Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill

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Clause 105

Search warrants: other amendments

Mr. Mitchell: I beg to move amendment No. 289, in clause 105, page 72, line 1,

leave out subsection (2) and insert—

    '(1A) After section 8 (power of justice of the peace to authorise entry and search of premises), insert—

    ''8B Search warrants and multiple entries

    (1) Any warrant granted under section 8 or section 8A may authorize entry to and search of premises on more than one occasion if, on the application, a judge of the High Court or a Circuit judge is satisfied that it is necessary to authorize multiple entries in order to achieve the purpose for which he issues the warrant.

    (2) No warrant issued under section 8B(1) may specify more than three entries to the same premises under a period of 28 days.

    (3) Where a warrant authorizes multiple entries, the number of entries must be limited to a maximum of two further entries to the same premises within a period of 28 calendar days from the date when the first entry took place.''.'.

I notice that the amendment is listed in the amendment paper as having been tabled by a Mr. Andrew McKenzie. I could develop a bit of a complex, although I am resisting it, because a speech that I made in Westminster Hall last week, when the Minister responded for the Government, did not even appear in Hansard the following day, as I saw when I turned somewhat nervously to read it.

I can speak to the amendment quickly, because much of my point has already been made. It is similar to amendment No. 287. I do not need to labour the point; we are anxious to protect our constituents with the necessary privacy and safeguards. The amendment deals with the permission granted to the police in clause 105 to re-enter premises after a search warrant has been executed. There are good reasons in practice for permitting multiple entries under the same search warrant, but as with clause 104, the provisions represent a significant further increase in the invasive powers of the police. For that reason, we wanted to test whether a higher court should make the necessary judgment. The number of multiple entries under the same search warrant needs to be restricted to a maximum of two further entries during 28 days from the date of entry. Can the Minister satisfy me on this clause as she did on the last?

Mr. Djanogly: I should like briefly to add to what my hon. Friend has said. The amendment also needs to be looked at in the context of subsection (8), which extends the period for execution of the warrant from one month to three months. To the extent that an all-premises warrant will be wider than a specific premises warrant, there is accordingly a greater chance of the
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circumstances changing before the warrant expires. Will the Minister address the reasons for the extension of the warrant?

Ms Blears: I dealt with the issue of the level of judge in my previous comments. I, too, hope that I can beguile the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield with regard to his amendment. It has been properly tabled, in that it probes the safeguards of the new power. That power is indeed intrusive: it extends the period of the search warrant from one month to three months, and provides that there can be a series of multiple entries to the premises concerned. A similar series of safeguards relates to the exercise of this power to those regarding multi-premises search warrants. Again, the magistrate has to be satisfied, and where the officer wants to exercise the warrant on a number of separate occasions, they have to satisfy a superior officer of at least the rank of inspector to enable permission to be granted. That is a sufficient safeguard in justifying their actions at every stage of the process. We have to reach a balance between safeguarding people's privacy and proper concerns and giving police officers the tools to get on and do their job.

I say to the hon. Member for Huntingdon that criminals these days are sophisticated enough to move their property around and seek to hide it from legitimate searches. They can not only move their property around from premises to premises, but temporarily take it away and then return it to the same premises, in which case it would be necessary to allow multiple entry on the same set of warrants. A 28-day limit on the warrant would mean the police had to go back to court time and again. It is a matter of striking the balance as to whether we feel that a month is the absolute maximum we could allow for a warrant, or whether we are prepared, in circumstances subject to judicial and administrative oversight, to be more flexible.

Mr. Djanogly: While criminals may have become more sophisticated, so has technology for prosecutors and the police. There should be no more difficulty in getting to the magistrate, who it appears will deal with the matter, than in the past.

Ms Blears: I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. He made a similar point in speaking to the previous amendment, when he asked what would happen if circumstances changed. It is a genuine and legitimate point. If an officer applies to court for a warrant based on a certain set of circumstances and the circumstances change, the officer will need to go back to the court. The warrant could be challenged if the circumstances were sufficiently different, as it could be claimed that it was obtained on evidence that had subsequently changed fundamentally.

We seek a degree of flexibility, but we do not want to go beyond the boundaries that would make it necessary to renew the authority for granting the warrant. We are keen to specify the need as tightly as we can, as it will give us the legitimacy to ask for a
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wider degree of flexibility. Provided that we meet our obligations as far as we can, it is perfectly proper to allow the police to ask for some flexibility. It is not proper to take a free-for-all, broad-brush position, and that is not what we seek to do. We think that we have the balance right; the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield will have to consider whether he wishes to press the amendment to a Division if he feels that we have not done so. With that in mind, I have tried to give the Committee as many reassurances as I can.

Mr. Mitchell: I have listened with care to the Minister. She makes the same points that she made on clause 104. We had to consider the matter because it is an extension from one month to three months. On balance, however, I am happy to let it stand. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 105 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 106 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 107

Photographing of suspects etc.

Ms Blears: I beg to move amendment No. 256, in clause 107, page 73, line 33, leave out

    'provided in subsections (2) and (3)'

and insert 'follows'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 298, in clause 107, page 73, line 34, leave out 'and (3)' and insert 'to (4)'.

Government amendment No. 257.

Ms Blears: The Government amendments are designed to assist in the enforcement of court orders, and particularly the collection of fines. One of the Government's key priorities in the criminal justice system is to improve the enforcement of criminal penalties. Fines are a priority. The Carter review said that fines have the potential to be a low-cost but highly effective form of punishment and recommended that they should be used more often. It is fair to say that fines have fallen into disrepute in recent years because of the lack of enforcement, and as a result, courts have been less likely to use fines as a penalty. Making enforcement more rigorous is therefore important, because we know that fines will be used more only if the judiciary, the public and offenders believe that they are a credible punishment.

The credibility of fines depends on effective enforcement. Magistrates and judges will use fines only if they are confident that they will be paid. The amendments are part of an ongoing programme to drive up the rate of payment and improve fine collection. We have been successful in the past 12 to 18 months in driving up the level of payment, which has risen from about 65 per cent. to almost 80 per cent.

That is good, but more can obviously be done. Last year, the Government introduced measures in the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 to
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give enforcement teams in magistrates courts power to enter and search premises; to request data from individuals and organisations to help trace offenders; and to transfer community penalty breach warrants out of their area for enforcement purposes.

The amendments will allow the photograph that the courts are already entitled to request from the police for in-court purposes to be used for the purposes of enforcement. The police can already supply a photograph to the courts for the purposes of prosecution, so that the court knows that the person in the dock is the offender. The amendments would allow a copy of that photograph to be requested for use by the court's enforcement team, after a sentence has been passed, to help ensure that the sentence is carried out.

The provision will be hugely welcomed by enforcement teams. At the moment, when an enforcement team knocks on the door of a fine defaulter and asks to speak to John Smith, if John Smith answers the door but chooses to deny his identity, it cannot be sure that the man before them is the one who should be paying the fine. Having access to a photograph will be extremely helpful. In a number of cases—between 5 per cent. and 15 per cent. each year—offenders who have defaulted on fines dispute their identity. That happens in as many as 13,500 cases, and the courts could lose between £600,000 and £1.8 million each year in uncollected fines as a result of not being able to identify the person who is being traced.

At the moment, enforcement teams have to go through the process of calling a police officer to help identify fine defaulters. If they have a photograph, disputes about identity can easily be resolved. The amendments are common sense, and they will help us to make fines a much more credible punishment for the courts to use and enforce in future.

3.45 pm
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