Draft Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 (Powers of Seizure) Order 2003

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Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Benton. I am glad that you were able to give that ruling. The assumption that I made was that, as the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) was a Minister of the Crown at the time that he certified the order, he was accountable for his actions. However, it was helpful that the Minister today also referred to his view that the order is in accordance with the European convention on human rights, which puts the matter beyond any reasonable doubt.

Given that the former Minister of State has been mentioned, it is perhaps appropriate to put on record my appreciation of his work at the Department and that of the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), as the spokesman for the Conservative party, who resigned his position in similar circumstances. We respect the reasons why they resigned, and it would not be inappropriate to say that they both in their separate ways added to our proceedings on home affairs and they will be missed. I hope that they will still be able to contribute in other ways.

Obviously, I do not intend to oppose the order. The reason why I suspected that that might be obvious was because it was in pursuance of two statutes that we supported. One was the Copyright, etc. and Trade Marks (Offences and Enforcement) Act 2002, which was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable). Clearly we want its provisions brought into effect under the order. We were also extremely supportive of the International Criminal Court Act 2001, which we want implemented as fully as possible. I therefore do not have any objections to what the Minister has proposed, although I have a couple of questions that it is appropriate to ask.

I confess I was a little confused, through my own ignorance, by the Minister's point about the

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application of the Act to Scotland. I understood that he had received the agreement of the relevant Scottish Minister—Jim Wallace, the Deputy First Minister—on the application of the powers of seizure under the copyright regulations, but that the International Criminal Court legislation was outside the jurisdiction of this order. That suggests that a similar order will be made by the Scottish Parliament in due course. Will the Minister confirm that? Differences between Scotland, and England and Wales on an international matter would be absurd. That would be contrary to the treaty obligations that we signed up to leading up to the ratification of the ICC protocol.

My second point is a minor one. I note that the explanatory memorandum—this is the argument adduced by the Minister for the ICC part of the order—states that the new power of seizure will apply

    ''where the International Criminal Court has made a request for assistance in ascertaining whether a person has benefited from ICC crime (genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes).''

I am not sure whether ''benefited from'' is entirely appropriate. I presume that that would apply to evidence of complicity with those crimes, rather than direct material benefit from their commission. Will the Minister explain the explanatory memorandum to avoid any doubt?

My last point comes down to the exercise of such powers by the police, which we touched on when debating the Criminal Justice Bill. We all accept that the police need such powers and that they must be exercised responsibly. One of the greatest criticisms of the way in which the police sometimes exercise powers of seizure concerns their preparedness to make information on timing of raids or their circumstances available to the press and media, which results in inappropriate publicity for essentially private matters between the police and possible defendants in criminal proceedings.

Such publicity does nobody any good. It does not help any judicial proceedings, and it certainly does not help the innocent person whose goods have been seized, but subsequently has no case to answer. Not only should that be a disciplinary matter within the police force, but there is an argument for making the exchange of information between the police and the media illegal, certainly if it is for financial reward. I hope that any codes of conduct that are issued to police forces on how to exercise powers of seizure under this order and other legislation will make it plain that abuse of a police constable's position in alerting the press and media to provide for high media coverage of a seizure is inappropriate, prejudicial to future criminal proceedings, and should be avoided.

2.49 pm

Bob Spink (Castle Point): I associate myself with the final point made by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) about the exercise of these powers by the police. However, I support giving the police such powers. I raise that for clarification.

I would like to ask about the inextricably linked property provision, the full definition of which is set

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out in the original legislation, which provides that such property should not be examined, copied or used for any purpose other than for facilitating the use in any proceedings of property that is inextricably linked. Property may be seized during a fraud investigation, and when it is examined, evidence may be found on a computer hard drive of the crime of paedophilia. In such a case, would the police act on the crime of paedophilia, or would they be barred from doing so?

I would like to refer to a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison). What would the procedure be if a seized computer hard drive held secure or classified information?

2.50 pm

Hilary Benn: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome for referring to the matter that the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire raised regarding my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen. My right hon. Friend is much admired and will be greatly missed—I am sure that view is shared by the whole Committee—as will the hon. Member for Woking, with whom several of us spent many hours dealing with the Committee stage of the Criminal Justice Bill.

Mr. Paice: Having raised the question of the validity of the former Minister's signature, I want to put on the record that I entirely support the Minister's comments and those of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome about the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen. I have written to the right hon. Gentleman personally to express my gratitude for his efforts in the Home Office, and for the way in which he has gone about his duties and has worked with me as his shadow for the past 18 months. Having raised a query about his role, I did not want that to be my only mention of him.

Hilary Benn: That was extremely eloquently put by the hon. Gentleman, and I shall ensure that my right hon. Friend gets a chance to see the genuine tributes to him in Hansard.

I am grateful to you, Mr. Benton, for your clarification on relation to the first point raised by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire. I suppose it was a belt and braces approach. That was certainly the opinion expressed by my right hon. Friend when he signed his name, and I concur with that view, as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome pointed out, which is why I said what I did in opening the debate.

The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire raised an important point about the tension, and that is specifically addressed in section 59 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001. Rules of court have now been made under that section to allow those affected by seizure of property to apply to the court for directions on return and retention of property. Anyone who has an interest in that property can apply.

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point about the impact on businesses of not having that equipment and the information contained in it. Having said that, seizure of computer-held data will often involve copying or imaging the hard disk, and in those

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circumstances the original data can often be returned to the owner. That is one way of addressing the hon. Gentleman's important point.

In relation to teenagers downloading music and other files, the answer is that individual copying would not in most cases be serious enough for the police to apply for a warrant. I hope that I am able to offer some reassurance. If it were a larger scale business, matters would be rather different.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome raised the question of Scotland. As he correctly divined, the Scottish Executive had to be consulted because of the copyright changes that apply to Scotland, so the order applies UK-wide. The Scots have a separate International Criminal Court (Scotland) Act 2001, and no request came from the Scottish Executive to add any powers under that Act to part 2.

The tipping-off of the media is not covered directly under the PACE codes, but the police are well aware of the contempt rules and they should not tip off the media before searches. The hon. Gentleman made that point forcefully. His second point was about the use of the word ''benefit''. I hope that he will be reassured when I say that ''benefit'' is used in a financial sense, such as land seizure or looting during genocide or war crimes. Such wording is not as odd as it might first appear.

Mr. Heath: I understand that. I just wanted to be sure that the word did not exclude prima facie evidence of complicity in war crimes. It seems to do that under the wording of the memorandum.

Hilary Benn: The measure is not intended to do that because, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, the Act covers the most serious crimes and its whole purpose was to ensure that we have effective means of bringing people to account, including finding the evidence needed to achieve that.

The hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) asked specifically about what would happen if material were found, other than that sought. Yes, the police would be able to act because section 19 of PACE

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allows the seizure of evidence of other crimes. The example cited by the hon. Gentleman was that of paedophile material, which is extremely topical in the context of Operation Ore, to which the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire referred. During a fraud search along the lines of the example given, such seizures of evidence happen occasionally and the information would then be passed to the appropriate officers to deal with.

As for secure and classified information, police can seize whatever is covered by the warrant. Depending on what the hon. Member for Castle Point meant by secure or classified, the police would not be excluded from seizing such information if it were covered by the broad framework of the warrant.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury): The secure and classified information to which my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point referred was, for example, Government-held material that might be seized. It has been mentioned that employers' computers might be seized as a result of alleged impropriety on the part of employees. How would the regulations apply if that happened to be someone who was working with sensitive material, for example, at the Ministry of Defence?

Hilary Benn: That is a good question. The honest answer is that I do not know. However, I shall reflect on it and write to the hon. Members for Castle Point and for Westbury, with a copy of my letter to the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire, if he would be interested.

Mr. Paice: Yes.

Hilary Benn: I hope that I have been helpful, and that the Committee will approve the order.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the draft Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 (Powers of Seizure) Order 2003.

Committee rose at two minutes to Three o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Benton, Mr. Joe (Chairman)
Benn, Hilary
Clark, Paul
Flynn, Paul
Heath, Mr.
Heppell, Mr.
Lyons, Mr.
Mitchell, Mr. Austin
Murrison, Dr.
Paice, Mr.
Spink, Bob
Stewart, Ian
Stinchcombe, Mr.
Tipping, Paddy

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