Football (Disorder) (Amendment) Bill

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Mr. Denham: The reference to bail is in section 21C(4), so if the bail condition is to be imposed, it is as I have said. It is important to emphasise the court's examination of the issues, because several references have been made to administrative action, as though we are discussing something that is exercised by the Executive or the police, without any checks and balances in the courts. Not only are the police subject to legal constraints and possible challenge but, at virtually every key stage in the process, the courts are involved.

In an earlier debate, the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) asked why nine section 21B-prompted banning order proceedings had failed. The answer is simple. The court had decided that it was not satisfied that the two tests for imposing an order, which I have already described, had been met.

The hon. Member for Beaconsfield asked again about the length and cost of court hearings prompted by the issue of a section 21B notice. The Lord Chancellor's Department does not routinely gather such information but, at my request, officials consulted magistrates courts with experience of such hearings. Their advice is that there is no average, as much depends on the nature of the evidence presented. However, the average cost of a magistrate hearing generally is about £289 an hour, and, on that rough basis, the cost of a straightforward section 14B hearing is probably about £100. The cost of more complex proceedings obviously will be more. We also asked whether any legal actions had been taken against the police regarding the use of the summary powers. The Football Banning Orders Authority made inquiries about this but has failed to identify any such cases.

5.45 pm

Last week, and today, the hon. Member for Beaconsfield asked about compensation paid to individuals who have been prevented from travelling but have not subsequently received a banning order. Last week, I said that my understanding was that no compensation had been paid, but that I would check during the debate. That was a perfectly true statement, but it may have been misleading in its implication. Although it was not possible to check the information during the debate, I have been able to check it subsequently. Compensation payments have been made on at least two occasions, and the amounts are small; in the region of £315 in one case and a similar amount in the other. Compensation is limited by section 21D(1)(b) to loss incurred as a result of receiving a section 21B notice. I hope that that sets out a substantial amount of additional information requested by hon. Members.

On issues of principle and practice in relation to the Bill, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey has consistently said that banning orders should only be imposed on individuals who have convictions for violence or public order offences. There are two things to say in that regard. First, the existence of a conviction alone is not, under the Act, sufficient for the court to make a banning order. The court must also be satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for believing that it would help prevent violence and disorder at football matches. We need to accept that, in many cases, a conviction will not lead the courts to be so satisfied. One can question whether that is the necessary or relevant minimum qualification for legislation of this sort.

In the case of Smith, who appealed to the High Court against the imposition of a 14B order earlier this year, it would appear that the court imposing the order had placed little weight on his one aged, previous conviction, but had been swayed by other evidence of his recent involvement in organised hooliganism. Looking at that other evidence, Lord Justice Laws, who gave judgment in the case of Smith and others, said:

    ``There is nothing objectionable in the measures relating to evidence provided for by section 14C.''

Under that section, the court may take account of video evidence, evidence of deportation and so on. There is nothing in the 14B procedure that allows the court to hear evidence in circumstances that are unfair to the individual. The court retains its inherent power to prevent abuse of process, and it is open to the individual to challenge evidence and the admissibility of evidence.

It is interesting to look at what Lord Justice Laws said about the standard of proof that the courts should apply in 14B cases. He concluded:

    ``The standard of proof required for 14B(4)(a) will be practicably indistinguishable from the criminal standard; and the standard for 14B(4)(b) will be appropriate to the gravity of what is asserted.''

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey would like to apply a false test to the use of this legislation. He would take a position whereby a conviction that may have been issued many years previously would be regarded as relevant, but clear video evidence of somebody participating in a riot outside a football match last week would not be admissible. That would make a nonsense of what the legislation is trying to achieve. It is not a question of administrative action, or of the police saying, ``We've got you on video. You cannot go to the football match.'' It is a court-based process. I am sure that the courts will be guided by what Lord Justice Laws said previously.

Simon Hughes: I have followed the debate carefully, and I understand what the Minister says. Will he confirm that it is an option to ensure that, if evidence to make a criminal test beyond reasonable doubt were in front of a court, it would allow a conviction to be secured for an offence? Therefore, it would be possible to find a person guilty and impose the order. Will the Minister tell us that, irrespective of the weight put on earlier offences, everybody who has a banning order—if I understood him correctly on Second Reading—has had a conviction for violence or a public order offence?

Mr. Denham: On the first point, the hon. Gentleman must accept the situation we may be in, although we do not know because the work has not yet been done. Video evidence collected overseas may not lead to a conviction. We cannot convict people here for a fight in which they were involved in Munich. As we rehearsed on Second Reading, other countries are often reluctant to spend their time and money convicting our football hooligans rather than getting them out of that country and back here as quickly as possible. There is a set of disappointing, but understandable, reasons for that. That will not provide the basis for a conviction overseas, even with countries with which we effectively have a reciprocal agreement. That is a problem.

In terms of banning orders on conviction and banning orders on complaint, it is correct that every recipient had a conviction for violent behaviour, even if it were not football-related. However, that does not allow us to leap to the conclusion that the banning order was imposed because of that conviction. As the legislation is drafted, the conviction is not sufficient to obtain a banning order on complaint; there must be reasonable grounds for thinking that the order would be effective to prevent further disorder. The hon. Gentleman knows the exact wording of the Act. Such grounds may be other relevant evidence.

Simon Hughes: I absolutely understand that, but we must consider the sense of justice felt by a person served with the banning order who has no criminal conviction for violence and public order offences. The police have a second test of having reasonable grounds for suspecting that a person may misbehave, although that person may never have been convicted. If there is only police suspicion of misbehaviour, a banning order and the forbidding of foreign travel is a pretty severe penalty when there is a ``reasonable grounds only'' test, but not a ``reasonable grounds and past evidence leading to a conviction'' test. The matter is about the perception of the individual as much as the message that is sent outside.

Mr. Denham: The hon. Gentleman and I must agree to differ on that, and the Committee will take a view on the matter. I think that he places too much weight on the secure test of the reasonableness of the banning order. Clearly, the police must not only have reasonable grounds for an order. They must have evidence and they must persuade a court that that evidence is relevant. Earlier, I set out what Lord Justice Laws said about the quality of evidence and the required test. We could produce a ludicrous situation, in which a person with a long and otherwise forgotten public order offence conviction could be picked up because of that, but a person against whom there was much more recent evidence—although not enough to secure a court conviction because of the circumstances that I described—would be let through.

Sections 21A and 21B are the focus of a separate amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield. My hon. Friend the Member for Selby drew out the fact that there must be a provision to tackle hooligans about whom the police intelligence agency cannot establish information ahead of the five-day banning period should it become apparent that such people are choosing to attend a match.

Section 21B is a minor part of the overall numbers of banning orders. Clearly, most of them are combined orders on conviction under section 14A. A few of those under section 21B are still working their way through the system. However, in the future, I expect that the vast majority will be under section 14A, with the provision to use section 14B at the last minute, as it were. That is an integral part of the legislation.

I shall now refer to information, time scales and a sunset clause.

6 pm

Mr. Grieve: I stood up a moment ago, but I was trying to think about two things at once.

I take the Minister's point that the section 21 procedure is marginal within the totality of the panoply of orders available to restrict people from travelling to football matches. However, did not the Bill that became the 2000 Act say that the normal method would be by complaint and that section 21 would exist as an emergency procedure? In fact, section 21 appears to be the normal method by which the 2000 Act is implemented. Should that not be a subject of concern and something that we bear in mind when looking at what was intended last year and how it is working in practice?

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