Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Codes of Practice) (Codes B to E) (No. 2) Order 2003

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Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): Good morning, Mr. Olner, at this unearthly hour.

I thank the Minister for his introduction in which he referred to the present procedure not being the most suitable way in which to ensure that the codes receive the necessary parliamentary scrutiny and approval, a point with which I wholly concur. We have before us four separate documents, which would equate to a substantial Bill if they were presented in that form. Such a Bill would be subject to several days' consideration in Committee. In the hour and a half that we have been allocated for this statutory instrument, it is clearly impossible to scrutinise the codes line by line as one would with a Bill.

As the Minister has said, the codes have been subject to wide consultation and one therefore hopes and expects that they are not controversial. From the perspective of parliamentary scrutiny, however, I submit that that is not necessarily something that we should take for granted. I will have to use a list approach to raise my points otherwise the Minister and I will be up and down like a jack in the box as I raise new questions. I want to stress that I have not got many questions because the principal issue concerns the overall package.

Starting logically with code B, the Minister referred to the papers provided by his office, which answered almost all my questions. Paragraph 2.3 refers to the ''discovery of insecure premises''. I cannot find a definition of what constitutes an insecure premise. If we are guiding police officers or other members of the police family on whether they can search premises, we should provide some guidance on what constitutes ''insecure''. Does it mean open windows or unlocked doors?

More importantly, paragraph 4.3 of code B concerns record keeping. Unless I have misunderstood it, which is possible, I am puzzled that it does not mention the use of technology. It refers to

    ''The record of the grounds for the search and the nature of the evidence . . . should be made in the custody record if there is one . . . the officer's pocket book, or the search record''.

One can argue that all that information could be held on software, but it seems to me that we should refer to the use of modern technology. One would hope that

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officers would carry some form of portable technology such as recorders or palm-top computers.

The Committee will be pleased to hear that I am not going to go through every code, although strictly we should do so. My other point relates to code C. One cannot help wondering whether the codes have anything to do with personalities in the Home Office. Code C refers to people with mental vulnerability and providing special facilities for people with different disabilities, but there are virtually no references to the blind. They are referred to in paragraph 3.20, but not in the area about special provision in cells. People who are deaf are referred to in paragraph 8.2, which states:

    ''If a detainee is deaf, mentally disordered or otherwise mentally vulnerable, particular care must be taken''.

However, there is no reference to someone who is blind. I would have thought it self-evident that putting someone blind in a cell would require special provision. Blindness was included in the old codes, so that omission seems slightly odd to me.

Those are the key points that I wanted to raise. One could spend a great deal of time going through many other points of deviation from the old codes, trying to establish why those changes have occurred. I shall not do that because, as the Minister has said, the documents offered by his Department have been helpful, although they have not answered every possible question. I have identified three questions that do need clarification, and I would be grateful for the Minister's response.

9.11 am

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): Good morning, Mr. Olner. I hope to keep my comments fairly brief this morning.

First, I should like to ask the Minister about parliamentary procedure. As he says, there was a certain degree of embarrassment at the fact that the matter was not only debated but agreed in another place on 24 February. The second debate on 4 March vacated—to use a phrase used in another place—the proceedings of Monday 24 February. That means, as I understand it, that it was as if they had never existed. Does that mean that the order has to be debated in another place for a third time in order to replace the original agreement, which has now been annulled by the motion to vacate? That raises the question of whether the process will be complete in time for the introduction of the orders on 1 April as was anticipated.

Secondly, I come to the interrelationship with the Criminal Justice Bill. I share the Minister's view that there is a need for a procedure that enables proper scrutiny of such important matters, but does not give rise to unnecessary delay because it is unsatisfactory when codes of conduct do not accord with either the present statutory position or case law. It is important that we have the opportunity to correct codes of conduct at regular intervals with as little delay as possible. Will he confirm that there will not only be consideration of procedure for future codes of conduct discussing the Criminal Justice Bill, but significant

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changes to the legal framework that will require new amendments or new codes of conduct as a result, for instance, of the drug testing regime that is part of the Criminal Justice Bill proposals?

I asked the Minister the following question concerning applicability in relation to the previous stop-and-search proposals. Are there analogous codes of conduct that apply to other bodies that are engaged in similar activities? I am principally thinking about HM Customs and Excise, but also the military police authorities when they are acting in cases of civil law—not offences against military law per se—and dealing with civilians associated with the military in the context of a military establishment. It would seem appropriate that the codes of conduct should apply to the military police in exactly the same way in which they apply to territorial, Home Office police in those circumstances.

I want to make some minor points about the codes. The points that I have about code B are nugatory. I observe in passing that under paragraph 2.3 it is necessary to define a hovercraft separately as a place for a search. That cannot apply often, but is it not possible to find a definition of a hovercraft that makes it a vessel or a vehicle, so that it does not have to be specified separately? That would remove the possibility of a trap being set by a sharp lawyer who discovers that a hovercraft is left out of a list of places, which could become an issue.

In relation to warrants, mention is made of a ''justice of the peace'' or a ''circuit judge''. I would like it confirmed that, in this context, ''justice of the peace'' includes district judges, as stipendiary magistrates are now called. I assume that that is the case, but I want to avoid doubt.

I have one concern relating to code C. The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) was absolutely right to bring up the position of the visually impaired. As chairman of the relevant all-party group, I have a particular interest in that. However, I am slightly worried about the provisions for medical assessments, not in themselves, but because they appear to suggest that someone who is detained, requires medication, has that medication about their person, and has clear directions from a medical practitioner, cannot take that medication without the intervention of another medically trained person. That seems odd and raises the question of what would happen, in extremis, if someone possessed medication that they urgently needed for the management of a condition and could administer perfectly properly, but they were prevented from doing so by a custody sergeant who had not had the opportunity to consult an appropriate medical person. That situation would be wrong and against the interests of the detainee and, if anything happened to the detainee, the custody sergeant. Will the Minister consider that?

My only point about code E is that it is based entirely on tape technology. To reflect the point made by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire, when will we see the introduction of some form of digital technology? Its arrival seems inevitable, but the codes of conduct do not cover that eventuality. I

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would be surprised if we did not revisit the matter in the relatively near future, in order to find an appropriate technique for safeguarding evidence that is based on a digital record rather than an analogue tape, which seems to be the only possibility at the moment.

Finally, there are a number of cases in which the supervising rank has been moved downwards. I do not disagree with that because the general flow over recent years has been towards rank inflation. Why leave something to an inspector if one can give it to a superintendent and why leave it to a superintendent if one can invoke an assistant chief constable or someone of a higher rank? There is nothing wrong with enabling the responsible middle management in the police to have things within their control.

There is, however, a potential concern: somebody at a relatively low rank and with a relatively low degree of seniority might not have sufficient experience—particularly with accelerated promotion—to make some of the difficult decisions that are required under the provisions. I do not quarrel with that, but if there were a widespread view in the Home Office that it was appropriate for an inspector to make serious decisions that affected an individual's civil liberties, there might be questions about whether that was correct for that level of seniority in all circumstances.

I certainly have no reason to oppose the orders today. There is everything to be gained from having them pass into law at the earliest opportunity, to accord with what is very often the present practice of the police in any case.

9.20 am

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