidence to be served before hearing on other parties to the proceedings''


    ``service of the statement is to be taken to have been effected by or on behalf of the prosecutor.''

However, subsection (4) states:

    ``The statement is to be treated as properly served . . . even though the manner of service is not authorised by subsection (8)''

of section 9 of the Criminal Justice Act 1967. The Government are saying that the normal rules from section 9 of the 1967Act will be bypassed. The new law will provide an exception to that Act and a different procedure.

I can see why the Government want to do that. They are attempting to make handing over the short form of the notices a quick procedure. There is no doubt in our minds that that is laudable. However, Conservative Members—I have discussed the matter with my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire—are worried that the quick procedure might create a complex series of arguments to establish what is, and what is not, proper service of statements of evidence. The Government must convince us that they have consulted widely on exactly how the bypassing of section 9 of the 1967 Act will work. Are they confident that the first time that the short service of statements of evidence is tried and challenged for validity under the Human Rights Act, it will be upheld? I am not convinced that it will be.

I have a dreadful fear that there may be a test case in which a distinguished human rights lawyer, such as Michael Mansfield QC, may be instructed. For example, the director of Liberty could be involved in a big demonstration and be wrongly issued with a fixed penalty notice. I cast no aspersions on that gentleman, but he would have access to the top human rights lawyers in the country. Are the Government satisfied that if he decided that the short form of service of statements of evidence needed to be challenged in a test case, the legislation would be fireproof and Human Rights Act-proof? I am not convinced.

Mr. Lock: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hawkins: I will, but I am about to finish so the Parliamentary Secretary may wish to respond to the points in more detail, instead of intervening.

Conservative Members are concerned and want reassurance that the Government have thought the matter through. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give detail about the advice that he has been given on the way in which the measure will work. It is unconventional to set aside a major plank of the law of evidence.

Sir Nicholas Lyell: I am worried that the manner of giving statements and the deeming of the statements—

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

        Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Gale, Mr. (Chairman)
Bailey, Mr.
Ballard, Jackie
Blunt, Mr.
Brinton, Mrs.
Clarke, Mr. Charles
Gray, Mr.
Grogan, Mr.
Hawkins, Mr.
Heald, Mr.
Hughes, Mr. Simon
Humble, Mrs.
Ladyman, Dr.
Lock, Mr.
Lyell, Sir Nicholas
McCabe, Mr.
Smith, Miss Geraldine
Sutcliffe, Mr.
Thomas, Mr. Gareth R.

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Prepared 15 February 2001