Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill

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Mr. Heath: In that case, we must disagree. In the situation covered by the subsection, we are not dealing with the criminal; the event is not ''the bust''. We are dealing with a person who may or may not have information that relates to a person who has information. That person and their home, with officers intruding on it, should not, in my book, be shown on television for public entertainment. I am sorry to be po-faced, but I fundamentally disagree with the hon. Gentleman about whether a media presence is appropriate. The media intrude into society in all sorts of ways, but this is one area from which they should stay well away.

Vera Baird: It is a brief point, but there is no suggestion that the recipient of a disclosure notice need have any connection with criminality of any kind. It could be a wholly innocent person, who happened to
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have documents that the police thought might incriminate someone.

10.45 am

Mr. Heath: Precisely so. I am grateful to the hon. and learned Lady for that point, because the ramifications of such exposure for that person's life could be extraordinary. A company could be destroyed. A person's privacy could be destroyed. They could attract the attention of the very criminals who are sought by the enforcement agency. That is a serious point, although I do not want to overstate it, because I do not believe that it will be SOCA's policy for its representatives to be trailed by television cameras wherever they go. However, it is perfectly reasonable to say that the people who may accompany a person executing a warrant should be there for the purposes of executing the warrant and not for any other, extraneous purposes.

Mr. Mitchell: The hon. Gentleman was extraordinarily restrained in his response to the intervention by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann). I am also amazed that the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) did not immediately get to his feet, given his heat earlier today when my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield was speaking. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome is right. The intervention by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw related to circumstances prior to any conviction. The fundamental point is that in this country a person is innocent until proved guilty. I am amazed at that intervention. I strongly agree with what the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome is saying: media grandstanding when the police are going about their business is wrong. I hope that, perhaps in another context, we might stiffen the penalties for those who cause such incidents to take place.

Mr. Heath: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support, although I have to say that nothing amazes me any more when it comes to the comments that are sometimes made in Committee, because there seem to be some extraordinary notions in modern society of what is appropriate behaviour.

Mr. Djanogly: During the 1980s, there was a high-profile series of situations, mainly involving the SFO, in which people were filmed during early morning raids. I thought that that practice was considered to be totally counter-productive and that we had moved on from it.

Mr. Heath: I think we have and that, in fact, that is not normal practice nowadays. I hope that it will not be in future. That is why I do not think that the amendment will have any large effect in practice; it is not the behaviour that I would expect of SOCA. There is always a temptation, however. Let us remind ourselves of the extraordinary situation exposed by Sir Stephen Lander. One of his targets or performance indicators will be the column inches generated in the press, so there will be quite a temptation for SOCA to have a few high-profile successes early in its life. Officers will be tempted to take extraordinary measures to ensure that everyone knows that they are around, working hard and doing the job that we want them to do, so we must exercise some caution.
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Mr. Clifton-Brown: I wish to place one other point on the record, which explains why I strongly disagree with the intervention by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw, whom I generally regard as sound. If warrants are issued in front of the media, there will be a severe danger of trial by media. We must guard against that constantly, or it will totally undermine our criminal justice system.

Mr. Heath: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Some would say that our criminal justice system has already been undermined in that way, but under the Bassetlaw legal system there is no such concern. I find that surprising, but never mind.

I have expressed sufficient arguments to make clear my reasons for tabling the amendment. First, I would be grateful if the Minister gave assurances on the operation of SOCA; I am sure that she will. Secondly, if she believes that the amendment is unnecessary, will she say why she believes that? Thirdly, will she tell us about the position in Scots law and why the provision is not necessary in the arrangements pertaining to Scotland, but necessary for England and Wales?

Caroline Flint: As has been outlined, amendment No. 173 would allow the appropriate person to take other persons with him only when it was necessary to do so

    ''in order to take possession of, preserve or prevent interference with the documents specified.''

Although I have some sympathy with the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman, we are concerned that the amendment might provide too narrow a definition for practical application.

In specifying some of the purposes for which other people could be present, we would effectively exclude their being present for other purposes. Our view is that there are a number of legitimate reasons why investigators may need other persons present, but they would be excluded under the amendment. In particular, it could prevent the prosecutor being present to advise. It could also prevent others from being present to secure access to the building or to ensure the safety of those doing the search and those being searched.

Comments have been made about the media. I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw. I recognise that, in certain circumstances, it is important that the public are made aware through the media of the action that the police are taking against criminals in the local community. For instance, in Doncaster—I am sure that it is also the case in Bassetlaw—when the police have made drug raids, they have leafleted households to let them know what was going on, and it has also been reported in the papers. That is important. In certain circumstances, however, it is not appropriate to use the media, and there are questions about disclosure when trying to seek information linked to an investigation into organised crime, especially if those issuing the disclosure notices have no awareness of how their involvement might be linked.

As with other matters dealt with in the Bill, particularly the discussions to come this afternoon on money laundering, even without the disclosure
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powers, we will need the active support of lawyers, accountants and financial institutions to assist us in our endeavour to tackle money laundering and so on. Later today, on some of the measures that we have been considering, and based on advice from people working in that sector, we shall discuss how we can make it better for people to participate without it being too onerous.

As for the media, I suggest that the clause already makes adequate provision. When a warrant is served under subsection (4), it has to be necessary, and by no stretch of the imagination could one say that the media are ''necessary'' to the issuing of a warrant.

Devolution obviously means that Scotland operates differently from England and Wales, and, for that matter, Northern Ireland. As I understand it—I am happy to write in more detail if my explanation is not as comprehensive as the hon. Gentleman might wish—in Scotland, express authorisation would have to be given in a search warrant for specific persons to accompany police officers on a search. The sheriff has the power to authorise such appropriate persons to attend a search. We do not think it necessary to make specific provision for that. It is one of those areas where we have our separate ways; what we might think appropriate for England and Wales is done differently in Scotland.

I hope that I have explained our views. The appropriate person is authorised only when necessary. We do not need to set out an exhaustive list of the purposes for which it may be necessary. For that reason, we feel that the clause is adequate to protect the person from whom the disclosure is sought or the warrant executed; it will protect them from a whole baggage of people coming along without justification.

Mr. Heath: I am grateful for the Minister's response, but I gently chide her on one point. Scots law is not a matter of devolution; it was never part of the jurisdiction of England and Wales. It is a separate entity. It would help if the Minister were to provide me with further details, so that I know exactly what is the situation. However, as I said, I understand that this was challenged in court and that there was case law, from which there is a requirement for the sheriff to stipulate who may accompany a person executing a warrant. That is not necessary in English and Welsh law.

It is difficult to see how my amendment narrows unnecessarily the scope of those who may be sent to execute a warrant, because if they are necessary to do so, the doing so is what I have added. Of course it is possible to argue the other way and say that the words are unnecessary because the point is already covered.

I have my doubts, but the Minister's comments have helped to set out the Government's position. Again, the matter could usefully be addressed in the guidance to prosecutors and to the officers of SOCA. Perhaps she will consider doing so when the time comes. She has indicated assent, for which I am grateful. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
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