Third Standing Committee
on Delegated Legislation
Tuesday 11 March 2003
[Mr. Bill Olner in the Chair]
Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984
(Codes of Practice) (Codes B to E)
(No. 2) Order 2003
The Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety (Mr. John Denham): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Codes of Practice) (Codes B to E) (No. 2) Order 2003.
The order has been seen by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. It will, with the approval of the House and another place, bring into effect, from 1 April 2003, revised codes of practice in connection with the exercise of police powers in relation to searches of premises and the seizure of property found on persons or premises, code B; the detention, treatment and questioning of persons, code C; the identification of persons, code D; and tape recording of interviews with suspect, code E. The order has been made under section 67 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984—PACE. It cannot have effect until it is approved by both Houses. It has been made in consequence of a defect in one of the codes first laid before Parliament on 28 January. Due to an administrative error, code D was incomplete. That has been rectified and fresh codes were laid before the House on 26 February. I am sorry for the inconvenience caused to hon. Members by the postponement of the original debate and particularly to my noble Friend Lord Falconer and colleagues in another place who debated the defective orders before the error came to light. That is a cause of some embarrassment, as hon. Members can imagine.
Under section 66 of PACE, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has a duty to issue codes of practice to regulate the police in the exercise of their powers. There are six codes. The current versions of codes B to E came into force on 10 April 1995. Since then, a variety of legislative changes have affected police powers and procedures and rendered the current codes out of date. PACE and the codes of practice are vital parts of the framework of legislation providing the police with the powers that they need to combat crime. The longer the codes remain out of date and do not reflect changed legislation or respond to failings in case law, the more confusion they may cause. It is operationally imperative for the police and prosecutors to have up-to-date codes of practice as soon as possible.
In accordance with PACE, the codes of practice went through a period of public consultation from June to August last year. The changes proposed in the draft codes represent a partial review and several categories of amendments have been made. The largest group reflects and explains changes to primary legislation—for example, the new seizure provisions
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in part 2 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, the reductions in rank authorities for various PACE decisions also included in that Act, and the new scope for designated civilian staff to have access to various PACE powers which part 4 of the Police Reform Act 2002 provides. Other changes derive primarily from case law—for example, the extended capacity in code D to decide not to have an identification procedure when that would serve no useful purpose. A third category of amendments introduces important procedural changes to improve police performance—for example, the amendment to code D to give priority to video identification parades. Changes have also been made wherever possible to make the codes clearer and more concise. That has resulted in a reduction in word count of more than 10 per cent. for codes B, C and E compared with the initial draft revised codes.
The consultation was part of an overall review of PACE and the codes of practice conducted jointly by the Home Office and the Cabinet Office and was announced by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in May 2002. The report of the review was published in November 2002. Among other things, the report referred to the need for changes to legislation to enable new and amended codes to be introduced more swiftly. There are proposals in the current Criminal Justice Bill on that procedure and there has been some discussion of that in the Standing Committee. We are looking for a way forward to allow proper parliamentary scrutiny in significant areas while avoiding the lengthy delays and time lags that can be an inherent part of the current procedures. Discussion on that will continue.
There were about 80 responses to the consultation exercise on the revised codes, many raising issues for consideration. In considering the comments, we have focused on matters that required legislative changes. We have also taken on board suggestions for practical improvements or for revisions to the drafting for the sake of clarity.
In general, we have resisted requests for more detail or for additional guidance to be included in the codes. The PACE review report identified a need for greater clarity in the codes of practice. As part of the longer-term revision of the codes, much of the detailed guidance that is at present in the codes will be moved into separate national standards. In the meantime, within the current framework, we have made changes to make the codes easier to read and more friendly.
I hope that the proposed revisions to the codes are not contentious. I have arranged for hon. Members to be provided with an explanatory paper that details the main changes to each code, which I hope will prove helpful.
Revision of the codes of practice is part of the overall and continuing Government agenda on police reform. The key aims of the police reform programme are to improve the performance of the police service and the support for police officers. Better use must be made of all police resources to enable officers to spend more time on the beat.
Many of the changes in the revised codes of practice will enable implementation of important legislative
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provisions in areas such as seizure powers and rank authorities for PACE decisions. Other changes allow for the introduction of a broader range of health care professionals in the custody suite. The new codes also enable more effective use of civilian support staff, including designated persons as provided for in the Police Reform Act 2002. Particular attention has been paid to the drafting of the new codes to ensure that they do not require any specified procedures or tasks to be carried out by a police officer or a designated person if there is no such legislative requirement. That will enable chief officers to make maximum use of suitably trained civilian staff for tasks such as interviewing and identification procedures. Taken together, the changes will speed up decision-making processes and free up senior officers' time for other duties, enable the police to work more flexibly and make better use of resources, and free up police officer time to concentrate on front-line duties.
I shall outline briefly the individual codes. New code B, which deals with the searching of premises and the seizure of property, will allow for implementation of the new seize and sift provisions in part 2 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001. The provisions will come into force to coincide with the new code.
Code C concerns the detention, treatment and questioning of persons in police custody. The code incorporates several measures aimed at improving the level of health care provision to suspects, reflecting the range of actions that police forces already take to provide better care, assessment and monitoring of detainees. Emphasis is placed on the need to conduct a proper and effective risk assessment of those entering police custody to determine whether they may be in need of medical attention, among other things.
Several police forces have expressed an interest in using other health care professionals alongside police surgeons in their custody suite, and increased use of custody nurses was one of the recommendations in the PACE review report. Where health care professionals are used in custody suites, completion of appropriate risk assessments and the identification of medical problems at early stages have enabled appropriate referrals for medical treatment. The amendments to section 9 of code C, which allow appropriately trained health care professionals to work alongside registered medical practitioners, are expected to result in increased flexibility and improvements in response times and to provide for best value efficiencies in the way that health care is delivered in custody suites.
Code D deals with the identification of persons by police officers. Some of the changes reflect or build on amendments included in the partially revised code D, which was introduced in March 2002, to enable greater use of video identification procedures. It has been shown that use of that technology speeds up identification procedures and thus reduces the anxieties and delays that are experienced by victims and witnesses. The new code seeks to clarify how the procedures should be undertaken in order to reduce opportunities for legal interpretations and delays concerning the use of identification evidence in court. We must ensure that the identification procedure is
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undertaken as quickly as possible if we are to meet our obligations to victims and witnesses.
I come finally to code E, which covers the audio recording of interviews with suspects. The changes to this code mainly mirror corresponding changes to the other codes.
It is increasingly unhelpful for the police to work with out-of-date codes. There is a general consensus that the codes should be updated, and their modernisation at this time will bring police practice into line with current legislation, which will allow a more effective and efficient use of police time and provide the police with the up-to-date codes that they seek.