Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill

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Mr. Clappison: The Minister has invited the Committee to have regard to section 25 of PACE, but I cannot find it in the bundle of provisions that the Government have given us relating to the Bill. Given that we are approaching the luncheon Adjournment, could the Minister obtain copies of section 25 and circulate them to members of the Committee?

Ms Blears: I shall be delighted to do that, because I found it extremely useful to go back to the source material that we are talking about; sometimes, the issues are not that apparent from the Bill, and I shall be delighted to obtain that material during the lunch break so that we can discuss them. The point is important, and I am trying to establish that we are dealing not with a new set of criteria, but with criteria that have existed for 20 years, which have been tested through time and found to be extremely worth while.

At the moment, there is a range of arrestable and serious arrestable offences, for which the power of arrest is automatic, so the constable does not necessarily have to think about whether it is right to make an arrest. We want to move to a position in which all offences are arrestable, but the constable must then clearly go through a consideration process to determine whether it is necessary to execute an arrest in the circumstances of the offence.

Rather than lowering the threshold for accountability, we are almost raising it; we are saying that the constable must think carefully, exercising his or her professional discretion, training and skills to reach a decision in the particular circumstances. They will not simply have the automatic power of arrest and be able to arrest someone without thinking about it; they will have to go through the necessity test because it will be looked at in court and perhaps by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which will have judicial oversight. Having to go through that process places quite a rigorous burden on the constable, given that he or she does not have to go through it at the moment.

Mr. Mitchell: To be absolutely clear, is the Minister saying that, under her proposal, if two identical offences are committed on the same day outside my
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office in the high street in Sutton Coldfield, one prospective offender could be arrested and taken away, while the other might not be? Is that, in effect, what will happen under the proposal?

Ms Blears: That is very much the case now. I would expect—in fact, I would require—police officers to exercise their judgment as to whether it was necessary to effect an arrest in those circumstances. One person might give their name and address and could properly be dealt with by a summons, so that the police officer did not need to execute an arrest, which would take him off the streets. Somebody else might refuse to give their name and address, or might give a false name and address, and the constable would have to move to arrest to take the matter further.

Mr. Mitchell: To be absolutely clear, is the Minister seeking to extend and increase the level of discretion that would apply in the circumstances that I described?

Ms Blears: I am seeking to establish a new framework for the powers of arrest—
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Mr. Mitchell: Yes or no?

Ms Blears: The hon. Gentleman knows that these matters rarely have a yes or no answer. I am seeking to establish a new framework; the present framework is entirely dependent on the seriousness of the offence, and once that condition is satisfied, the power of arrest is automatic. I am trying to establish a system under which seriousness is still a factor, but not the only factor in deciding whether to exercise the power of arrest. The situation will be clearer for the police, the public and the criminal justice system, because all offences will be arrestable—

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

        Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.

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