Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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Mr. Blunt: Why is the provision is necessary? I know that a similar provision was put in place for the armed services, under the Armed Forces Discipline Act 2000. Did another set of circumstances arise for which it was thought to be needed?

Mr. Clarke: The origin of the measures is in the Terrorism Bill proceedings.

The five-year moratorium is a dangerous doctrine, but an appropriately conservative one for the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey to adopt. Given the pace of change in relation to technology and other things, a five-year block would be difficult to deal with.

As the hon. Gentleman will recall, much debate was devoted to the subject during consideration of the Terrorism Bill. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) told us at length and entertainingly how, when he was a Minister in the Home Office, he tried hard to get the Conservative Government to introduce video hearings. However, that attempt was blocked by the lawyers—his Government colleagues, in fact—who thought that the quill pen was pushing technology too far and that video could not be used. I said that the Government accepted his points because we thought that that was the correct direction. That was said in Committee and on Report, and the clause represents a progression of that approach.

We thought that it was important to consult on the matter, rather than just to implement it. That is why we did not introduce it earlier. The decision has come from a good process. To answer the point made by the hon. Member for Reigate, we did not decide that we should introduce video for a specific reason, but we believe that it is increasingly necessary to be able to use video in this way.

The amendments would bolster the rights of a suspect by ensuring that his or her interests are safeguarded during judicial extension hearings that are conducted by video and limiting the discretion of a judicial authority to use video links.

Amendment No. 255 would ensure that video links are secure. That is laudable, given the need to protect intelligence, but the security of the system can be adequately covered by the Secretary of State's quality assurance. That is the way to proceed, rather than by changing the Bill. I give the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire an absolute assurance that we take the matter seriously, and the quality assurance will ensure that.

Amendments Nos. 256 and 257 would ensure that the detainee's right to be seen and heard, and to see and hear, is adequate throughout the hearing. I share that laudable aim, but the changes in wording would not strengthen the clause, which is clear, because it carries no implications that that right is qualified in any way or applies to only one part of the hearing. We share the approach of amendments Nos. 255 to 257 but think that the current wording is better.

The situation with respect to amendments Nos. 258 and 259 is different. Amendment No. 258 would ensure that the use of video links is exceptional. That is not the policy aim of the clause, which is to make the use of video links a normal rather than an exceptional event, subject to the discretion of the judicial authority. Video links should be introduced for a number of reasons, some of which are cost saving—I know that that is the only thing that interests the hon. Member for Surrey Heath. However, in many parts of the country, they would also make it more convenient to bring people into the judicial system rapidly and effectively.

Amendment No. 258 presumes that the hearing will be held in person and only held by video in exceptional circumstances. Clause 74 is not unprecedented, as similar provisions exist in the bail and immigration fields. The amendment would undermine the central policy goal of the clause, which, although I am open to correction, I do not believe that the Conservatives oppose—that is why I cited the attempts of the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border.

Mr. Heald: We are obviously keen for proper protections to be in place. Will the Minister explain why clause 74 provides for the routine use of video links while clause 72 makes such use exceptional?

Mr. Clarke: Because we are talking about different circumstances. Clause 72 applies to specific circumstances relating to detention, which require various protections. That is an exceptional process. However, the situation that we are currently discussing is quite different.

Mr. Hughes: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Clarke: I will finish what I am going to say about amendment No. 259 and then I will give way.

Amendment No. 259 would change the presumption on the use of video links. It would require the judicial authority to give reasons for the use of such links as well as for a decision to take the hearing in person. That would mean that the judicial authority would have to give reasons in every case. The policy aim is for the presumption of the use of video links, for the reasons that I have stated.

Mr. Heald: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Clarke: I will give way to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey and then to the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire before I mention the European convention.

Mr. Hughes: Will the Minister elaborate on the host of reasons why he thinks that video links should be the main policy aim? They are a less personal and less effective method of ensuring direct contact between the authority and detainee under the detention and arrest provisions in clause 72, but they should be more exceptional in respect of terrorism, which is more rare, more serious and more important. It should not be the norm that terrorism detention decisions should be taken by video link. That is a bad policy objective. Such decisions should be taken in a face-to-face arrangement, except in exceptional circumstances.

Mr. Clarke: The hon. Gentleman is right in a sense. I do not want to undermine him, but we want a greater use of video in such proceedings. I understand his point about safeguards, which he has made consistently. We have established effective safeguards. We are worried, however, that amendments Nos. 258 and 259 would erect a further set of hurdles, which would make matters more difficult to deal with.

Mr. Heald: Clauses 72 and 74 are both about detention. Clause 72 covers terrorists and a slightly different procedure. Is there something about terrorism and the way in which terrorist suspects are detained that means that video links would be useful? Is there a practical reason why it would be good to take such action all the time, whereas it should be exceptional in ordinary cases? What is the difference?

Mr. Clarke: The fundamental point is that clause 72 detainees will be in the police station and such cases will be reviewed by the police officer. As for clause 74, in the case of a review by a judge under the Terrorism Act 2000, significant issues are raised by transferring the terrorist suspect to court, and that raises serious issues that make the use of videos beneficial. The overall use of video links will prevent detainees from spending longer overall in custody, due to their having to spend long periods of travelling to the judicial authority, who may be some distance away. That is a significant factor.

The right to appear before a judicial authority guaranteed by article 53 of the European convention of human rights can be delivered effectively through video links, which facilitate the right to make all representation when the detainee chooses to exercise it. The convention rights around which the judicial extension provisions are designed are set out in the Schiesser judgment, with which the hon. Gentleman, as a lawyer, will be familiar. The relevant right is to appear and for the judicial authority to be able to hear for himself or herself both sides of the argument. Appearance can be facilitated by video link. The key issue will be about the quality and security of the system, to which I referred earlier. I urge that the amendment be withdrawn.

Mr. Heald: I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 1.

Division No. 30]

Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Clark, Mr. Paul
Clarke, Mr. Charles
Grogan, Mr. John
McCabe, Mr. Stephen
McDonagh, Siobhain
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry

Hughes, Mr. Simon

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 74 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 75 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 76

Codes of practice

Amendment proposed: No. 260, in page 63, line 10, leave out paragraph (a).—[Mr. Heald.]

Mr. Charles Clarke: I urge my colleagues to vote against the amendment if it is not withdrawn. It would undermine the whole purpose of clause 76, which is to provide a more straightforward mechanism for changes to the codes.

Mr. Heald: A fuller explanation is required from the Minister and, given that he has not been willing to give one, I shall not withdraw the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 4, Noes 7.

Division No. 31]

Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Gray, Mr. James
Hawkins, Mr. Nick
Heald, Mr. Oliver

Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Clark, Mr. Paul
Clarke, Mr. Charles
Grogan, Mr. John
McCabe, Mr. Stephen
McDonagh, Siobhain
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 76 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

It being One o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

        Adjourned till tomorrow at five minutes to Ten o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Gale, Mr. (Chairman)
Bailey, Mr.
Ballard, Jackie
Blunt, Mr.
Brinton, Mrs.
Clark, Mr. Paul
Clarke, Mr. Charles
Gray, Mr.
Grogan, Mr.
Hawkins, Mr.
Heald, Mr.
Hughes, Mr. Simon
McCabe, Mr.
McDonagh, Siobhain
Smith, Miss Geraldine
Sutcliffe, Mr.
Thomas, Mr. Gareth R.

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Prepared 7 March 2001